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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/assessment-and-planning/assessments/intake-and-early-assessment/specialist-child-interviewing/
Printed: 24/10/2021
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Last updated: 11/10/2021

Specialist child interviews

Specialist child interviews are conducted as part of an investigation when te tamaiti may have been the victim of abuse or witnessed an incident that may constitute a criminal offence.

Upcoming changes for this guidance

This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to practice framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, based on a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing from ​Te Ao Māori principles of oranga to support mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. We each need to consider how we can apply these principles to our practice when reading this guidance. The following resources provide support:
Practice for working effectively with Māori
Our practice shift

Te tamaiti has the right to have their voice heard

Tamariki who have been or may have been the victim of abuse or witnessed alleged offending have the right to have their evidence gathered in the most appropriate way and recorded to support any future criminal or family court proceedings or social work investigation.

Section 107 of the Evidence Act 2006 means that, when te tamaiti is giving evidence in a criminal proceeding, they can do so in one or more of the following ways:

  • by a video record made before the hearing of the proceeding (the video record is created from a specialist child interview)
  • while in the courtroom but unable to see the defendant or some other specified person
  • from an appropriate place outside the courtroom, either in Aotearoa New Zealand or elsewhere.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, te tamaiti or rangatahi may be required to attend court, but they can be protected by screens or appear through a video link. The judge will use their discretion about how te tamaiti will appear. It may be used as evidence in chief (meaning the video is their full statement and it does not need to be repeated).

Police will work with the court, social worker, whānau or family and te tamaiti, where practicable, to determine what approach is most appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

Giving evidence – child witnesses | Victims Information

What is a specialist child interview

A child specialist interview (referred to by Police as a specialist child witness interview) follows well-researched interview models using specific interviewing techniques and open questioning and can be used for the purpose of:

  • gathering evidence in relation to criminal cases
  • informing family court proceedings
  • informing social work investigation or assessment, planning and decision-making.

A child specialist interview sits within the context of the wider work we are doing with te tamaiti and whānau, and adds to our understanding about what has happened, the impact this has had or could have and what support might be needed going forward.

Information should be collected in the interview in a competent way that:

  • builds rapport with te tamaiti
  • allows te tamaiti to state the facts of the complaint clearly and freely, without being asked leading questions
  • respects the developmental stage and cultural and individual characteristics of each tamaiti
  • follows the Evidence Act 2006 and Evidence Regulations 2007.

Only te tamaiti and the specialist child interviewer will be in the interview room during the interview, unless there are specific requirements (for example, a support person or interpreter is needed). This enables te tamaiti to give their information in their own words, in a way that is most suitable to their needs and that makes sure the information can be used as evidence in a court process (criminal or family) if necessary.

The interview process includes talking to accompanying adults who are supporting te tamaiti, interviewing te tamaiti and preparing a written report, and generally takes 3 to 4 hours – however, the interviewer will be able to give a more accurate idea about this when they set up the appointment.

The interview:

  • enables the collection of the most complete, accurate and reliable information about the alleged abuse or incident from te tamaiti
  • enables te tamaiti to provide their evidence as soon as practicable after an incident while their memories are fresh
  • enables te tamaiti to talk about any historic experience of abuse
  • enables te tamaiti to identify others who may have witnessed or been involved in what happened to them or who may also be at risk
  • gives te tamaiti some protection from giving their full evidence orally in court by providing a record of the interview that can be used as their evidence-in-chief statement in court
  • minimises the number of times te tamaiti needs to repeat their story
  • helps to indicate what further supports and services may be needed to support te tamaiti and their whānau or family.

Interviews are generally held at a specialist video interview unit and are always carried out in accordance with legislation by specially trained staff from either Oranga Tamariki or Police. There are a limited number of specialist interviewing units throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. However, interviews can be arranged in areas where no specialist interview unit is available – we can:

  • contact our closest specialist interview unit for advice
  • talk to Police about how a specialist interview can be arranged.

