Trauma Informed Interviewing Techniques
A Toolkit for Attorneys and Other Professionals Working with Immigrant Children
As a result of the United States’ Zero Tolerance Policy, thousands of children were separated from their caregivers and detained in substandard conditions upon arriving to seek asylum in the US. Forced separation from a primary caregiver, at any age, is considered a major trauma with lasting negative health effects for children and their families.
Through the generosity of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, experts in trauma-informed care from the Stanford Center for Health Education and the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) were given the opportunity to support the work of immigration attorneys who visit with and hear directly from these children. Below is the toolkit we created.
About the Project
Using the Toolkit
This toolkit consists of a 30 minute video series, a written guide, a set of reflection questions, and links to further resources. These materials will provide introductory information to assist with the child interview process. The recommendations are guided by best practices for working with children with histories of trauma exposure, and they can be adapted to support interactions with children in a range of contexts.
A primary goal while conducting interviews with immigrant children is to avoid re-traumatizating children. Even in a short interview, a trauma-informed approach is crucial to safeguarding a child’s health. Using these strategies will help interviewers gather accurate information, while avoiding additional trauma for both the child and the interviewer. We strongly recommend that interviewers obtain further training from a mental health professional with experience in trauma and development.
Introduction to the Series
This video content is based on two fundamental observations: First, that using a trauma-sensitive approach will help you do your job better by making it more likely that children will share their stories with you. Second, using this approach will help ensure that you don’t do damage—it will make it less likely that the interview itself will exacerbate the traumatic impact of the experiences that these children have had.
Establishing Connections with a Child
While conducting immigration-related interviews, it’s crucial to take measures to avoid re-traumatizing children and youth who have been through difficult experiences. Here are some tips and techniques to help interviewers set the stage for a trauma-informed interaction. Your creativity in using the strategies and approaches in this video can make a huge difference, even in a short interaction with a child.
For more information on interviewing children and youth exposed to trauma, see our guide below and explore the following links from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN):
Supporting the Emotional Needs of Young Children
The trauma of forced family separation can have lasting effects on a young child, ranging from overwhelming emotions to developmental regression. It’s likely these children will need your support navigating the interview process.
For more information on interviewing young children who’ve experienced traumatic events, see our guide below and explore the following links:
Supporting the Emotional Needs of Adolescents
Adolescents passing through the US immigration system exhibit incredible strength and resilience, but they also face multiple challenges—many have fled violence and threats to their lives to face indefinite detention in the US. Without support, these experiences can severely compromise their mental health.
For more information evaluating the mental health needs of immigrant youth, see our guide below and explore the following links:
Proactive Self Care for Attorneys
Anyone working to support immigrant children and families is at risk of experiencing secondary stress, an often overlooked consequence of working with people who have experienced trauma. Signs of secondary stress resemble PTSD: sadness or irritability; intrusive thoughts and feelings; anxiety and hypervigilance; difficulty tolerating information related to the trauma; feelings of overwhelm; fatigue; and/or difficulty empathizing with others. It’s important to take care of your own mental health while you advocate for others.
For more information on secondary traumatic stress and vicarious traumatization, see our guide below and explore the following links:
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Vicarious Trauma Toolkit
- Professional Quality of Life (ProQoL) resources on compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma
- Article on common difficulties encountered by supporters of asylum seekers (Baranowski, Moses, & Sundri, 2018): 8
Downloadable Materials for Reflection and Application
These videos provide a general overview of practice recommendations and trauma-sensitive approaches to the interview process. We recommend supplementing the videos with the downloadable guide and reflection prompts to facilitate further reflection and application to your specific context.
Additional Resources and Recommendations
Trauma Informed Child Interviewing Resources and Recommendations*
- Trauma: What Child Welfare Attorneys Should Know (NCTSN)
- Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy: A Resource for Juvenile Defense Attorneys (NCTSN)
- Age-Related Reactions to Traumatic Events (NCTSN)
- Child Interview Practice Guidelines (Nobody’s Children Foundation)
- Interviewing Children (Lyon, 2014)
- Representing Children in Immigration Matters (KIND)
- Interviewing Children Guide (CASA of Arizona)
- Attorneys for Children Guide to Interviewing Clients: Integrating Trauma Informed Care and Solution Focused Strategies (Reitman, 2011)
- The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Protocol: Interview Guide (NICHD)
- Child Forensic Interviewing: Best Practices (US DOJ)
- A Refugee Lawyer Reflects on Giving Clients a Voice (Fleming, 2019)
- Primer for Juvenile Court Judges: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Judicial Decision-Making for Newcomer Immigrant Youth in Juvenile Justice Proceedings (NCYL)
- NCTSN Bench Card for Juvenile Court Judges: Newcomer Immigrant Youth in Juvenile Justice Court Proceedings – A Trauma-Informed Approach (NCTSN)
- Questioning Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: Lessons from Developmental Science on Forensic Interviewing (SRCD)
Understanding the Trauma Informed Approach
- Establishing a Trauma-Informed Lawyer-Client Relationship(Part One) (ABA Child Law Practice)
- Communicating with Youth Who Have Experienced Trauma(Part Two)(ABA Child Law Practice)
- Sowing Seeds: Trauma Informed Practice for Anyone Working with Children and Young People NHS Education for Scotland
- Opening Doors: Trauma Informed Practice for the Workforce NHS education for Scotland
Resources on Secondary Stress and Vicarious Trauma
- Secondary Traumatic Stress (NCTSN)
- Secondary Traumatic Stress: A Fact Sheet for Child Serving Professionals (NCTSN)
- The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (Office for Victims of Crime, US DOJ)
- Professional Quality of Life (ProQoL) resources on compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma (including Helper Pocket Card)
- Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
*Please note that many of these resources and recommendations were developed for purposes of child forensic interviewing, juvenile defense, and/or human trafficking interviews. Therefore, the specific context and goals of this content may not appropriately fit for attorneys conducting interviews with children within the context of immigration proceedings and detention. However, the following materials can provide helpful information on general background knowledge and practice recommendations.
We recognize that the nature of this content is inherently distressing. If you feel that you need support, we encourage you to reach out to colleagues and health professionals around you – and consider watching the video in this series about Self Care. Additionally, we recognize that some professionals and volunteers may not be trained in conducting mental health assessments, and this can feel like a daunting responsibility. You may wish to prepare protocols and contacts, both within a given facility and outside the facility, in the event of a medical or mental health emergency, as the appropriate crisis response may very well be outside of your scope and capacity. We encourage you to seek advice and support from medical professionals working in your area, and use your judgement in ensuring that the best possible care is provided.