Listening to children in foster care – eliciting Reliable Reports from Children: Review of Influential Factors

Little attention has been paid to the efficacy of methods used to interview children, the factors that influence the reliability of children’s reports and the approaches adults use when deciding how to weigh children’s input. This systematic review describes experimental research on factors affecting the reliability of children's responses.


Over the last two decades, calls to promote children’s participation in decisions that affect their welfare have burgeoned (Cashmore, 2002, 2014; Head, 2011; Jones, 2002; U.N. General Assembly, 1989, Article 12). Increasingly, children are being considered stakeholders, rather than merely passive objects of concern, both in national policy reform and individual case decision making. Once viewed as incapable of providing reliable information on their own lives, children are now recognized as viable informants. Consequently, the foster care literature is replete with discussions regarding how best to incorporate children’s perspectives to improve policy, practice, research, and outcomes (e.g., Aubrey & Dahl, 2006; Cashmore, 2002, 2014; Fox & Berrick, 2007; Holland, 2009; Nybell, 2013).

Given the rising dependence on children’s reports, the need for evidence-based methods of eliciting reliable information from children is clear. However, little attention is being paid to the efficacy of the methods used to elicit information from children. Similarly, there has been little discussion of what factors influence the reliability of children’s reports or the calculus by which adults decide how to weigh children’s input (Fox & Berrick, 2007; Holland, 2009). In response to this pressing need, we set out to conduct a systematic review to determine whether a core body of relevant, rigorous research exists regarding the efficacy of interview methods used to elicit reliable information from children in foster care.

According to recent reviews of the literature, the bulk of existing studies focus on the views of young adults and older adolescents formerly in care (e.g., Cashmore, 2014; Clark, 2005; Fox & Berrick, 2007). One obstacle to further research, better policy, and improved practice is the dearth of methods available to elicit reliable information from younger children currently in care (Barth, personal communication, March, 10, 2014; Cashmore, 2014; Clark, 2005; Holland, 2009; Lundström & Sallnäs, 2012). Given this gap in the knowledge base, the present study is a systematic search for experiments that include children in the 4 to 12 year age range. After searching six electronic databases and contacting experts in the field, a pool of 4,140 potentially relevant articles regarding the efficacy of child interview methods was located. The resulting pool included studies sampling subjects from birth to young adulthood.

This report is organized in five sections: (1) Introduction, including overview of major factors that affect reliability of children’s reports, and rationale for narrowing the search to studies of face-to-face interviews, including children 4 to 12 years of age, with special attention to effects of interviewer support, rapport, and bias on the accuracy and quality of children’s reports; (2) Methodology of a two-step search for studies of interview method efficacy with (a) children in foster care, and (b) children in the general population; (3) Results and synthesis of findings; and (4) Recommendations for research, policy, and practice.

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Year: 2015
Article number: 2015-1-17
ISBN: 978-91-7555-267-5
Format: POD
Pages: 125
Language: Engelska
Price (VAT included): 117 kr


Knut Sundell
075-247 34 09