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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to review an evidence-based tool for training child forensic interviewers called the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Protocol (NICHD Protocol), with a specific focus on how the Protocol is being adapted in various countries. Design/methodology/approach – The authors include international contributions from experienced trainers, practitioners, and scientists, who are already using the Protocol or whose national or regional procedures have been directly influenced by the NICHD Protocol research (Canada, Finland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, and USA). Throughout the review, these experts comment on: how and when the Protocol was adopted in their country; who uses it; training procedures; challenges to implementation and translation; and other pertinent aspects. The authors aim to further promote good interviewing practice by sharing the experiences of these international experts. Findings – The NICHD Protocol can be easily incorporated into existing training programs worldwide and is available for free. It was originally developed in English and Hebrew and is available in several other languages. Originality/value – This paper reviews an evidence-based tool for training child forensic interviewers called the NICHD Protocol. It has been extensively studied and reviewed over the past 20 years. This paper is unique in that it brings together practitioners who are actually responsible for training forensic interviewers and conducting forensic interviews from all around the world.
Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
The NICHD protocol: a review of an internationally-used evidence-based tool for training child forensic
David La Rooy Sonja P Brubacher Anu Aromäki-Stratos Mireille Cyr Irit Hershkowitz Julia Korkman Trond Myklebust Makiko
Naka Carlos E. Peixoto Kim P Roberts Heather Stewart Michael E Lamb
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To cite this document:
David La Rooy Sonja P Brubacher Anu Aromäki-Stratos Mireille Cyr Irit Hershkowitz Julia Korkman Trond Myklebust Makiko
Naka Carlos E. Peixoto Kim P Roberts Heather Stewart Michael E Lamb , (2015),"The NICHD protocol: a review of an
internationally-used evidence-based tool for training child forensic interviewers", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy
and Practice, Vol. 1 Iss 2 pp. 76 - 89
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The NICHD protocol: a review of an
internationally-used evidence-based tool
for training child forensic interviewers
David La Rooy, Sonja P. Brubacher, Anu Aromäki-Stratos, Mireille Cyr, Irit Hershkowitz,
Julia Korkman, Trond Myklebust, Makiko Naka, Carlos E. Peixoto, Kim P. Roberts,
Heather Stewart and Michael E. Lamb
The authors affiliations can be
found at the end of this article.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to review an evidence-based tool for training child forensic
interviewers called the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Protocol (NICHD
Protocol), with a specific focus on how the Protocol is being adapted in various countries.
Design/methodology/approach The authors include international contributions from experienced
trainers, practitioners, and scientists, who are already using the Protocol or whose national or regional
procedures have been directly influenced by the NICHD Protocol research (Canada, Finland, Israel, Japan,
Korea, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, and USA). Throughout the review, these experts comment on: how and
when the Protocol was adopted in their country; who uses it; training procedures; challenges to
implementation and translation; and other pertinent aspects. The authors aim to further promote good
interviewing practice by sharing the experiences of these international experts.
Findings The NICHD Protocol can be easily incorporated into existing training programs worldwide and is
available for free. It was originally developed in English and Hebrew and is available in several other
Originality/value This paper reviews an evidence-based tool for training child forensic interviewers called
the NICHD Protocol. It has been extensively studied and reviewed over the past 20 years. This paper is
unique in that it brings together practitioners who are actually responsible for training forensic interviewers
and conducting forensic interviews from all around the world.
Keywords Justice, Children, Evidence-based practice, Forensic, Interviewing, NICHD Protocol
Paper type General review
In this paper, we describe the evidence base, development, and structure of a training tool for
interviewing children known as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Protocol (the NICHD Protocol). This tool was developed through the intensive efforts of US
Government Scientists at the National Institutes of Health in the 1990s and has been the subject
of intensive evaluation and research ever since (see Lamb et al., 2008).
Central to the development of interview guidelines has been knowledge of how memory
works, childrens developmental capabilities, and the conditions that improve childrens ability
to discuss their abuse experiences. After decades of experimental and applied research
conducted primarily by psychologists we understand the strengths, weaknesses, and
features of childrens memory, and this knowledge has shaped the development of many
valuable interview protocols and professional recommendations about interviewing children
(e.g. American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, 1990, 1997; Home Office,
Received 7 January 2015
Revised 10 February 2015
Accepted 5 March 2015
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1992, 2002, 2007; Lamb et al., 2007; Lyon, 2014; Ministry of Justice, 2011; Poole and Lamb,
1998; Powell, 2014; Scottish Executive, 2011; Steele, 2005; Saywitz et al.,2010;Yuilleet al.,
2009). As our knowledge of how memory works has been well researched over previous
decades, core recommendations made by professional bodies worldwide share remarkable
consensus (Lamb et al., 2007, 2011). Small differences in procedure usually arise out of
regional idiosyncratic legal constraints, rather than disagreements about the basic nature of
memory and childrens developing abilities. While structured, the NICHD Protocol is flexible
enough to allow for such modifications to enhance its applicability for use around
the world; it the chief focus of this review because it has been subject to intensive research
and it is freely available.
For the first time, we present insights from researchers and practitioners from around the world
regarding how the NICHD Protocol is being used and/or adapted internationally (e.g. Salt Lake,
Israel, Canada, Norway, Finland, Japan, and Portugal). Professionals were contacted and
asked to comment on the implementation of research-based guidelines in their particular
countries or jurisdictions. They provided information about the interviewers, challenges they
faced, milestones, and changes in practice that have occurred over recent decades. Their direct
commentary is embedded in the review.
