Scaffolding Children’s Communication in Investigative Interviews

  • Alex Smethurst

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (YJCEA, 1999) introduced a number of ‘special measures’ to enable young witnesses to give their best evidence. One of the ‘special measures’ was the Registered Intermediary (RI) provision. In order to implement this ‘special measure’ the Witness Intermediary Scheme (WIS) was developed. Despite the Scheme having now been active for over a decade, relatively few studies have examined the work of RIs (Collins et al., 2017). The aim of this thesis was to expand upon the limited body of research regarding the RI provision and pre-interview communication assessments – a central aspect of the RI role (but which can also be conducted by police officers). The thesis comprises of four studies designed to examine different aspects of the RI role. Study one examined RIs’ beliefs regarding children’s memory and investigative interview practice, and compared these to the beliefs of lay people. Significant gaps in the RIs’ knowledge were identified, with the RIs having an increased propensity to express uncertainty relative to lay people. Study two examined the efficacy of pre-interview communication assessments using the ‘Unpacking the Box’ framework (Triangle, 2015). The framework is used by RIs and police officers, prior to investigative interviews, to assess children’s communication abilities. Pre-interview assessments, using the framework, provided a good indication of children’s abilities in all areas of cognition, included in the study, other than resistance to suggestion. The pre-interview assessment was also found to be superior to professional judgement in determining children’s use of ground rules, responsiveness, and drawing ability. Study three examined the demographic and cognitive variables thought to be associated with children’s recall and use of the ground rules. Unlike the cognitive variables (i.e., visuospatial ability, expressive language, receptive language, and attention) age did not enter as a significant predictor in any of the regression models. This suggests that cognitive factors may be more important than age in predicting children’s event recall and use of the ‘you got it wrong’ rule. Study four examined the impact of the RI provision on practice in real-world investigative interviews with children. Significant differences were found, between the RI and no RI interviews, in relation to the prevalence of multiple questions and the use of certain communication aids (e.g., dolls, models, and figures). Although the RI provision appeared to have some impact upon interview practice, it did not lead to child witnesses providing more detailed accounts. The findings of this fourth study suggest that there may be other benefits of the RI provision but that additional training relating to the ABE guidance (Ministry of Justice, 2011) is required. Overall, this thesis has provided an insight into the RI provision and the efficacy of pre-interview communication assessments using the ‘Unpacking the Box’ framework (Triangle, 2015). However, further research is needed in order to fully understand how effective each is in scaffolding children’s communication in an investigative interview context.
Date of Award1 Feb 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorKimberly Collins (Supervisor), Nikki Carthy (Supervisor), Becky Milne (Supervisor) & Karri Gillespie-Smith (Supervisor)

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