FACTORS INFLUENCING THE QUALITY OF JUVENILE TESTIMONY: A SYSTEMATIC ANALYSIS OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH LITERATURE

Aleksandr Segal

Abstract


Unreliable testimony from an underage child might become grounds for a judge to make a wrong decision towards the accused. Globally, interviewers fail to support best interview practice recommendations (Cederborg, 2004; Korkman, Santtila, Drzewiecki & Sandnabba, 2008; Sternberg, Lamb, Orbach, Esplin & Mitchell, 2001), thus it is possible that juvenile’s testimony quality might be questionable. In 2018, with the entry into force of the law on the participation of psychologists in juvenile interviews in Lithuania, the need to study the factors influencing the quality of juvenile testimonies is only increasing. A systematic analysis of the qualitative data literature was conducted to better understand what factors and how influence the quality of juvenile testimony.
Object of the study – factors influencing the quality of juvenile testimony.
The aim of this systematic analysis of qualitative data is to look at the interview process from a child`s perspective and have a systematic understanding what factors and how can impact the quality of child`s statements. Insights from qualitative methodology can be useful for practitioners and scientists, who are working on problems related to child interviewing.
Systematic literature analysis focused on factors that impact the quality of children`s testimony was conducted in 5 steps: 1) choosing the database, 2) choosing appropriate keywords, 3) formulating appropriate inclusion and exclusion criterias, 4) creating a map of factors, 5) synthesising of qualitative data. Scientific articles for this study were extracted from these databases: PsychARTICLES, ERIC, Academic Search Complete and Web of Science. Latest studies from the field of legal and criminal psychology are published in these bibliographic databases. In order to identify the most suitable articles for this study a set of keywords was used in Bull`s logic ((child* OR pupil* OR student* OR adolescent* OR youth*) AND (ability* OR compet*) AND (testif* OR witness*)). This algorithm was used in each database search engine. Also, where it was possible, additional filter criteria’s were added: full text English articles ranging from 1990.01.01 till 2017.12.31.
According to the chosen search criteria’s electronical databases provided 1294 publications. All the search results were added to ZOTERO (an open-source tool for collecting and organizing research publications). The program automatically deleted 229 duplicates, leaving 1065 publications for further analysis. 814 publications were excluded at the title screening stage because the titles didn`t mention nothing related to the child competence to testify. Then 214 publications excluded at the abstract reading stage due to either: 1) quantitative or experimental methodology or 2) the focus of the publication was not related to child`s competence to testify or 3) the participants of the study were older than 18 years or 4) the participants of the study were of atypical development or 5) the publication was theoretical or a review. After the abstract screening stage, a total of 37 articles were left for full analysis. At this stage 34 articles were excluded because studies were: 1) of quantitative methodology or 2) theoretical or a review. Only 3 publications were included into this systematic analysis.
In the stage of the data synthesis (Seers, 2015; Snelgrove and Liossi, 2013) the goal is to unite all important findings into one map of factors and purify meta-topics that relate to juvenile’s competence to testify. During synthesis process all distinguished factors were extracted and reassembled into one logical map of factors according to the nature of their impact (positive or negative) on the juveniles’ statements. Results of the analysis show that the quality of juvenile testimony might be influenced by such factors as: 1) the interviewer`s ability to assess the interviewee`s cognitive abilities, 2) and language skills, 3) the interviewer`s communication, 4) the interviewer`s contact with the minor. The map of factors (Table 3) allows to systematically look at the factors that affect the quality of a juvenile›s testimony. In principle, it can be understood that the quality of the testimony depends on how the child`s interview will be constructed and whether the interviewer will make crucial mistakes that will adversely affect juvenile›s testimony. Researchers specializing in child interviewing agree that the majority of the interview training programs are ineffective and do not substantially contribute to higher quality and standards for the child interviewing (Cederborg, Lamb, Sternberg & Lamb, 2000; Korkman et al., 2008; Sternberg et al., 2001). Following this analysis, the idea arises that not only theoretical knowledge that might impact the quality of juvenile›s testimony is important but also the skill of interviewing. The map of factors resembles not only factors that in theory are important to extract good quality statements from a child but also main components of the skill that the interviewer should master.
Qualitative research analysing the factors that affect the quality of a juvenile`s testimony is extremely limited. Knowledge, understanding and integration of the identified factors influencing the ability of a juvenile to give evidence into a practical skill is the basis for obtaining reliable and high-quality testimony from a juvenile. Ignoring or misusing the identified factors during the interview of a juvenile may and must cast doubt on the reliability of the obtained evidence.

Keywords


testimony of minors, child interviewing, testimony reliability factors, systematic literature analysis.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.13165/SD-20-18-2-06

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"Social Work" ISSN online 2029-2775 / ISSN print 1648-4789