Social work staff and police officers will work together in a ground-breaking new approach to interviews for vulnerable child victims and witnesses.
The new Scottish Child Interview Model, developed by local authorities and Police Scotland in a series of pilot projects, aims to protect children and reduce stress when recounting their experiences.
The Scottish Government is funding the £2 million initiative whereby social workers and police officers will carry out pre-recorded investigative interviews of children.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown said: “It is widely recognised that child victims and witnesses can be particularly vulnerable, especially in the circumstances which lead to a joint investigative interview being necessary.
“When gathering information from children, who are often already extremely traumatised, we must ensure the interview is as child-focused and stress-free as possible.
“The new Scottish Child Interview Model will deliver an interview process that secures the child’s best evidence at the earliest opportunity and minimises the risk of further traumatisation.
“Ensuring the interests of the child are central to everything we do. It is a fundamental aspect of our Bairns’ Hoose vision within Scotland and one that we are committed to delivering by the end of the Parliamentary term.”
The core principles of the initiative are embedded in a new intensive training course at graduate diploma level for police and social work interviewers run at the Police Scotland College in Fife.
The training is designed to improve the quality of joint interviews, which are already used in Children’s Hearings, and will also ensure they can be more routinely used as a witness’s evidence in chief in criminal trials, increasing the use of pre-recorded evidence.
Assistant Chief Constable Judi Heaton from Police Scotland said: “The programme of training continues to be implemented throughout Scotland ensuring our officers better support and meet the needs of child victims and witnesses.”
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 created a new rule for child witnesses under 18 to ensure that, where they are due to give evidence in the most serious cases, they will be allowed to have it pre-recorded in advance of the trial.
The regulations ensure that any child witness under the age of 18 giving evidence in the most serious cases in the High Court will be allowed to have it pre-recorded, intending to spare them the potential trauma of giving evidence during a trial.
COSLA President Alison Evison said: “Scotland’s councils and their partners in protecting children and young people are leading the way in embedding investigative interviewing practice that is trauma-informed, taking full account of the child’s experiences, and achieves best evidence.
“Every child has a right to protection and a right to be heard. This new model of interviewing adapts to the needs of individual children in order to ensure these rights are fulfilled. We continue to be fully committed to implementing this new practice across Scotland so that every child who needs this service will benefit.”
Director of Social Work Scotland Ben Farrugia added: “After more than three years of work building a modern child interview model fit for Scotland's aspirations, we are delighted to be celebrating the success of our first cohorts of students - compassionate and skillful police offers and social workers each intent on providing the best support possible for children at times of real vulnerability and stress.”