The importance of best-practiceinterviewing
In the 1980s and 1990s high-profile child-abuse cases, such as the McMartin pre-school and
Kelly Michaels cases (Ceci and Bruck, 1995; Garven et al., 1998; Myers, 2009) among others,
sparked concerns throughout the psychological and legal worlds about the suggestive ways in
which children were interviewed. As a result of several decades of research on poor
interviewing techniques our understanding of childrens suggestibility and false memory (and
the danger of therapist interventions) is well documented (e.g. Brainerd and Reyna, 2005;
Ridley et al., 2013). Nowadays it is clear that suggestive and leading questions can damage
childrens reports (e.g. Bull, 2010; Leichtman and Ceci, 1995). Poorly conducted interviews
have terrible consequences: children are put through lengthy, stressful legal proceedings only
to have experts later testify that the interviews were inconclusive; misunderstandings and
inaccuracies may lead to false conviction or family breakup; alternatively, abusers may be free
to exploit other children. Finally, the work of everyone involved in the case is impeded by the
poor quality of their investigative interviews. Thus, the NICHD Protocol was designed to provide
interviewers with an evident structure, guiding them through each phase of the interview and
helping to avoid poor questioning strategies that may lead to contamination or memory
distortions (Lamb et al., 2007).
The importance of using open prompts
Rather than conducting interviews in which information (accurate or inaccurate) is delivered,
research suggests that children will be much more accurate when information is elicitedfrom
free-recall memory (see Orbach and Pipe, 2011). Thus, interviewers who use open prompts are
at an advantage because the information that they obtain is likely to be more accurate irrespective
of age, and they elicit longer and more detailed responses than closed and specific questions.
For example, the open-ended prompt tell me what happeneddoes not constrain the memory
search to a particular topic, but rather allows the child to retrieve memories that are most
accessible. It is important that interviewers understand the rulethat helps to decide whether or
not interviewer prompts are indeed open: if the answer can be provided using more than just a
few words then it is likely that an open prompt has been delivered.
Childrens verbal competence is not only important for interviewers, it also has an effect on the
process of cases in court. Decisions can be affected by the length of the childrens responses in
their testimonies (Myklebust and Bjørklund, 2009), demonstrating the importance of free recall
and the use of a structured approach. As open prompts are less likely to contain suggested
information, defence counsel are far less able to criticize an interviewer for obtaining information
through open-ended prompting.
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In contrast to open-ended prompts, closed/focussed questions restrict the range and length of
possible responses and increase the risk of inaccuracy because interviewees may choose one of
the options even if they cannot recognize the correct answer. What, when, where, and how
(specific) type questions may appear open,but often only require a few words to answer, and
still signify the type of information expected from the child even if an exact response was not
specified (e.g. what colour was the car?). These questions do elicit useful clarifying details but
can lead to misunderstanding if they are not carefully composed. For example, in one reported
case study an interviewee, when asked what color the car was, provided the color of the interior
rather than exterior of the car (Jones and Krugman, 1986). A better question would have been
to ask what colour was the outside of the car?It is well understood that children answer
closed and specific questions less accurately than those that are open ended (e.g. Dent and
Stephenson, 1979; Orbach and Lamb, 2001).
Forensic interviewing research
Even though open-ended prompts are most effective in eliciting longer, more detailed, and more
accurate responses, the recommendation to elicit information from children using open prompts
is routinely not followed by forensic interviewers when they do not have a structured protocol to
follow (e.g. Cederborg et al., 2008; Korkman et al., 2006; Lamb et al., 1996, 2009; La Rooy et al.,
2011; Myklebust and Bjorklund, 2006; Sternberg et al., 2001). What is alarming from a service
perspective is that, in many studies, considerable expense and effort was directed to training
interviewers, who often believed that they were adhering to those recommendations. Research
has thus revealed a disturbing dichotomy between knowledge about desirable practicesand
the actual behavior of forensic investigators(Lamb et al., 2008). As it is quite easy to raise
awareness of best-practice principles, it is hard to imagine that best practice would not be
adhered to and that traditional one-offtraining courses change actual interviewing behavior very
little (Aldridge and Cameron, 1999; Stevenson et al., 1992; Warren et al., 1999). Unfortunately,
guidelines do not translate automatically into practice. Research shows that interviewers require a
substantial amount of regular support and feedback about the quality of their interviews for
improvements to be achieved and maintained (Lamb et al., 2002a, b). In sum, interviewers often
knowwhat they should do in theory, but are unable to translate the theory into practice. Here
are the views of researchers and practitioners about the challenges surrounding low-quality
Until 2003, Finnish child investigative interviews were not regulated, and children were oftentimes
interviewedrepeatedly within the framework of psychiatric care, without the police involved and often
without the interview being recorded. These interviews were both leading and not being suited to
the developmental abilities of children (Korkman et al., 2006, 2008; Santtila et al., 2004). National
guidelines, introduced in 2003 (Taskinen, 2003), emphasized the need for all CSA suspicions to be
reported to the police and their investigations to be police-led and properly conducted (Korkman and
Aromäki-Stratos, Finland).
In 2000, the Japanese Society for Law and Psychology was established and psychologists began to
increasingly work with lawyers and in forensic contexts where they saw first-hand the effects of poor
quality interviews and the harm that could be caused for both the defendant and child witness. Initially
energy was focused on examining and publicizing the inadequacy of poor quality interviews but
criticism alone from psychologists does not improve the quality of interviews that are conducted. At the
same time in Japan, the number of referrals to Child Guidance Centers doubled, and then tripled, after
the Prevention of Child Abuse Act was legislated in 2000 (Gido Gyakutai no Boushitou ni kansuru
Houritsu) (Naka, Japan).
An evidence-based solution to improve interviewing standards: the NICHD
The NICHD Protocol was developed in the mid-1990s to address shortcomings in the quality of
interviews that were being conducted. It was created with input from a wide range of
professionals including lawyers, developmental, clinical and forensic psychologists, police
officers, and social workers, and has received intensive forensic evaluation (see Bull, 2010; Lamb
et al., 2008; Saywitz et al., 2011). It is now widely used internationally, and has been translated
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into nine languages. Here are the views of researchers and practitioners about translating the
NICHD Protocol:
The interest in the NICHD Protocol started in Quebec (Canada) in 2000. With the agreement of Michael
Lamb and his colleagues, we translated the Protocol into French and tested its effectiveness on
interviewersbehaviors during investigative interviews. We compared interviews conducted by the
same interviewers before and after training. For both CPS workers and police (see Cyr and Lamb,
2009), results showed that the NICHD Protocol was effective in increasing the number of open-ended
questions, as well as the number of details obtained from these questions (Cyr, Canada).
