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Forensic Interviewing Strategies and Abuse Allegation Investigations in Senior Living and Social Services

Senior Living & Social Services

By: Taylor Goodland

Abuse and molestation is a criminal offense, however litigation does not always target the perpetrator, but instead a senior living and social services provider. In these cases, most providers are being sued due to failure to supervise, negligent hiring, or negligent training. With the rise in cases against providers amid social movements, inflated jury awards, and state-enacted reviver statutes, having an in-depth abuse prevention program is crucial to mitigate the risk.

Even with a well put together program, it is very likely your organization will need to investigate a serious allegation of abuse at some point. It is important not only from a litigation management standpoint, but from a trauma informed care standpoint to ensure the employees conducting the interviews are comfortable and competent in their skillset.

Why Should Senior Living Employees Be Trained in Forensic Interviewing?

“Forensic interviewing is a developmentally sensitive and legally sound method of gathering factual information regarding allegations of abuse or exposure to violence.” (Newlin et al., 2015)

Many employees have not had any formal training to conduct investigations and subsequent interviews for serious allegations that may arise while in their roles. Further, when an individual involved (alleged victim, witness or perpetrator) is non-verbal, has other known cognitive delays, or is known to be unreliable, too often an attempt for an interview is not even made or cut rapidly short.

Top 5 Tips for Forensic Interviewing

  1. Have A Plan
    • What are the potential outcomes?
    • What do i already know?
  2. Remain Non-Judgmental
    • Be aware of implicit bias
  3. Don’t Lie
    • Ok to imply, but do not lie.
      • It is important to maintain credibility
  4. Minimize Repetitive Questions
    • By asking the same question repeatedly, you may get a false response
      • Ask a clarifying question later on if needed
  5. Be Intentional With Your Body Language
    • Limit closed off body language by removing barriers such as a desk or table between you and the interviewee
      • Keep arms open or by your sides rather than crossed
    • Consider having an additional person take notes in the back of the room allowing for the interviewer to focus solely on the interviewee

Additional Considerations for Forensic Interviewing

Reliable Victim Issues

In investigations where an individual involved (alleged victim, witness or perpetrator) is non-verbal, has other known cognitive delays, or is known to be unreliable, it may be challenging to elicit accurate information. As mentioned above, in these instances an attempt for an interview is often not even made or cut rapidly short. Instead, try these strategies:

  • Use truth vs. lie example
    • Does your interviewee understand the difference between a truth and a lie?
      • Discuss consequences and ask if they understand consequences
      • Ask if they think it is important to tell the truth
      • Practice with a scenario unrelated to the allegation
  • Ask if they know why you’re talking today
  • Allow the free narrative and do not get stuck on timelines or certain dates
    • What season was it?
    • Was anyone with you?
    • Had you eaten lunch that day?
  • Use an intermediary as needed; translators, pen and paper, picture boards, yes or no cards, smile face scales, or other known means of communication to elicit response

Stay Trauma Informed & Have Empathy

It is important to be aware of the trauma they have endured from the alleged incident, past incidents in their lives, or similar situations where the incident may have triggered past trauma. This is important when interviewing victims, witnesses and perpetrators.

FACT:  Trauma increases stress and loss of memory, even short-term. There may be a point where the interview must end and be rescheduled to allow for the individual time to process.

Even while extremely difficult, having empathy for a perpetrator as to why they may have acted the way they did towards a vulnerable adult or child will allow for increased dialogue, and ultimately will assist in getting to the actualities of what occurred.

Contact your M3 account executive or risk manager for further discussion and resources.

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