Vol. 81, No. 4Q & A

A female RCMP officer in civilian clothing stands in front of a green wall

Communicating with kids

Child interviewers build rapport with young victims of crime

Cpl. Michelle Mosher interviews children during police investigations at the Caribou Child and Youth Centre in Grande Prairie, Alta. Credit: S/Sgt. Neal Fraser, RCMP

Police interviewing is a delicate task. The search for the truth must be balanced with sensitivity for victim experiences. Interviewing children amplifies that challenge. Travis Poland spoke to Cpl. Michelle Mosher, a forensic child interviewer with RCMP Alberta's Serious Crime Branch, about her work with some of society's most vulnerable.

Can you describe your job?

As a child forensic interviewer, I speak with children who have been victims or witnesses of crimes. In interviews, we try to collect as much information as possible for the investigation while trying to make the process less traumatizing for children. In an effort to conduct only one interview, I go in with the mentality that I have one shot to get it right. We don't ask leading questions and we ensure our questions are rooted in best practices for child forensic interviewing.

What type of investigations are you involved with?

Any type of investigation where a child is affected, especially serious crimes. We're primarily involved in investigations where a child is a victim or a witness of sexual or physical abuse. We will interview children who are witnesses to domestic violence and victims crimes such as child luring and child pornography.

What skills are needed in this field?

Strong interpersonal skills are important. You need to connect with children and have compassion and patience. Rapport building is essential to the interview and you must be understanding and a good listener. We want a child to feel comfortable talking to us and open up. Children should retell their story and know we won't be judgemental.

How do you build rapport?

Before an interview, I'll talk with a parent or someone who knows the child about their interests to get an idea about the things they might like. I can pull from that as a starting point. If they say they like baseball, I get them to tell me what they like about it. I can ask them to recall a specific game, which provides examples of how I'll be asking questions later. We recently started using a therapy dog in our interviews, which can give us a different focus to start with. When a child makes an important disclosure, it can be beneficial to say "Thank you for telling me those things," as it lets them know it's OK to talk about it.

How do you work with investigators?

We maintain a close relationship with a case's lead investigator, who explains all the case details. We outline the interview process for the investigator who monitors the discussion from another room. Following the interview, I introduce the lead investigator to the child. That way, if they see each other again, whether in court or in the community, they know each other. I support parts of an investigation such as suspect interviews and evidence presentations.

What's your relationship with children's services and support organizations?

We have a strong association with children's and victim's services and court support workers at the child advocacy centre. Although our mandates are different, our main goals are the same. We want victims to have the support and services they need to be successful in life.

How often do you conduct interviews?

At the Caribou Child and Youth Centre, where I work in Grande Prairie, Alta., we conducted more than 90 interviews in the first five months of 2019. The numbers always vary, but generally we get around three to five referrals a week. Last year, nine full-time interviewers across Alberta completed 1,200 interviews.

What are some challenges of the job?

It's challenging knowing that abuse is still happening. We're proud we can help lead the way with child advocacy centres but we're always asking: How can we stop this from happening? How can we help provide support? It's a worthwhile field of investigations and there's still lots of work that needs to be done.

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