In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court noted that the problem of “unreliable, induced, and even imagined child testimony” creates a “special risk of wrongful execution in some child rape cases.”‘ Indeed, empirical research has repeatedly demonstratedproblems with accuracy in children’s accounts of their own experiences. Although the research and commentary inthis area hasfocused on how allegations of child sexual abuse are addressedinthe criminaljustice system, these studies have much broaderimplications. every year, stateofficials conductmillions of interviews with children in the context ofchild welfare investigations. These investigations have serious consequences for families-for instance, they can lead to the placement of a child in foster care or the termination of parental rights. This article examines the reliability of child welfare determinationsby looking at a subset of the information investigators consider: children’s statements about theirpast experiences. First, this article reviews empirical research on suggestibility, lie-telling behavior, and the capacity of adults to detect lies in children. The article then examines the impact of structural features in the child welfare system, and posits that these structural features do not facilitate the proper evaluation of child statements. The article concludes by proposing legal reforms to improve the reliability of child welfare determinations. Ultimately, this article aims to defend the proposition that caring deeply about children and their safety does not necessarily mean the child welfare system should rely on what children say.
Andrew Gerst∞ Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for publication. AG: Prof. Guggenheim, thank you so much for speaking with us today. The Family Defense Symposium took place in April 2016. It’s been twenty-five years since the Family
Analysis of child welfare legal frameworks and their failure to incorporate non-nuclear family kinship structures and cultural nuances
Analyzes historical practices of child welfare agency; discussion of themes of state intervention and role of gender in exacerbating problems of child abuse.
Using theories of child development, specifically Attachment Theory, to argue for changes in child welfare policy.