We have initiated a translation of the NICHD Protocol to Portuguese language and judicial context. We
checked that the translated verbatim text in fact accessed the cognitive processes that we intended to
prompt. Our main concern was the translation of the expression tell me, that in Portuguese can have
several translations. So, with 4- to 15-year-old children we tested which was the best of three possible
expressions to use in Portuguese and adopted the one that was the closest match (Peixoto et al.,
2011) (Peixoto, Portugal).
The NICHD Protocol was translated into Hebrew and is now used with all alleged victims, witnesses
and suspects, permitting us to perform descriptive studies as well as revealing field experiments.
Comparing reports made by alleged victims to those made by young suspects and witnesses in
corresponding cases allowed a measure of accuracy of the allegations and further validated the
Protocol (Hershkowitz et al., 2007) (Hershkowitz, Israel).
The NICHD Protocol has, at its core, developmentally appropriate expectations about childrens
capabilities, and seeks to maximize the conditions under which children are most likely to
describe their experiences of abuse accurately. What makes the approach taken by the
developers of the NICHD Protocol so unique is that they sought to achieve two goals: first, create
forensic interviewing guidelines that clearly specified the types of interviewer prompts that were
appropriate to use in interviews with children; and second, restrict opportunities for interviewers
to fall into the suggestibility trapthrough overreliance on their own assumptions about things
that might have happened. The goal was to create an interview Protocol that could be used by
interviewers around the world with varying levels of experience and training.
Moreover, the Protocol also was developed to withstand legal challenge, and it was recently
demonstrated that charges were more likely to be filed when investigators adhered to the
protocol than when not (Pipe et al., 2013). The solution lay in providing not only direction
regarding general concepts about memory and suggestibility, but also specific and structured
guidance about exactly the sorts of things that should be said, and in what order. The advantage
of this structured approach was that it promised to level the playing field by providing all children
with equal opportunities to recount their experiences regardless of individual interviewer biases
and pre-existing beliefs about childrens capabilities and case characteristics.
The Protocol covers all stages of the investigative interview (see list below). The introductory
phase was influenced by various law enforcement agencies in different jurisdictions who
requested the inclusion of questions designed to establish that children understood the
difference between true and false statements in anticipation of legal challenges to childrens
credibility. Interestingly, use of the Protocol in general has been shown to improve assessments
of credibility as one researcher and practitioner describes:
Research conducted in Israel stressed that use of the Protocol positively affects not just the quality of
interviewersquestioning and childrens statements but also improves the ability of professionals to
distinguish between plausible and implausible statements and assess the statements credibility
(Hershkowitz et al., 2007) (Hershkowitz, Israel).
A summary of the stages of the structured NICHD protocol:
1. Introduction.
2. Ground rules:
truth and lies; and
transfer of control (e.g. dont know,”“dont guess,”“correct me if I am wrong.).
3. Rapport (e.g. what do you like to do? [wait for and answer] Tell me about that.).
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4. Practice interview (memory training/cognitive support).
5. Transition to substantive phase.
6. Investigate incident(s):
open-ended prompts (e.g. Tell me what happened.); and
separation of incidents (e.g. Did X happen one time, or more than one time?).
(Option to take a break if necessary).
7. Focussed questions about information not already mentioned followed by open-ended
8. Disclosure information (Who did the child initially tell? Who else knows what happened?).
9. Closure (e.g. Anything else you want to tell,”“Do you have any questions to ask me?).
10. Neutral topic (e.g. What are you going to do when you leave?).
Note that the full version of the NICHD protocol can be found by visiting,
along with the adapted Ten Step Investigative Interviewby Lyon, 2005).
In the introductory and ground rules phase interviewers inform children that they should tell the
truth and that they will be required to describe events in detail because the interviewer was
not present and therefore does not know what has happened. Children are also instructed to say,
I dont rememberor I dont knowwhen unsure. Both conveying interviewer naiveté and giving
the child permission to say I dont knowhave positive effects on error reduction in laboratory
events (e.g. Gee et al., 1999; Mulder and Vrij, 1996). Children are also told to say I dont
understand,when they do not understand what the interviewer is saying. This initial phase is
designed to remove potential pressure that could manifest itself as suggestive influence later in
the interview should the children feel that they must acquiesce to leading questions or suggestive
utterances. These ground rules can also serve as a form of protection for the interviewer if a
suggestive or leading question is inadvertently asked. The number and type of ground rules used
can differ across jurisdictions due to legal requirements. One of the core aspects of the Protocol is
that it is flexible enough to permit variation in procedures:
In Utah, there have been a few revisions made to the Protocol due in part to courtroom experiences.
For example, in Salt Lake City, it is called NICHD investigative interview guidelines. The term Protocol
has been misused, overstated and exaggerated within local courts. Interviewers were unfairly and
inaccurately criticized for conducting improper interviews when others erroneously stated that because
interviewers failed to ask every question, they did not follow Protocol. Other revisions consist of
the addition of two new ground rules including eliciting a promise to tell the truth (Stewart, USA).
The NICHD Protocol was adapted for use by child protection workers in Canada. Because these workers
have to cover a set of issues with children (e.g. use of alcohol in the home, whether children are taken to
school) we modified the Protocol so that in the first half of the interview, children were given control to
discuss any event(s) they chose; in the second half; interviewers indicated a change in topic and raised one
of the issues that had to be addressed (Price and Roberts, 2011; Rischke et al., 2011) (Roberts, Canada).
Interviewers create a relaxed, supportive environment while trying to gauge the childrens social
and emotional needs. Building and maintaining rapport can be critical to the childs willingness to
talk in the interview, and is further extended during what is known as the Practice Interview (see
Roberts et al., 2011 for a review). In the practice interview, children are prompted to describe a
real episodic experience in detail in response to open prompts. In this way, they practice reporting
the level of detail required, and become aware that interviewers are naïve regarding their
experiences. Interviewers can often elicit events from children during the rapport-building phase
(e.g. tell me about the things you like to dofollowed up with prompts about a specific time the
child engaged in that activity). The significance of this phase is that it also focusses children on
actual events because they are asked to provide specific details about things that really
happened not things that they, for example, have been told to say by others.