There are mobile units that can be used if required.

Accessing the interview recording

Once the specialist child interview has been completed, the video record of the interview remains the property of Police. This includes:

  • the master copy (used for evidence in court)
  • the working copy (the second copy made at the time of the interview)
  • any copy of the working copy made by Police (at times, Police may need to release more than one copy of the video).

These recordings must be kept by Police:

  • for 10 years if there are court proceedings
  • for 7 years if there have been no court proceedings.

Police may release a DVD for a third party to view, for example, a Lawyer for Child or Family Court judge and people connected with proceedings. This also includes any person charged with committing an offence that the video relates to, and it is important that te tamaiti and whānau are aware of this.

A social worker may request to see the video and, under the Regulations, Police must supply Oranga Tamariki with either the working copy or a copy of the video record with a copy of any existing transcript, if it is requested for the purpose of:

  • allowing te tamaiti to view the video record (any request by te tamaiti or their whānau or family to view the video made should be referred to Police first)
  • enabling a social worker to discharge their duties under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

Any video record supplied by Police to Oranga Tamariki for the above purposes must:

  • be placed in safe, secure storage until viewed
  • be kept and viewed in a way that preserves that privacy of the people recorded on it
  • not be made into copies
  • not be shared – outside Oranga Tamariki
  • be returned to Police as soon as practicable after viewing.

Limited purposes for which Police may show working copy – section 20 of Evidence Regulations 2007

Collecting information to support a referral

Information given by te tamaiti in the specialist child interview can come under scrutiny during the court process, so information needs to be gathered carefully and purposefully. The referral should include what has already been said, how the conversation came about, and who else knows or has been told. However, we should avoid attempting to gather specific details of the incident beyond what is required to:

  • secure the safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti
  • assist in the risk and safety assessment of others impacted
  • help their whānau or family understand what has happened and what that means going forward
  • support a referral for a specialist child interview if necessary.

If we need further advice or support to gather necessary information to make a referral, we contact our nearest specialist services unit. They will be able to help with things like:

  • appropriate inquiry questions for specific age groups of tamariki, particularly when te tamaiti is very young
  • gathering information for a referral where te tamaiti is very young or has developmental delays or disabilities
  • informing the whānau or family about the needs of te tamaiti throughout this process
  • monitoring of plans with the whānau or family for the ongoing safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti before the interview.

Referring te tamaiti for a specialist child interview

The decision to conduct a specialist interview is based on the circumstances of the situation and may be made:

  • when Oranga Tamariki is working with Police under the Child Protection Protocol (CPP) to respond to actions or behaviour involving te tamaiti that might constitute a criminal offence (physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, family harm)
  • where the social worker requires further information as part of a social work assessment or investigation (such as caregiver investigations, children who have witnessed adult violence or homicide, siblings in the house where an allegation has been made).

The social worker or a police officer makes the referral for a specialist child interview. Each region has a system in place to direct and manage these referrals. A referral template is available on CYRAS under Specialist Services. The referral will include:

  • up-to-date and accurately recorded information, particularly: names, relevant dates of birth, ethnicity, first language, preferred language, and current address details of those involved
  • details of the alleged abuse or incident 
  • how the disclosure came about, including the words used by te tamaiti and any questions asked, and responses made at the time of the allegation
  • any information relevant to the language skills, developmental issues, physical or other disabilities of te tamaiti, their ability to converse, and how they might be feeling about taking part in an interview
  • details of any whānau or family or contextual issues that could be relevant to the allegation, or provide useful background information
  • any issues that may impact on obtaining consent from parents or guardians.

When working with te tamaiti or their whānau or family, we need to record in CYRAS all information that may indicate that a specialist child interview may be required. Where te tamaiti or another person has disclosed possible abuse or has witnessed alleged offending, we need to gather information that not only identifies any immediate safety or risk needs, but that collects information required to determine whether a child specialist interview or other action may be required.

