Child maltreatment is widely recognized as a pervasive global health problem. A major challenge for child protection professionals is providing an environment where maltreated children are willing and able to provide reports. Yet interviewers must be careful not to elicit false reports from non-maltreated children. Recently forensic interviewers have employed canine assisted interviews with the rationale that dogs create an instant rapport and provide children with needed emotional support. However, critics argue that the presence of dogs may compromise witness accuracy and that there is no empirical foundation for their use. This is addressed by the current proposal. A laboratory paradigm is necessary in order to stage events so that determinations can be made about both accuracy and quantity of children’s reports in a controlled setting. Our study will fill a major gap in the literature by providing evidence-based guidelines on incorporating dogs into forensic practices with children. The study will also inform future research in the area and improve forensic practices with maltreated children.
Objective 1: Do dog-assisted interviews promote children’s event reports?
Objective 2: At what time point should forensic interviewers introduce dogs?
Objective 3: Do dog-assisted interviews reduce children’s stress during interviews?
The main hypotheses to be tested are (1) canine-assisted analogue forensic interviews will bolster the quality and quantity of children’s event reports; (2) the amount of interaction with the dog will moderate the effects of the canine-assisted interviews, and (3) children with canine-assisted interviewers will display lower levels of stress biomarkers. The overarching goal of the study is to provide evidence-based guidelines regarding how and when to incorporate dogs in legal settings.
Based on well-standardized procedures (approved by the IRB), 120 6- to9-year-old children will experience a rich, interactive event that involves an element of forbidden touch. A week later, the children will undergo an analogue forensic interview using an empirically based investigative interview designed for children. Children will be randomly assigned to one of four different interview conditions: traditional (no dog), dog at rapport only, dog at interview only, or dog at rapport +interview. Biomarkers of stress will be collected. Detailed coding will allow us to assess the quality and quantity of children’s event reports as well as susceptibility to suggestion. The findings will also inform forensic practices on the time point at which to introduce dogs.
Canine-assisted interviews are expected to bolster children’s event reports, leading to increases in both quantity and quality of children’s reports. We expect the canine-assisted interviews to bolster children’s reports most when the dog is introduced at the initial rapport building phase and continues to stay during the interview.