The transition between the introductory, rapport-building, and practice-narrative phases
(collectively, the pre-substantive phase) and the substantive phase of the interview is important.
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In the transition phase, a series of prompts are used to identify the target event/s under
investigation as non-suggestively as possible. As suggestive questions are defined as any
information introduced by the interviewer that has not already been mentioned by the child, the
interviewer cannot be the first to raise the topic. Hence, in an effort to be non-suggestive
the interviewer should simply ask the child if they know why they are being interviewed, and
if so, the interviewer should try to obtain an account by using an open prompt such as tell me
what happened,followed by further open prompting (see Orbach and Pipe, 2011, for further
According to Sternberg et al. (2001) more than four-fifths of the children who make allegations do
so in response to a completely open prompt. For this reason, interviewers should always allow
children to raise the topic themselves. If children do not make allegations, however, and the
investigators have good reason to suspect that they were indeed abused the interviewer may
need to move on to use a series of increasingly focussed prompts, perhaps including a prompt
like your teacher told me that you said someone has touched your privates. Tell me about that.
This prompt is suggestive because it refers to information that the child has not told the
investigator. It should be used only if necessary, and in such a way as to focus attention without
identifying the alleged perpetrator, the location, or other details about the suspected incidents.
If the child agrees with the investigators assertion, it is crucial that the investigator resume using
open-ended prompts returning control to the child, starting with: So someone touched your
privates. Tell me everything about that.As noted above, some children do not make allegations
in response to such prompts when they are first given the opportunity to do so, and investigators
should always consider whether it would be best to abort the interview rather than ask
contaminating suggestive questions. Of course, when there are child protection concerns, it is
often necessary to proceed with caution, despite the attendant risks. New research has also
focussed on revising the protocol to include supportive and facilitative strategies for approaching
reluctant children (Lamb et al., 2013).
When children do make allegations, interviewers are encouraged to elicit further information using
additional open prompts such as then what happened,”“tell me more about that,and you said
X, tell me more about that,for example. Once the child has provided an initial account it is
sometimes necessary to ask whether the abuse occurred one time or more than one timein
order to clarify the components of specific incidents. While not an open-ended prompt, this
format is recommended when asking about frequency because children have difficulty estimating
a specific number of occurrences (Sharman et al., 2011; Wandrey et al., 2012), and reduces the
risk that an inaccurate specific number could hurt credibility. Research showing the difficulty
children (and adults) have with source monitoring has influenced the expectations we should
have about the number of separate incidents that interviewers can hope children will describe
accurately (for further research on childrens ability to describe specific occurrences of repeated
events, see Brubacher et al., 2014; Roberts and Powell, 2001, for reviews). Interviewers are
encouraged to focus on the times that are likely to be the best remembered the first time, the
last time, and another time (Lamb et al., 2007).
After children have provided sufficiently detailed narrative accounts, interviewers may want to
consider taking a break, if requested by the child or if the interviewer wants to check with those
observing the interview (unobtrusively) whether more detailed information is required. For
example, in Norway, interviews with suspected child sexual abuse victims are conducted at a
Statens Barnehus (Child Advocacy Center) and the breakis used to consult with the judge
(sometimes more than once):
The interview is conducted in specially-designed video interview suite, whilst the judge, prosecution,
defense lawyers and state-funded counsel to the complainant observe the interview. The interview
process and the presence of observers in the monitor room are normally explained to children in
developmentally-appropriate terms. Once the interviewer has elicited an account from the child, he/
she takes a break to consult counsel and the judge. The judge gives both parties the opportunity to
suggest topics or identify contradictions that they want investigated. The interviewer then returns to
the interview room to address these issues. This process continues until the judge and counsel are
satisfied. The video replaces the need for the child to attend or testify in open court. The childs
involvement in the judicial process almost always comes to an end after the interview, even if the case
is appealed (Myklebust, Norway).
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After the break interviewers can ask focussed questions to explore important details that may be
missing. As memory and many other cognitive skills develop over time and younger children can
be less informative than older children about their experiences, pre-school-aged children may
require more focussed questions than older children:
A recent study demonstrated that even very young children can benefit from Protocol-guided
interviews but stressed that some strategies (e.g. asking focused questions paired with open-ended
follow-up prompts) are more effective than others in evoking elaborated statements (Hershkowitz
et al., 2012) (Hershkowitz, Israel).
As previously noted, focussed questions of the wh-/how variety are preferable to yes/no
questions (e.g. was it X?) or those providing choices. Hence, it is particularly important that
interviewers only ask these questions when absolutely necessary, and that they follow up with
open-ended questions that transfer control back to the child and minimize contamination.
Close to termination of the interview, children are asked how others came to find out about the
abuse, because doing so may have the benefit of producing new investigative leads (Orbach and
Pipe, 2011). Finally, children are invited to ask any questions they may have of the interviewer,
given contact information should they wish to speak with the interviewer again, and the interview
is closed on a neutral topic.
Using a standardized approach to interviewing has important advantages that go beyond simply
conducting superior interviews. A standardized approach gives all children who are interviewed
an equal opportunity to disclose or not disclose alleged abuse. Personal biases such as
underestimating childrens capabilities, or those resulting from certain case characteristics, are
The Protocol was initially tested and implemented in Israel in 1996, and has strongly affected the
practice of child investigation since. The first, partially-scripted, version was implemented and tested
by Sternberg et al. (1997) in Israel following unfruitful efforts to train the interviewers to conduct
appropriate interviews. This study evoked the first insight that a structured Protocol rather than general
guidelines can lead to better organized questioning and that children are very responsive when the
rapport-building is structured, providing remarkably more forensic information in their first
spontaneous statement (Hershkowitz, Israel).
The translated Protocol was introduced in Japan in 2009. It was preferred over earlier guidelines
due to the fact that it is semi-structured with specific words and phrases suggested for
interviewers to use. So far, more than 1,000 professionals in Japan have been trained on the NICHD
Protocol (Naka, Japan).