Supporting te tamaiti and their whānau or family when a specialist interview may be required

When te tamaiti and their whānau or family are facing the prospect of specialist child interview, it is critical that they are supported and well informed about the process. Make time to visit with tamariki and their whānau or family to explain the interview process and give them an opportunity to ask questions. This will also be an opportunity to gather any further information that might be needed for a referral.

There are many reasons that may impact on how te tamaiti and their whānau or family engage with the social worker when discussing the need for a specialist child interview, including:

  • distrust of the system or process
  • levels of anxiety, fear, guilt, anger or shame that make it difficult for those involved to speak openly about the situation
  • some people may find it difficult to speak openly about what is happening, particularly where the allegation is of a sexual nature
  • fear about what might happen to them or others
  • divided loyalty to whānau or family members or others, particularly when the alleged abuser is, or is known to, whānau or family.

Te tamaiti and their whānau or family will have their own way of responding to a situation that is based on the norms, values, beliefs and tikanga of their culture. The social worker will need to work with them before, during and after the interview process, in a way that enables us to understand their perspective and the support they require, and to work alongside them to plan the next steps.

The social worker can support te tamaiti and their whānau or family through the process by:

  • becoming familiar with their cultural beliefs, values, principles (impact of abuse on tapu and whakapapa) and tikanga relating to violence, sexual behaviour and abuse
  • reflecting on how our own values, beliefs and experience may impact on our mahi
  • building familiarity with supports (including advocacy for te tamaiti) and services available to te tamaiti and their whānau or family in our area, including those that offer kaupapa Māori or other culturally specific support that te tamaiti and their whānau or family may require
  • seeking relevant cultural advice, and planning the best way to engage with te tamaiti and their whānau or family
  • listening to te tamaiti and their whānau or family to understand their perspective and any concerns they might have
  • considering the historical and contemporary factors that may have an impact on the way te tamaiti and their whānau or family are feeling and responding
  • adapting our practice approach to suit the needs of te tamaiti and their whānau or family
  • explaining the process in a way that te tamaiti and their whānau or family can understand
  • consulting with te tamaiti and their whānau or family and the specialist interviewer to determine what support may be required for those involved (this could include support people to accompany them to the interview).

Once a decision has been made to progress with an interview, we need secure to consent from te tamaiti and the appropriate whānau or family member.

Practice standard: See and engage tamariki

Practice standard: See and engage whānau/family, wider family, caregivers and when appropriate victims of offending by tamariki 

Guidance: Working with tamariki and rangatahi when there have been allegations of abuse against a caregiver

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai

Guidance: Practice for working effectively with Māori

Working with Pacific Peoples: Va’aifetū

Understanding Māori perspectives: tamariki and rangatahi who are victims of sexual violence or display harmful sexual behaviour | orangatamariki.govt.nz (PDF 914 KB) 

Māori health providers – directory | Ministry of Health 

Definition: Family violence

Tour of an evidential video suite — for tamariki

What to expect on the day

Supporting te tamaiti before an interview

The parents, or caregiver, and whānau or family have a role in supporting te tamaiti before an interview and may need our advice on how to do this. The support required will depend on the individual tamaiti, but may include things like:

  • answering any questions te tamaiti may have about the interview process and letting them know the details about when the interview will take place (they may need to remind young tamariki on the day of the interview)
  • listening if te tamaiti wants to talk but not asking detailed questions about what happened as this can decrease the willingness of te tamaiti to repeat the disclosure and have an impact on the memory process
  • letting te tamaiti know that it is okay to talk at the interview and that they are not in trouble
  • taking note of any further details that te tamaiti shares about the incident or incidents – these will need to be shared with the interviewer and recorded as a casenote
  • making sure te tamaiti is well rested before the interview and has eaten if possible.

Roles and responsibilities throughout the interview process

There are 3 main professional roles involved during the interview process.