Showing 5 posts from March 2015.
I will be speaking at the Tri-State Conference of the American Camping Association this week. If you will be there, let me know so I can say hello. I will be speaking on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 18, about "Helping Children Conquer Their Fears, Reassuring Parents, and Fending Off Lawyers."
My post earlier this week about false memories in adults reminded me of relatively recent mental health research about false memories in children. Developmental Review in September 2012 published a special issue about child witnesses, and one study upends much of what we thought we knew about how younger children remember events. The researchers staged various events in a classroom of young children, and then repeated only some of the events in a second classroom. A third group of children were never in either classroom.
A few weeks later, researchers interviewed all three groups. They found that many of the children who had never witnessed all of the events nevertheless claimed to have memories of them. In fact, many of those children provided more detail in their false narratives than the children who had actually witnessed the events.
This study brings into question many common interview and therapy techniques for children who may have been abused. Group interviews are common, as are group counseling sessions. This study suggests that such techniques with younger children actually can implant false memories and corrupt the investigation. Lawyers defending these cases need to carefully review all of the interview and therapy protocols with this study in mind.
Researchers recently found it surprisingly easy to convince a group of adults that they had committed crimes in early adolescence. The study, recently published in Psychological Science, had interviewers use suggestive memory-retrieval techniques when questioning the study subjects. After three interviews, 70% of the people had false memories of having committed crimes. Their reports actually had "all the same kinds of complex details as real memories," according to the lead researcher.
This study had a small sample size, but is is a fascinating addition to the research on this topic. The forensic interviewing community has known about the importance of neutral questions when interviewing children, but there have been few studies suggesting the same precautions when interviewing adults. If subsequent studies replicate these findings, and if investigators can plant inaccurate memories in the minds of innocent people, then we will need to change all sorts of interviewing protocols. At the very least, attorneys now have another means of challenging interviews that produce confessions.
Hat Tip: www.science20.com
The New England Journal of Medicine last week published a groundbreaking study about peanut allergies. The researchers followed 640 infants believed to be at risk of developing a peanut allergy because they had severe eczema and/or egg allergy. One group received 6 grams of peanuts each week while the control group avoided peanuts. When the children were 5 years old, the researchers tested them for peanut allergies. They found that the peanut-consuming group had a 70-80% lower risk of developing a peanut allergy.
Although more studies need to replicate these findings, the Journal editors recommend that babies between 4 and 8 months be tested for peanut allergies. If they test negative, then parents should start feeding them foods containing peanuts. We will have to see whether the American Academy of Pediatrics adopts similar recommendations, but the study certainly is worth the attention that it is getting. If your clients include infants, you should suggest that parents ask their pediatricians about it.
It is not often that I use “California” and “sensible policy” in the same sentence, but the California Supreme Court has issued a ground-breaking (and sensible) decision invalidating restrictions on where sex offenders can live. The court reviewed “Jessica’s Law,” a statute prohibiting any registered sex offender from residing within 2000 feet of “any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather.” The plaintiffs did not challenge the statue on its face, but only the state’s blanket application of it to registered sex offenders on parole. The court found that one-size-fits-all application to be unconstitutional, but noted that the state retains the authority, based on other statutes, to fashion special parole conditions for sex offenders.
Contrary to some claims, this decision is not a setback for child abuse prevention, simply because residency-based restrictions do not prevent child abuse. As Dr. David Finkelhor, one of the giants in the field of child abuse prevention, wrote in 2009, restrictions on where sex offenders live “have been adopted without any evidence about their efficacy.” Furthermore, “[t]he logic model behind these restrictions appears fundamentally flawed, given that most sexual abuse occurs within established family and social networks and also that motivated offenders, wherever they happen to live, can go where they wish in search of victims.”
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