Training child forensic interviewers
Initial training should be intensive and last for five to ten days. The content should include
discussion of the fact that children can be reliable witnesses, and the role of the investigative
interviewer in promoting the well-being of children in the forensic context. Interviewers do not
necessarily need to become expertsduring the training but should learn basic concepts of child
development particularly relating to memory, language, time, touch, attention, social skills, and
cognitive abilities. It is also worth raising awareness of key studies that are described in the
literature so interviewers can get a flavor of the science behind many of the recommendations,
which in turn will prepare them to defend their interviewing practices in court if challenged by
defense counsel:
According to national guidelines (Finnish Medical Society Duodecim, Current Care Guidelines, 2006;
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 2009), the child interviewers using the NICHD Protocol should
be familiar with developmental as well as forensic psychology. In addition to police officers, there
are five University Hospital units specialized in assessing allegations of CSA. The staff consists of
psychologists specialized in child forensic interviewing as well as medical doctors and social workers
(and nurses with a degree in family therapy) (Korkman and Aromäki-Stratos, Finland).
Beyond knowledge of childrens developmental capabilities, interviewers also must understand
the different components of a best-practice interview: ground rules, rapport building, the practice
interview, and questioning children about substantive issues using different kinds of techniques,
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with a focus on appropriate interviewer prompts and eliciting narrative information about what
happened during the event(s). This is the core of the initial training. The trainers should discuss
each one of these parts, including a detailed rationale of its importance:
Since 2008, a full week of training in the NICHD Protocol is offered to police officers in Quebec as part
of a four-week program on child maltreatment investigation. The Protocol training includes a review of
knowledge on childs memory, suggestibility, childrens language and development, as well as a
detailed explanation of the structure and use of the Protocol and discrimination of type of questions.
For new investigators, the NICHD Protocol is perceived as helpful and reassuring (Cyr, Canada).
Our training for child forensic interviewers includes 10 days of theory about childrens development,
particularly concerning memory, language and suggestibility, decision making, beliefs and attitudes
and the impact of these, and studies of child interviews using the Protocol as well as supervision in
small groups where interviews conducted by each participant are watched and analysed. Trainees
also are requested to hand in self-evaluated interviews. One clear challenge is that only a very limited
number of police officers are trained each year, implying that a large share of the forensic
child interviews in Finland are still being done by virtually untrained police officers (Korkman and
Aromäki-Stratos, Finland).
We encountered similar difficulties in our training as has been experienced elsewhere. For instance,
trainees confused forensic interviews with counseling or therapy, probably due to the high value of
empathy and social support. There were also some difficulties explaining the importance of eliciting
narratives, which may reflect personal beliefs and practices surrounding adult-child conversation.
These problems were met with modification of training rather than changing the Protocol, highlighting
the absolute importance of continual monitoring of standards) (Naka, Japan).
After this introduction, the trainers should expose the interviewers to real NICHD Protocol
interviews (preferably via videotape but a transcript can be useful as well) that present questions,
dilemmas, and difficulties concerning the discussed issues. Finally, exercises in role playing for all
the participants should take place; these should be followed by detailed feedback from the group
members and at the end by the trainer. Trainers should also have a way of recognizing good
interviewers who demonstrate an adherence to best-practice guidelines:
Initial training includes extensive role play so that trainees can practice conducting mock interviews
using the Protocol. This allows participants to receive feedback in a non-threatening, supportive
environment before conducting interviews on real cases. The result is decreased anxiety and
increased confidence. Introducing participants to feedback during their initial forensic interview training
program helps to normalize the process. This ensures that future feedback is expected and
welcomed (Stewart, USA).
Videotaped interviews conducted with real victims are used to show good practice with the Protocol,
and examples of challenges and difficulties typically faced with children at different ages. The training
also includes practice in small groups of four police officers with actors playing script roles of children.
These are videotaped and discussed in the group afterwards. The supervision of these practices
is done alternatively by a team made up of psychologists or social workers and police officers.
After a weeks training, a practical exam is undertaken to certify the training (Cyr, Canada).
Although improvements in training were not evident initially, we found that by emphasizing the
importance of following the Protocol, enhancing and practicing the use of open-ended questions, and
role playing with review and feedback three to four times, benefits were observed. The analysis of the
most recent sample in 2010 showed interviewers used more open-ended questions and less focused
questions in the post- than in pre-interviews, which resulted in the increase of information provided
by the interviewees (Naka, 2011). Although there is a long way to go until full implementation
of the NICHD Protocol in the legal system, according to a survey by Yamamoto (2012), the number
of Child Guidance Centers utilizing the protocol increased 12 out of 144 in 2007 to 65 out of 146 in
2010) (Naka, Japan).
It is also important that police trainers are experienced forensic interviewers who can share their
experiences concerning the importance of using the guidelines and the challenges of presenting
their work in the legal context. Ideally, experienced prosecutors should provide guidance about
specific legal requirements with viewpoints of experts for the defense also considered:
The regulations and guidelines in Norway state that investigative interviews of children should only be
conducted by qualified interviewers who had been specially trained. All police officers in Norway
complete a three-year bachelors degree at the Norwegian Police University College (NPUC) before
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beginning patrol work, or embarking on further specialised training, including use of structured
interview models influenced by the NICHD Protocol research) (Myklebust, Norway).
Being in possession of the NICHD Protocol, and using it to provide desirable structure to
interviews does not require huge organizational changes or expense. The Protocol does not
contradict the key recommendations of other published interview guidelines and it can be easily
incorporated into existing training:
Providing this highly specialized and intensive training is very cost effective. Once local experts and
representatives of crucial disciplines are identified, they are cultivated as trainers. In some cases, there
is no extra fee required for trainers as they provide forensic interview training within their scope of work.
In other cases, trainers are employed on a contracted basis. The cost of training materials is nominal
and many have access to free training space) (Stewart, USA).
It is absolutely crucial, however, to understand that NICHD Protocol interview training must be
accompanied with ongoing feedback. Initial training programs that do not dovetail with ongoing
feedback for interviewers are not sufficient at improving investigative interviewing in the long term
(Lamb et al., 2002a, b; Powell, 2008):
As research shows practice and feedback are necessary for the maintenance of skills (Lamb et al.,
2008), we are now providing continual training, feedback and support for interviewers in many
locations in Japan) (Naka, Japan).
