New help for children to be included in abuse investigations

News 9 December 2019

With organisations too often overlooking the voices of children in investigations into alleged child abuse or child-related misconduct, the Commission for Children and Young People has collaborated with Griffith University to offer new evidence-based resources to help organisations include children.

‘We want to ensure first of all that children are included in investigations unless there is a very good reason not to, but also that their wellbeing is supported. Not everyone knows how to talk with children about what they have experienced and how to help them tell their story,’ said Liana Buchanan, Victoria’s Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.

‘Excluding children from investigations of abuse without good reason can deprive investigators of valuable evidence. It can also send a damaging message to children that their voice is not valued, and contribute to them not feeling listened to or heard,’ Commissioner Buchanan said. Children have a right to have their voices heard.

In Victoria, certain organisations working with children must comply with the Reportable Conduct Scheme, which legally requires them to notify the Commission of alleged child abuse or child-related misconduct, and to carry out investigations under the Commission’s oversight.

‘Part of doing that properly is ensuring children are interviewed, but we continue to see organisations failing to do that, even when children’s evidence would have been highly relevant.

‘Sadly, even after the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse laid bare the terrible consequences of failing to listen to the voices of children, many organisations have still not made changes to properly remove the barriers to children disclosing abuse and continue to minimise abuse.

‘Indeed, some organisations have a specific policy never to interview children, while others fail to give proper weight to their evidence, unjustifiably preferring the evidence of adults over children,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

To address this, Griffith University’s Centre for Investigative Interviewing was commissioned to research the issue, share expertise, and work with the Commission to produce video resources and a guide for organisations.

To inform the development of the resources, Griffith University included a broad range of Victorian organisations required to comply with the Reportable Conduct Scheme in their research. This included testing the effectiveness of training techniques aimed at developing practical interviewing skills in a series of forums in April 2019.

Griffith University research showed that 27.1 per cent of research participants were concerned about obtaining the right information from their interviews to be able to make a finding, 21.5 per cent were concerned about their competence as an interviewer, and 20.1 per cent were concerned they would further traumatise a child by conducting an interview.

While myths around the lack of reliability of children’s evidence still pervade, Professor Martine Powell from the Centre for Investigative Interviewing says children – even those as young as four years old – can be reliable witnesses when they are interviewed appropriately. One video specifically targets the myths.

‘The first step in being able to interview a child is knowing what constitutes good interviewing,’ said Powell.

‘There is robust scientific evidence around this, which we have summarised in these resources.’

Professor Powell said that while the new resources provide guidance in effective interviewing, organisations also need to ensure their staff or investigators are provided the chance to develop the necessary skills and experience to undertake interviews involving children.

The development of the resources is part of a broad approach by the Commission to ensure the voices of children are heard and heeded in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and also Victoria’s Child Safe Standards.

‘It is children’s right to be heard, but we need the widest possible recognition that their voices are central to the vital task of preventing and responding to abuse.

‘I urge all organisations in Victoria who work with children to engage with our new resources to help them ask children the right questions in the right way to help keep all children safe,’ Commissioner Buchanan concluded.

The new resources are now available on the Commission’s website.

For interview:

Liana Buchanan
Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People

Professor Martine Powell
Centre for Investigative Interviewing
Griffith University

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