Forensic Child Psychology
eBook - ePub

Forensic Child Psychology

Working in the Courts and Clinic

Matthew Fanetti, William T. O'Donohue, Rachel Fondren-Happel, Kresta N. Daly

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eBook - ePub

Forensic Child Psychology

Working in the Courts and Clinic

Matthew Fanetti, William T. O'Donohue, Rachel Fondren-Happel, Kresta N. Daly

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Información del libro

A guide to working effectively with children in the criminal justice system

Uniquely designed to train psychology, criminology, and social work students to work with children in the criminal justice system—both in the courtroom and as clinical clients— Forensic Child Psychology presents current research and practice-based knowledge to improve the judicial and child welfare systems.

Authors Matthew Fanetti, William T. O'Donohue, Rachel N. Happel, and Kresta N. Daly bring their combined expertise in child psychology, forensic interviewing, and criminal prosecution to bear on the process of obtaining accurate information from children involved in legal proceedings, preparing professionals to work with:

  • Children who are victims of crime
  • Children who are perpetrators of crime
  • Children who are witnesses of crime

The book also covers related topics, including mandated reporting, the structure of juvenile justice and advocacy systems, and contains sidebars, summaries, glossaries, and study questions to assist with material mastery.

This is an excellent resource for students of child psychopathology in psychology, social work, nursing, and criminal justice at the graduate and late undergraduate stage of their educations.

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Part I
Basic Principles

Chapter 1
Introduction to Forensic Psychology

Goals of this chapter:

  1. To understand the basic definitions, development, and role of psychology as a science.
  2. To explore the important social events that caused the focus on forensics in psychology.
  3. To understand the broad range of activities a forensic psychologist might engage.
Within the past few decades the label forensic psychology has become more common than it might have been prior to the 1980s. Within the past decade, more researchers and practicing professionals may be using the more specific label forensic child psychology. A quick review of articles listed in PsycInfo revealed that articles containing the keywords “forensic psychology” increased from 156 during the 1960s to 8,117 during the 2000s. A similar review using the keywords “Child” (and) “Forensic Psychology” increased from 9 during the 1960s to 1,395 during the 2000s. But what exactly are these fields of study and practice? The most direct definition of forensic psychology is: the study of human behavior in legal settings or relevant legal environments. The most direct definition of forensic child psychology is: the study of the behavior of children in legal settings or relevant legal environments. However, there are many nuances to these studies.
Most people have probably heard these terms from their growing utilization in the entertainment media. From these experiences, many people may come to believe that forensic psychology is dedicated to understanding the causes of criminal behavior—and they would not be wrong. However, the field is much broader than this very narrow sliver of interest.
Even the word forensic has different implications in various fields. For example, in 1997 this author (Fanetti) was visiting with a law enforcement division that specialized in sex crimes against children. Upon meeting and exchanging introductions, one of the detectives presented a quizzical facial expression when he heard the specialty. After learning what we actually researched, he smiled and said he had thought that “forensic child psychology” meant that we tried to study the behavior of dead children. For them, forensics meant post-mortem.
Many of the students who use this text may not actually be psychology students. The goal of the text has always been to reach every frontline professional who interacts with children on a daily basis. This includes teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses, law enforcement officers, juvenile officers, direct therapists, court personnel, to name just a few. It is these people who become the first line of intervention when children become part of the legal (i.e., forensic) system. These children may be the victims of crime, witnesses to it, or even the perpetrators of the crime. In these scenarios, the way that professionals interact with children can make the difference between cases that are resolved well and justly, and those in which justice becomes confused or difficult to obtain. For example, when witnesses testify that they saw a specific person at a crime scene, but later details reveal that they were not sure until the person was pointed out by law enforcement, there is a legitimate question to be raised about the accuracy of that identification. Clear and focused understanding of basic psychological principles related to forensic cases (e.g., in this case, memory research) can help professionals to be effective in preventing crimes against children, helping child victims, and creating environments in which children are less likely to become involved in crime.
The remainder of this chapter explores the principles and goals of psychology, the development of forensic psychology as a specific field of inquiry, the many duties of forensic psychologists, the training available to become a forensic psychologist, and some recent examples of cases where forensic child psychology became an important influence.