Initial training, however intensive, is not enough to maintain the quality of interview practices. Therefore,
our training program is continuous and both informal and formal approaches are implemented to
address positive and negative interviewer behavior. For example, when conducting forensic interviews
on actual cases feedback is provided during the interview break(s) and again during the debriefing
process immediately following each interview. Forensic interviews are always viewed during team case
review meetings) (Stewart, USA).
Following training with child protection workers in Ontario, the workers initiated lunch labswhere they
could meet informally and focus on a particular issue of interviewing children, illustrating how the
trained can themselves become the trainers) (Roberts, Canada).
Most jurisdictions, for a variety of reasons, do not provide interviewers the support and feedback
that they need which can result in disastrous consequences when they are taken to task about
the quality of their interviews (La Rooy and Halley, 2010):
Without feedback, interviewers can make the inaccurate judgment that the Protocol doesnt work.
Interviewers believe that they are following the Protocol but it is only when systematic feedback is given
that they realize how little they have actually used the Protocol (Roberts, Canada).
Challenges to implementation
In most cases, experienced interviewers can provide follow-up training and feedback to less
experienced interviewers. In Quebec, Canada, there are some police departments with only one
interviewer, posing a challenge for external feedback. Due to the structured guidelines of
the protocol, however, we suggest that well-trained interviewers could potentially reflect on the
quality of their own interviews at regular intervals:
Although trained investigators who work in the same office could help each other with the use of the
Protocol, in some areas of Quebec there is only one trained officer to interview children. Consequently,
they do not benefit from the support of colleagues (Cyr et al., 2012) (Cyr, Canada).
There is also a role for future Protocol-based research to test the benefits of electronic
feedback (e.g. via Skype) at regular intervals on the maintenance of performance. We
encourage such research especially by those based in countries with numerous remotely
based units.
A second challenge to implementation is experienced in countries where the legal system
is not yet oriented toward best-practice interviewing. All of the experts who provided
commentary throughout this review work in countries where high-quality interviewing of child
victim/witnesses is already encouraged, or where recent changes have taken place to facilitate
the transition to incorporating the Protocol. Portugal is one of the most recent countries to
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initiate adoption of the Protocol and is slowly seeing improvements to its legal system with
regards to child interviewing:
Currently children make several formal statements (to child protection services, police, prosecutors
office, forensic assessment, judge) sometimes as often as nine times (Peixoto, 2012; Ribiero, 2009)
and interviews are not video-recorded. Judges do not have proper training in child interviewing and do
not use any standardised forensic interview procedure. While Portuguese Law acknowledges the
importance of procedures that elicit spontaneous testimony, the proper conditions to support such
interviewing do not as yet exist. We recently started to use our translated NICHD Protocol in real cases
and are collecting data to assess its efficacy. The next step is to evaluate the degree of improvement
that the use of the Protocol can bring to the Portuguese judicial procedures, with the aim of changing
legal policy (Peixoto, Portugal).
In summary, our understanding of the issues surrounding the forensic interviewing of children
have helped shape many professional recommendations internationally. As our knowledge of
memory and suggestibility is now so advanced, core recommendations made by professional
bodies worldwide reveal remarkable consensus. The Protocol encompasses this body of
knowledge and reflects these international recommendations, and was developed from a sound
theoretical and empirical research base through the dedicated work of experts invested in
improving the welfare of children worldwide:
Several agencies within Salt Lake County participated in a study with Michael Lamb and his colleagues
at NICHD from 1997-2000. The results were so convincing and the forensic interviews improved so
dramatically that the Childrens Justice Center developed a training curriculum in 2001. The NICHD
Protocol is exclusively taught as the method for conducting forensic interviews of child victims and
witnesses (Stewart, USA).
The forensic interview plays a crucial role in the context of child abuse investigations and it often
determines how the rest of the investigation progresses. Consequently, proper training of
forensic interviewers is paramount. Initial training must always be accompanied by continuous
ongoing training and support. In order for this approach to be successful, it must be supported by
all those involved in child interviewing from the front-line interviewers, to administrators
and managers, and government officials that mandate guidelines. If forensic interviewers are
expected to do such important work, they need to be properly equipped with the support and
tools necessary to be successful. We believe that the NICHD Protocol can provide exactly that
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Authors bibliography
Dr David La Rooy is Reader in Psychology at Abertay University and Scottish Institute for Policing
Research, Dundee Scotland, UK.
Dr Sonja P. Brubacher is Researcher/Lecturer at the Centre for Investigative Interviewing,
Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.
Anu Aromäki-Stratos is Pychologist at the Forensic Psychiatry Unit for Children and Adolescents,
Intermunicipal Hospital District of Southwest Finland, Turku, Finland.
Dr Mireille Cyr is Professor at the Département de Psychologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal,
Dr Irit Hershkowitz is based at the University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel.
Julia Korkman is Pychologist, PhD at the Åbo Akademi University, Helsinki, Finland and
Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.
Trond Myklebust is Assistant Chief of Police/PhD at the Research Department, Norwegian Police
University College, Oslo, Norway.
Makiko Naka is Professor at the Department of Psychology, Hokkaido University, Hokkaido, Japan.
Dr Carlos E. Peixoto is Forensic Psychologist at the Forensic Psychology, Psicólogo Forense, Portugal.
Dr Kim P. Roberts is Professor at the Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University,
Waterloo, Canada.
Heather Stewart is Assistant Program Manager at the Avenues Childrens Justice Center,
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
Michael E. Lamb is Professor of Psychology at the Department of Psychology, University of
Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
Corresponding author
Dr David La Rooy can be contacted at:
For instructions on how to order reprints of this article, please visit our website:
Or contact us for further details:
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... Inaccurate information can also lead to false accusations and family separation; or worse yet, the abuser may run free and exploit other children. It is therefore crucial that those tasked with interviewing children adhere to evidence-informed protocols (La Rooy et al., 2015). Knowing the interviewing methods that are best at maximising reliable information and minimising memory distortion will lead to a useful testimony that is less likely to be challenged in court (Myklebust & Bjørklund, 2010). ...
