In light of recent legislative actions and opinions expressed on forensic (Safehouse) interviews, I would like to add some clarification about the nature of these interviews and how they’re hugely important in the life of children who have gone through trauma and have been witnesses to, or victims of, crime.
As the largest of the children’s advocacy centers in our state, All Faiths conducted nearly 1,600 of these forensic interviews in 2018. Along with our fellow members of the New Mexico Chapter of Safehouses, we saw an aggregate number of 4,283 of these cases during that same year.
Forensic interviews are a concept developed during the 1980’s and adopted by New Mexico later in that decade. All Faiths Children’s Advocacy Center was the first to provide this service in New Mexico and we have conducted over 23,000 of these interviews over the last 30 years. All Faiths, as are all Child Advocacy Centers across our state and the nation, is accredited by the National Children’s Association. This is the ultimate stamp of approval for our center following appropriate guidelines and regulations.
During a forensic interview, a trained professional asks age-appropriate, non-leading questions of the child. The concept is centered on the realization that multiple interrogations and questioning can harm these young clients by forcing them to re-live the crime that they witnessed or the act in which they were the victims.
During the forensic interview, the child sits in a room alone with our agency’s interviewer and answers questions, tells the story, and explains what happened to him or her. This discussion and disclosure is recorded and the video then leaves our premises with law enforcement and becomes part of the criminal investigation process. While the interview is being conducted, members of a multi-disciplinary team gather in a separate room – the observation room – watching the interview in real-time over a closed-circuit TV.
Indeed, the observing team can be in touch with the interviewer who wears an ear-piece, but it would be only to clarify the things that are said, which the interviewer can then put to the child in the form of clarifying questions.
Forensic interviewers are highly trained, attend a certified initial training, then return home to shadow interviews for another 6-9 months before they ever conduct an interview on their own. They’re trained to be neutral, exploring all sides of the child’s disclosure and all possible hypotheses.
A forensic interviewer doesn’t make a determination on what has happened in the case, whether the child’s accusations are correct, or whether the accused person is guilty. We simply interview the child so that their disclosure can then be used by the team that will later investigate the case.
Our intent as a society, and certainly our intent as a child advocacy center, must be to protect child victims of crime by conducting forensic interviews that allow them to disclose what has happened – so that then they can be set out on a path toward healing. The next step after an interview shouldn’t be the uncertainty of possible additional interviews – but an appointment for follow-up therapy, case management and home visiting.
The statistics are staggering – and New Mexico is 50th in the nation when it comes to child welfare. Child Advocacy Centers across our state are here to protect the most vulnerable of our communities. The public needs to support systems that have been developed to protect child victims of crime and give them a chance for a return to a normal life and healing.
All Faiths Children’s Advocacy Center