Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Role of the School Counselor in Child Abuse Interviewing

Sunday, October 6, 2013



Often I dread staff development day as it is seems to be the same content wrapped in a new year. I have to admit that I sometimes find myself drifting off and my colleagues poking me to wake up.  However, this year I stayed awake and was actively engaged in the speaker's presentation.

Do you know your role in child abuse interviewing?
 What held my attention the day before fall break? 

 What kept my attention was a presentation regarding the school counselor's role in interviewing children in suspected abuse cases.  Maybe it doesn't sound that fascinating, but I have found that there is often skewed boundaries in schools when it comes to who should be involved in interviewing the student. In addition, I felt the presenter provided clarity in who should interview the student, provided a clear process for interviewing the student, and direction for what to do after the interview.

If you have found yourself scratching your head in these types of situations, please read on.

As a mandated reporter, the school counselor normally receives information about potential abuse of a student from a teacher, another student, a family member, or concerned community member.  In the state of Georgia, a mandated reporter has no later than 24 hours to make a report to our Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS). In order to make a report, there must be information provided about the student. Often, as mandated reporters, we know the law; however, many of us are not trained in interviewing. Thankfully, the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy conducted a great training on Minimal Fact Interviewing for school counselors which gave me clarity and direction about my role as an interviewer in potential child abuse cases.

What is Minimal Fact Interviewing?

Minimal Fact Interviewing is an initial basic fact finding interview that is used by mandated reporters and first responders when abuse has been reported. The interview determines if there is enough evidence to make a referral of abuse to state agencies.

There are five basic pieces of information that you want to know in the interview:

Don't ask how!
1. What happened?
2. Where did it occur?                                                
3. When did it happen?
4. Who was the alleged perpetrator?
5. Are they others who are involved?

Detailed fact based questions should not be asked during the minimal fact interview.  Very important...do not ask why the abuse happened as it implies the student is somehow to blame.

Types of questions to use in a Minimal Fact Interview:

1. Free Recall-open ended questions that allow the student to give information in their own words.

"Tell me all about that?"
2. Focused Recall-open ended questions that are focused on particular date or place.
"Tell me everything that happened when you get home?"
3. Multiple Choice-the student is given several choices. It is important to leave an open ended choice for the student.
"Do you live in a house, an apartment, or something else?"

Questions that you should not used:

1.  Yes or No-closed ended questions with only one answer.

"Did he touch you?"
2.  Leading-questions that lead a person in a certain direction.
"He touched you, didn't he?"

Tips for Conducting a Minimal Fact Interview

1. Conduct the interview in a safe, private place.  It is important that you train your staff to recognize when you are interviewing a potential abuse victim.  You may place a special sign on your door that is different from all the signs that you normally post.

2. Limit the number of participants in the room (no more than two).
3. Keep in mind what you need to ask.  It is helpful if you have a Minimal Interviewing Handout.
4. It is important to build rapport before you start asking personal questions.  Have a conversation and ask non-threatening questions.

Building rapport includes:
  • Learning about the student.
  • Obtaining important family information.
  • Asking the student about hobbies, interests, and school.
  • Sticking to safe subjects.
Some Things to Avoid in Your Interview:

1. Vilifying the offender!
Don't vilify the offender!
Avoid saying: "What he did was terrible and that should have never happened!"
2. Avoiding teaching students correct terminology for body parts as the interview answers should be in their own words.
3.  Do not promise anything to the child like..."I am going to make sure nothing happens to you!" Instead, you can say, "I want to help you."

Documentation:

1. Record exactly what you asked and how the student responded.
2. Avoid using complicated terminology.
3. Avoid interpretation of the facts.
4. Record the reactions of the student in the interview.
5. Avoid interpretation of responses.

Making the Report:

In making the report to the Department of Family and Children Services, they want to know:
  • What the child said to you in the interview?
  • How did you come by the information?
  • Does the possible abuser have access to the student?
  • Are there additional family members of the student?  This is important as they may have to place the student somewhere else.
  • What have you done?
Oh, I found out that it is okay to say, "I don't know."
It's okay to say "I don't know."

If you find yourself reporting to the non-offending caregiver of the student, here are some tips:

1. Follow all protocols of your county and state.
2. Tell the caregiver not to ask questions about "your" questions.
3. Listen to the child and be supportive.
4. Tell the caregiver not to vilify the offender.
5. Praise the student for his/her courage and strength.
6. Don't discuss the situation in front the student as this creates contamination (defense attorneys love this!).

If you would like to know more about interviewing and becoming trained as a official interviewer in criminal investigations, you can take a 40 hour training in Forensic Interviewing. If you live in Georgia, go to the following website: Georgia Center for Child Advocacy

If you live any where in the US, go to: Stewards of Children.




NCAC Training Webinars

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Child Abuse Month Activities


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