Using AI to improve investigative interviews with children

Using AI to improve investigative interviews with children

“We know a lot today about the ability of children to talk about what they have experienced or experienced, even at three years old,” says researcher and project leader Gunn Astrid Baugerud at the Faculty of Social Sciences at OsloMet .

She is responsible for the Professionals Interviewing Abused Children Supported via Artificial Avatars research project, which is developing a digital training program that will eventually include sound, text and a child avatar. The child avatar will then allow professionals to practice interviewing children.

“When the right method is used in interviews, children provide more accurate information and often explain themselves in more detail,” says Baugerud. “There is a lot of empirical data on what works, but field research shows that police and child protection services are not able to use the recommended method enough. The gap between method and practice is too big.”

She believes that a training program is necessary to enable professionals to improve and maintain their skills.

“A person’s skills weaken once they are in the field, even if they have just finished their training. Ideally, police and child protective services personnel should begin on-the-job training during their student years, then undergo refresher and maintenance courses with an avatar,” the researcher continues.

“The Norwegian police have come a long way in this area, also by international standards, but we still need to comply more with the recommended method, and we believe there is still a long way to go to achieve this,” says Gunn. Astrid. Baugerud.

How children are interviewed

“In Norway, we use the dialogic communication method, which is based on international research. The method is based on extensive empirical studies regarding what is considered best practice, but the Norwegian model itself has not been evaluated,” she says. Child Protective Services.”

The dialogical communication method includes several procedures, the purpose of which is to get children to talk about difficult topics in interviews.

The method was originally developed for the purpose of judicial review. A separate version has been developed for children who need additional assistance.

Interviewers should ask open and focused questions

“Then we have the sequential interview method, which was developed from the dialogical communication method and is based on a model currently used in the United States. It is used with very young children, preschoolers, elementary school children, adolescents and adults with disabilities, who need extra help and more time,” adds the researcher.

The sequential interview differs from the dialogical communication method in that it takes much longer and requires more extensive preparation.

Preparation includes interviews tailored to each child, dividing the interview into sequences and including regular breaks.

“While a normal dialogic communication interview might take about an hour, a sequential interview with a five-year-old child might take several hours because the child needs many breaks,” Baugerud points out.

When applying interview best practice, and the goal of an interview is for the child to speak freely without cajoling, a few key rules apply.

“The child must be able to express himself freely, and you must not put words in his mouth, nor introduce information that he himself has not approached. You need to ask open and focused questions. This means asking questions that follow up on what the child has said,” says Baugerud.

Non-verbal communication

Much of the communication between the interviewer and the child is non-verbal, which also requires professional training to communicate better.

“A lot of research has been done on the importance of non-verbal communication in recent years. You provide ‘social support’ to the child by building trust through body language and eye contact, or by using the child’s name,” says Baugerud.

Children quickly understand your expectations regarding the interview.

“Children want to please. So if they feel like you’re looking for a specific piece of information, that in itself is a form of persuasion,” she says.

Developing a “digital child”

Research project partners in Australia provided audio recordings of 2,000 fictional interviews, that is, interviews between an interviewer and an actor.

“The actors play the role of the child, and they have gradually become very skilled in adapting their responses according to the age of the child envisaged and the subject treated. The conversations are recorded, and we are now working to transcribe them. We will use it as the first step to create a chatbot,” says Baugerud.

The chatbot will then be trained by training with the transcribed text and conducting interviews via the computer. You may be familiar with chatbots from your online banking solutions, which are the same type of technology used here.

“The next step is to use anonymous transcripts of approximately 1,000 real interviews, which we have access to through the Interviewing Children project. Patterns will then begin to emerge of what worked and what did not work in the The chatbot needs to respond dynamically based on all the information given to it,” she continues.

They started testing a visual avatar before Christmas 2021.

“We will initially use text and images. Avatars will reflect different personality traits, personality types, and will be assigned different genders. They will reflect a child’s emotions and language,” says Baugerud.

Artificial, but human

The avatar’s appearance will be anonymous and based on many different images of AI-fed children. This is so that the final image is not that of a real child.

“The goal is to end up with an avatar that can use text, sound, and images, and has its own clear body language,” she says.

When using an avatar, nonverbal communication, such as body language and eye contact, can be an even greater challenge than communication involving sound or text.

“It’s not something we’re going to solve right away. The most important thing is to establish the right method,” says Baugerud.

But why is it something that requires training?

“Is it really that hard to ask open-ended questions? It’s really difficult. When you sit down with a child and the stakes are high, the stress level increases, the child reacts in ways you didn’t expect, which increases the likelihood that the interview will not go through. according to best practices,” she says. “If you’ve prepared several recommended questions, there’s a much better chance of sticking to the method, especially in demanding situations.”

Lots at stake

In Norway, the police often question abused or abused children.

There is a lot at stake in these interviews. Although many cases often require other evidence to secure a conviction, a child’s testimony is often the only evidence in abuse cases.

“Child protective services usually have more opportunities to speak with these children than the police, and they are often involved at an earlier stage. However, if child protective services do not conduct best practice interviews, it could ruin the police’s chances in a potential criminal case,” she says.

Very young children are particularly susceptible to being influenced during interviews.

“If a child protective services employee interviews a child and the child is influenced in some way, it could affect the subsequent interview conducted by the police,” the researcher points out.

What type of training is required?

“A lot has changed in the police since the 1990s. There is a lot more emphasis on training around interviewing children, and more recognition that it requires training and a systematic approach,” says Baugerud.

The Norwegian Police University College runs ‘continuing professional development’ courses to improve and maintain the skills used when interviewing children.

Admission is subject to the condition that the candidate has carried out at least ten recorded interviews. Child protection services also offer courses in the conversational method used by the police.

“The Norwegian police have come a long way in this area, also by international standards, but we still need to comply more with the recommended method, and we believe there is still a long way to go to achieve this,” says- she.

Training of child protection staff usually takes place at local offices or within the framework of the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs.

The training provided by the police and child protection services involves extensive classroom instruction.

“Traditional classroom instruction is still standard procedure when it comes to continuing education and training in the field. There are no digital training programs,” concludes Baugerud.


Baugerud et al. ‘Multimodal virtual avatars for investigative interviews with children’, Association for Computing Machines2021. DOI: 10.1145/3463944.3469269 Abstract.

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Many extremist organizations and individuals are taking advantage of the internet and platforms like Twitter to spread their ideology and recruit new followers.

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