Reliability of Evidence and Testimony in Child Maltreatment Cases

Project Details


In child maltreatment investigations, testimony from fresh complaint witnesses (persons to whom children disclosed abuse) informs a broad range of investigative and legal decisions and provides triers of fact with a window into the credibility of children's allegations. Despite the importance of fresh complaint testimony to child maltreatment investigations, currently there are no guidelines for interviewing adults who receive children's disclosures. This project will develop the first set of recommendations for conducting investigative interviews with fresh complaint witnesses.

Using an ethical experimental approach involving children and their parents, PIs will examine strategies for maximizing parents' ability to report on a conversation with their children related to various levels of inappropriate behavior. Parents will be questioned about that conversation either with an interview modeled on current police investigative practices or with an interview that uses a context reinstatement strategy to enhance recall for conversational and contextual detail. Comparison of the accuracy of the testimony elicited by the traditional approach and the use of context reinstatement will inform interviewing practices and help investigators interpret inconsistencies between children's testimony and the hearsay testimony of the fresh complaint witnesses who receive the children's disclosures. Project results and recommendations will be shared with scientists and forensic professionals, local and federal law enforcement agencies, and national policy groups in order to improve the reliability of evidence and testimony by integrating evidenced-based and theoretically driven recommendations into formal investigative practices. Deidentified project data will be publicly archived for secondary data analyses.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date1/10/1728/02/23


  • National Science Foundation: $366,469.00


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