Clinical and Legal Perspectives

In our third and final part, "Clinical and Legal Perspectives," science is beautifully translated into practice in three unique chapters: one on forensic interviewing; one on the law and false memory; and our final chapter, on translating findings on memory development, stress, and maltreatment into good clinical technique. Chapter 8, by Brown, Lamb, Pipe, and Orbach, examines the problem of how best to question children in a forensic context. In this extensive review, the authors discuss how the quantity and quality of information elicited in forensic interviews with children reflects the behavior and capacities of both the child witness and the adult interviewers. They outline how even quite young children are capable of providing reliable testimony about abusive experiences when questioned appropriately. At the same time, because children need help retrieving, structuring, and reporting their experiences, there is a clear need to provide that support without degrading the quality of children's accounts. Guidelines for doing so are elaborated on in this chapter.

Chapter 9, by Brainerd and Reyna, provides an exhaustive review of children's spontaneous false memories and what these errors mean for the law. Research on developmental patterns in spontaneous false recollections (e.g., increases with age) is reviewed and the findings are linked to cases of child sexual abuse and the ensuing legal complications. The authors conclude by suggesting ways in which we might avoid eliciting false recollections, especially in cases where abuse has occurred.

In Chapter 10, Toth and Valentino use the literature on trauma and memory, particularly child maltreatment and memory, as the foundation for examining the clinical and social-policy implications of this research for children who have been victimized by abuse and neglect. Based on this review, the authors note that more research is still needed before the efficacy of trauma-specific versus more symptom-focused interventions for children who have been maltreated can be properly evaluated. That is, although for adults attention to trauma has been shown to increase the effectiveness of the intervention, there is considerably less research favoring this approach with maltreated children. Future investigations will require careful attention to the age at which the trauma occurred, the time between the trauma and the provision of treatment, and the developmental period during which the intervention is initiated.

Together, these chapters provide a state-of-the-art snapshot of how the findings from neuroscience and the cognitive and developmental sciences of stress, trauma, and children's memory development can be effectively translated into legal, clinical, and social policy. Documents containing specific prescriptions for investigating child maltreatment, questioning child witnesses, and treating children who have been maltreated continue to be drafted and continue to be informed by science. Thanks to a translational focus, science has been put into practice and practice has informed science about some of the problems still in need of rigorous inquiry.

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