Conclusion

Several decades of research on the frailties and competencies of young witnesses have demonstrated the advantages of a developmentally sensitive approach to interviewing in terms of both how much information children provide and, importantly, the accuracy of that information. Although the quality of children's testimony is influenced by a number of factors pertaining to the children themselves and the events they have experienced, the ways in which interviewers attempt to elicit information are critical. Valid reasons for caution about the accuracy of children's responses to suggestive questioning techniques or following exposure to coercive or highly suggestive prior interviews notwithstanding, even quite young children are able to provide reliable testimony about abusive experiences when questioned appropriately. However, we must also recognize that children may need help retrieving, structuring, and reporting their experiences in an elaborative manner, and there are a number of constructive approaches to interviewing that provide the appropriate support without degrading the quality of children's accounts. For example, when children understand their role as informants, the naivety of the interviewer, the importance of only reporting what they know and not guessing, and the permissibility of "don't know" responses and of correcting an interviewer's mistakes; when they feel comfortable with the interviewer and have had an opportunity to practice talking about the past in a detailed manner; and when interviewers avoid relying on closed, leading, or misleading questions, even very young children are able to provide meaningful and accurate accounts of their experiences. The onus is therefore on interviewers to ensure that they provide the optimal conditions for children to provide accurate and detailed accounts of even very distressing and traumatic experiences. In this way, we can, in turn, ensure that children are protected from their abusers and that innocent adults are not falsely accused.

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