The use of the NICHD protocol to enhance the quantity of details obtained from children with low verbal abilities in investigative interviews: A pilot study

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Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp. 144-162

Research suggests that specialized interview techniques may be required to elicit detailed accounts of sensitive events (e.g., abuse) with vulnerable children, such as those with low verbal abilities (LVA). This study sought to explore the impact of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) protocol to enhance details given by children with low verbal ability in forensic interviews. The protocol is a structured investigative guideline for enhancing the retrieval of complete and accurate accounts of alleged incidents. Verbal ability was measured with the vocabulary subtest of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Third Edition. Thirty-four children between the ages of 6 and 14 were interviewed following an experience of sexual abuse. Half the interviews used the NICHD protocol administered by trained interviewers.

Univariate analyses of variance revealed that invitational (i.e., open-ended) questions were asked significantly more in the protocol than nonprotocol interviews. Interestingly, interviewers asked significantly less directive or option-posing questions to children with LVA compared to those with average verbal ability (AVA). A univariate analysis of covariance yielded significant results showing that children in the protocol condition (both LVA and AVA) recalled more details than those in the nonprotocol condition. These findings suggest that invitational and open-ended questioning should be encouraged in forensic interviews, and that using the NICHD protocol may enhance LVA children’s production of event details. Further research with larger samples and a greater diversity of verbal ability measures is warranted.

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