What Is Psychology—Really?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2012), psychology is a “profession of scientific research designed to establish basic principles and theories of human behavior, and the subsequent application of those principles and theories to help individuals, organizations and communities.” In this sense, psychology is concerned both with the careful and controlled scientific examination of behavior and with the use of this knowledge in a variety of applied, beneficial ways.
Modern psychology is a science originating from the same early roots as other sciences, such as physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and medicine. Those common roots can be found in the writing of ancient Greek, Persian, Chinese, and Egyptian philosophers. In fact, the evolution of thought from these early roots follows an understandable route. Each science has gradually moved from rational and thought-based explanations for common problems, to more empirical and observation-based answers, and finally to specific methods designed to reduce or remove biases and errors from those systems. This more recent experimental/empirical orientation is considered superior because it requires that ideas (hypotheses) are actually tested against reality (data) to see if the initial ideas are correct. In this way, science is thought to have an error-identifying and error-correcting function (O'Donohue, 2013). All modern sciences can trace their lineages back to the same ancestors. It has only been within the past few centuries that the amount of accumulating knowledge has grown to the point that scientists have found benefit in specializing in one area or another and focusing their attentions on one field of study.


How do you know that something is true? Do you have a preferred way to answer this question or that? If you read about a murder trial in the newspaper or on the web or on television, how is it that you come to your own conclusions about whether the accused is guilty or innocent? We are all tempted to do it. Do you use logic to think through the most probable set of events? Do you rely—only—on such direct evidence as DNA, video, or fingerprints? What if the evidence is eyewitness testimony? Are you willing to rely on the accuracy, honesty, and certainty of others who say they saw a crime? We can use any and all of these methods to come to our own conclusions about the nature of the truth.
Epistemology is the study of how we know, or which methods we rely on to come to conclusions about the nature of the world—or the truth of a criminal case. There are many differing epistemes (i.e., ways of knowing), but a few are particularly important to the history of the development of the science of psychology. These are rationalism, authority, empiricism, and experimentalism.
Rationalism is the idea that we can gain knowledge from nothing more than thought-based exploration of concepts. Essentially, our sensory observations are thought to be flawed and difficult to interpret within the biases of our environments. Certainly we can at least agree that some concepts we accept every day are not actually observable. Each of us knows that lines, planes, and points exist—but what are they really. By definition, a plane must have two dimensions: two. This means it has no depth at all. How can we observe something that has no depth? What about a line? It is essentially one-dimensional. A point is zero-dimensional. Zero-dimensional? These are concepts that we can represent on paper (e.g., a pencil dot on a piece of paper is a three-dimensional illustration of a zero-dimensional object), but just a little thought makes it clear that they do not exist in observable reality. They are truths, but rational truths only. The quintessential rationalist, Socrates, believed that all knowledge can be derived by simple exploration of our mental faculties and ability to reason. We need not see the truth of nature, because we can reason it out in the absence of observation. Even so, rational explanations (i.e., those that rely on logic) still have a place in modern psychology. Forensic experts still must present their finding to the court in ways that seem to make sense, and are not illogical. Rational explanations have not been replaced, they have been supplemented.
Empiricism is the idea that we can gain knowledge from simple observation. Empiricists, such as Aristotle, believed that we are born with a blank slate (i.e., tabula rasa) on which our observable sensory experiences will write the truths of the world as we see them. Certainly, we can agree that each of us probably learned about ice and snow from our interactions with them. People may tell you what it means to be cold, but you will not understand the truth of it until you feel it. Can you think of a way to rationally explain the experience of being cold to someone who has never felt it? At a concert in Reno (1998), the musical performer Yanni, who was from warm southern Greece, once explained to the audience about his education in “cold.” On moving to the United States, his first sensory experience was in Minnesota, in the winter. To him, the realization of what cold meant was shocking, though he had heard and thought about it many times. Simple emp...


  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright
  4. Preface
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Part I: Basic Principles
  7. Part II: Applied Principles in Child Abuse
  8. Part III: Understanding the Law
  9. Author Index
  10. Subject Index
  11. End User License Agreement
Estilos de citas para Forensic Child Psychology

APA 6 Citation

Fanetti, M., O’Donohue, W., Fondren-Happel, R., & Daly, K. (2014). Forensic Child Psychology (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2014)

Chicago Citation

Fanetti, Matthew, William O’Donohue, Rachel Fondren-Happel, and Kresta Daly. (2014) 2014. Forensic Child Psychology. 1st ed. Wiley.

Harvard Citation

Fanetti, M. et al. (2014) Forensic Child Psychology. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Fanetti, Matthew et al. Forensic Child Psychology. 1st ed. Wiley, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.