... Investigative interviewing is a highly specialised area that requires expert skills, and such skills can only be developed through training, practice, and routine supervision (Powell et al., 2010). Ideally, interviewers should be equipped with a broad understanding of basic psychological knowledge, including how memory works, how cognitive biases can influence interviewer behaviour, as well as how individual differences in compliance can influence interviewee behaviour (La Rooy et al., 2015). These psychological factors interact with how interviews are conducted, which can have a profound impact on the outcome of subsequent criminal proceedings. ...
Years of psychological research has demonstrated that the use of investigative interviewing methods based on up‐to‐date scientific evidence is important to ensure the reliability of child witnesses' statements. Ideally, professionals working with children are equipped with knowledge of memory functioning, as erroneous beliefs may impact how they handle cases of alleged abuse. Fifty police officers and 23 victim care officers serving the Royal Malaysian Police completed a 20‐statement questionnaire assessing beliefs about memory functions and child investigative interviewing. The police sample also read a child sexual abuse case vignette and listed the questions they would ask the alleged victim in an investigative interview. Consistent with findings from other parts of the world, the beliefs of child protection professionals were not always in line with the latest memory research. Directive‐type questions were used more than option‐posing and suggestive questions. Findings are considered in relation to variations in culture and legal systems. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... Forensic interviewers are trained to ask children invitations: questions that are openended and non-specific, often beginning with the phrases "tell me about" or "tell me what happened" (Lamb et al., 2018). Invitations are widely considered the most productive in forensic interviews (La Rooy et al., 2015; American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, 2012). Forensic interviewers are additionally trained to elicit details about specific episodes of abuse whenever possible, because episodic information tends to be more detailed than script information (Brubacher et al., 2014). ...
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Background Forensic interviewers are taught to ask children invitations using the word “time” to refer to a specific episode (e.g., “Tell me about the last time he touched you.”). However, children may interpret the word “time” as requesting conventional temporal information rather than narrative information. Objective We examined the rates at which children misinterpreted invitations containing the word “time,” comparing invitations asking “about” an episode to invitations asking what “happened” during an episode. Participants This study examined 827 forensic interviews of children aged 4 to 15 (Mage = 8.1 years) in cases of suspected sexual abuse. Methods We identified 1405 invitations using the word “time,” and coded them for whether they asked “about” or what “happened.” Children's responses were coded for whether they gave exclusively conventional temporal information, expressed temporal ignorance or uncertainty, requested clarification, or gave a don't know response. Results Children responded to About invitations with higher rates of conventional temporal information (11%) than Happened invitations (6%, p < .001). Children were also more inclined to express uncertainty about temporal information when asked About invitations (p = .04). In a third of the cases where children exhibited misunderstanding, interviewers failed to clarify their intentions. Conclusions Forensic interviewers can reduce children's unresponsiveness to invitations by using Happened invitations that overcome the ambiguity associated with “time.”
... Ÿ It is more usual to them to drop out of study, have difficulty finding and keeping a job, and to be at risk for later victimization, suicidal attempts, create perverted 10,13 parent-child relationships. Modern forensic medical examination systems recognized the 14,15 need for special training for an expert in such cases. Studies include the psychological characteristics of the subjects, methods and approaches for the most effective and objective collection of verbal and physical data with minimal additional 16,17 trauma to the subjects. ...
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Domestic violence is prevalent globally. Of which one of the entities is Child abuse which occurs in many forms. The most difficult to identify and examine is violence aimed at children since they are the most vulnerable part of the family. The consequence of child abuse are many ranging from various physical injuries to psychological and mental trauma which affects the overall development of child as well. Modern forensic medical examination systems recognized the need for special training for an expert to deal with such cases. There is a dire need to place various protocols and guidelines in this context by various countries in their own societal perspective. This will surely aid in in-depth research into this societal problem as well as help in proper dispensation of justice. In India although POCSO has been placed since 2012 which primarily addresses one of the forms of child abuse ie sexual only. The paper discusses various aspects of forensic medical examination in such a situation which will go a long way in placing the better documentation in a humane manner.
Mock (simulated) interviews can be used as a safe context for trainee interviewers to learn and practice questioning skills. When mock interviews are designed to reflect the body of scientific evidence on how questioning skills are best learned, research has demonstrated that interviewers acquire relevant and enduring skills. Despite the importance of this exercise in learning interview skill and its prevalence as a learning tool in other fields such as medicine and allied health, there has been relatively little discussion about mock interviews from an educational perspective in investigative interview training. This paper addresses that gap by providing the first comprehensive overview of the way mock interviews have been used in training interviewers of children. We describe the research that supports their utility, and the various ways they can be implemented in training: providing insight to learners; allowing opportunities for practice, feedback, and discussion; and as a standardized way to assess skill change over time. The paper also includes an overview of the cutting-edge use of avatars in mock interviews to enhance efficiency, provide unique learning experiences, and ultimately reduce training costs. We explain why avatars may be particularly useful in basic training, freeing up human trainers to facilitate mock interviews around advanced topics and discussion.
Статтю присвячено аналізу процесуальних особливостей проведення допиту неповнолітнього, який вчинив кримінальне правопорушення, зокрема вбивство. Проаналізовано процесуальний порядок і тактичні особливості проведення допиту неповнолітньої особи, визначені в міжнародному законодавстві. Розглянуто критерії, певні правила проведення допиту, а також вимоги до проведення такої процесуальної дії. Установлено необхідність подальшого вдосконалення національного законодавства відповідно до міжнародних стандартів у галузі кримінального процесуального забезпечення досудового розслідування. Звернуто увагу на відсутність законодавчо регламентованої процедури допиту неповнолітніх за методом «Зеленої кімнати» та невідповідність національного законодавства України вимогам Конвенції про права дитини (1991 р.), що висуваються до осіб, які допитують неповнолітніх.
