5 tips for interviewing children and young people

Children and young people's feedback is crucial to evaluating NSPCC services. Paul Whalley offers his interview tips

Woman and girl on sofa

We ask them how they feel the service has gone, what they found helpful and what barriers, if any, there were. The NSPCC provides many services for children and young people and we want to hear from them directly about their experiences. 

This is best done face-to-face. It's more reassuring for a child or young person to meet the interviewer and you can take their body language into account.

But how do you do an interview with a child or a young person and get the information you want?

No interview is perfect, but being well prepared is a good start. These tips should help you to include the views of children and young people in your evaluation.

Tip 1: Make the interview fun

Children are experts when it comes to their own views, but you can help them express themselves.

Make interviews fun. Think about what children enjoy – it could be colouring in, playing a game, doing a quiz or making something.

If you're not a parent, ask family members or friends who are for advice. Search online for ideas or think about what you enjoyed as a child.

Tip 2: Be clear and confirm consent

Make sure the child knows why they are talking to you.

There are lots of reasons children won't understand what you want from them. They might be used to adults making their decisions, worried about the service being taken away or people being cross with them if they don't do the interview.

Make your communications simple. Use short words and sentences or colourful pictures. Maybe make a film of yourself explaining the interview so the child knows what you look like beforehand.

When you're face-to-face, check if they have any questions and slowly go through your information sheet again.

If the child hasn't consented to the interview, you'll need to accept that. Once you've made the preparations, there's a temptation to go ahead. But it's not fair if the child hasn't given full, informed consent.

Tip 3: Create the right atmosphere

The venue should be comfortable to settle the child's nerves. This could be in their home or the room they usually use for the service. Reduce any distractions, such as traffic noise coming through an open window.

Early impressions are important. The young person will be assessing you as much as you're assessing them.

The atmosphere of the interview is your responsibility. A helpful guide is provided by the psychologist Dan Hughes who suggests the PLACE approach when a child has experienced early trauma. This means being playful, loving, accepting, curious and empathetic in content and style.

Explain when confidentiality might have to be breached. This is an area of particular importance to the NSPCC and we ensure that a possible disclosure of abuse is followed up. In this scenario, your precious interview data is set aside, but the welfare of the child is paramount. There's no other ethical position.

Always keep eye contact with the child or young person, not your paperwork. Using a digital recorder is helpful, enabling the interviewer to focus completely on the child.

Make sure the child consents to recording and pay attention to practicalities. For example, check batteries, position and the time available on the recorder.

Tip 4: Use visuals

Your interview is likely to cover difficult areas that involve feelings, thoughts and wishes. These are hard for a child to express to an adult, especially one they've just met. It's even tougher in the context of abuse, neglect and trauma.

Visuals help. Storyboards can prompt conversation or purchase a simple communication system such as a flannelgraph (or flannel board) with cards on particular topics that combine pictures and text. Flip charts can also be used for children to make their own drawings or diagrams. You can then ask questions about what has been drawn and why.

The finished product can be photographed and kept as part of the interview data. Electronic media can be used, but in a screen-saturated world, using low tech is novel for young people and much more hands-on.

Tip 5: Think about who's sitting in

Some children may want another person present to reassure them. It could be a big sister, a foster carer, a residential worker or their pet dog. 

Allowing people to sit in is fine if they're clear on their role. Some adults hate silences and try to help the child answer questions. This can compromise data accuracy.

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