Disclosure of child sexual abuse (CSA) is essential to its mitigation and the protection of children. Previous studies have greatly contributed to the understanding of disclosure rates both in childhood and adulthood, in addition to delayed disclosure and disclosure barriers. In acknowledging the relevancy of the ecological framework, researchers have illustrated how the various systems in the children’s lives have a role in their decision to disclose the abuse. The current study was designed to delve into the disclosure stories shared by children during their forensic interviews. Fifty children, 30 girls and 20 boys, from diverse communities in the Jewish society in Israel (15 secular, 15 Orthodox and 20 ultra-Orthodox) were forensically interviewed for the first time following CSA. Thematic analysis was carried out on their narratives, focusing on two main themes. The first was the children’s descriptions of their difficulties to disclose, which were embedded in their own perceptions and experiences, their fear of the disclosure recipient’s response, and their dynamic with the perpetrator. The second theme provided a glance into the children’s descriptions of the disclosure recipients’ responses, which highlighted the children’s central experience of loneliness in the context of the abuse. Theoretical and practical ramifications pertaining to these crucial gaps will be discussed. In addition, specific religious-cultural elements raised in relation to the disclosure will be highlighted. Limitations of the study as well as further recommendations and implications will be introduced.
The forensic medical evaluation of pediatric asylum seekers requires special consideration of types of injuries, abuse, and neglect that may be specific to children; an understanding of child behavior and development and varying responses to acute and chronic trauma; and a knowledge of country conditions, cultural sensitivity, and a trauma-informed approach to care. Historically, most forensic medical evaluation training for asylum seekers has focused on the adult population and nationally, there are few pediatricians, family medicine providers, child mental health clinicians, and child abuse pediatricians trained in this work. Since 2014, there has been a surge of immigrant arrivals who are unaccompanied children or in family units; there is a growing need to build a large cadre of pediatric trained medical and mental health providers to play an essential role in performing medical forensic evaluations.
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One hundred alleged victims of child sexual abuse (ages 4-12 years; M = 8.1 years) were interviewed by police investigators about their alleged experiences. Half of the children were interviewed using the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's structured interview protocol, whereas the other children - matched with respect to their age, relationship with the alleged perpetrator, and seriousness of the alleged offenses - were interviewed using standard interview practices. Protocol-guided interviews elicited more information using open-ended prompts and less information using option-posing and suggestive questions than did standard interviews; there were no age differences in the amount of information provided in response to open-ended invitations. In 89% of the protocol interviews, children made their preliminary allegations in response to open-ended prompts, compared with 36% in the standard interviews.
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Children are asked to participate in joint investigative interviews (JIIs) when they have been suspected of being victims or witnesses of crimes and investigators need to learn from the children’s own words what happened. Information thus obtained from children in JIIs can play a significant role in civil and criminal decision making. It is, therefore, important that investigative interviewers employ techniques and practices designed to maximise the reliability of information elicited from children. In this article we briefly review key aspects of psychological research that have shaped scientific recommendations about how investigative interviews should be conducted, and provide results from preliminary studies of interviews conducted in Scotland. The findings are discussed in light of the newly released Scottish Executive (2011) guidelines for interviewers. We conclude by suggesting the most beneficial way forward in Scotland with regard to child interviewing practices is to utilise the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Protocol, and suggest that strong links between scientific researchers and practitioners (e.g., police, social work, fiscal service, children’s reporters, and the judiciary) should be developed and maintained.
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This article reviews best practice for interviewing child witnesses. In most officially recognized abuse cases, the child previously disclosed abuse, making it possible to elicit disclosures without asking closed-ended questions. Interviewers nevertheless overuse closed-ended questions, which lead to short unelaborated responses, privilege the limited perspective of the interviewer, maximize the potential for linguistic difficulties, increase children’s tendency to guess, and risk response biases. Interviewers can avoid closed-ended questions through narrative practice, in which interviewers ask children to narrate a recent innocuous event before introducing the abuse topic; cued invitations, in which interviewers repeat details reported by children and ask for elaboration; open-ended wh- questions; and interview instructions, including asking children to promise to tell the truth. A remaining challenge is how to elicit disclosures from reluctant children. Better understanding of the dynamics of abuse disclosure and optimal interviewing strategies can assist the legal system in assessing the veracity of children’s reports.
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To determine whether the introduction of evidence-based practice for interviewing child witnesses was accompanied by changes in the disposition of cases in which sexual abuse was suspected, we compared cases in which the investigative interviews of 3- to 14-year-old alleged victims were conducted either before (n = 350) or after (n = 410) investigators had been taught to use the NICHD Protocol. Analyses showed that when charges were filed, both pre-Protocol and Protocol interviews were highly (and similarly) likely to yield guilty pleas to one or more counts. However, charges were more likely to be filed when interviewers had been trained to use the Protocol; Protocol interviews were therefore associated with more guilty pleas than non-Protocol interviews. When cases were tried, furthermore, Protocol cases were more likely to yield guilty verdicts. These results point to important implications for policies concerning the investigation of suspected crimes involving young witnesses. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
‘Best-practice’ guidelines for conducting investigative interviews with children are well established in the literature, yet few investigative interviewers actually adhere to such guidelines in the field. One of the problems is that little discussion has focused on how such guidelines are learned and sustained by professionals. To address this concern, the current article reviews the key elements of interview training programs that are known to promote competent interviewing. These elements include: (i) the establishment of key principles or beliefs that underpin effective interviewing, (ii) the adoption of an interview framework that maximises narrative detail, (iii) clear instruction in relation to the application of the interview framework, (iv) effective ongoing practice, (v) expert feedback and (vi) regular evaluation of interviewer performance. A description and justification of each element is provided, followed by broad recommendations regarding how these elements can be implemented by police and human service organisations in a cost-effective manner.
Children's (N = 176) reported memories of a strange man's visit were studied. Three- to 6-year-olds were interviewed repeatedly after the event in one of the following conditions: (a) control, in which no interviews contained suggestive questions; (b) stereotype, in which children were given previsit expectations about the stranger; (c) suggestion, in which interviews contained erroneous suggestions about misdeeds committed by the stranger; and (d) stereotype plus suggestion, in which children were given both pre- and postvisit manipulations. Results from open-ended interviews after 10 weeks indicated that control participants provided accurate reports, stereotypes resulted in a modest number of false reports, and suggestions resulted in a substantial number of false reports. Children in the stereotype-plus-suggestion group made high levels of false reports. All experimental conditions showed dramatic developmental trends favoring older children.