Amy Heil Discusses Child Forensic Interviews At NMSU

Oct 5, 2016

According to the Dona Ana County District Attorney’s Office, they interview hundreds of children a year who may be a victim of a crime using child forensic interviewers. Samantha Sonner spoke with Amy Heil, a forensic interviewer for Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, and this year’s NMSU’s College of Education Distinguished Alumna.

Amy Heil, says as a child forensic interviewer she is a small part of a much larger system.

“We conduct interviews with children,” Heil said. “For law enforcement, when the children have possibly been victims to a crime or witness to a crime. So, we are neutral factfinders who are basically trying to look for the elements of the crime for the detectives to use in their investigation.”

Heil says the job can be difficult.

“The challenges are more just as a human being,” Heil said. “And that empathy, and pain that you feel for them. Because, yes, they have gone through something horrific, and traumatic, and been victimized in a way no child should ever have to go through. So, being able to put that emotional piece aside, and just focus on giving that child the opportunity to tell what happened to them in a comfortable, safe, environment. And giving them that voice to be able to say is somebody did something that they were’nt supposed to do with them.”

Heil says it’s important to let the children lead the interview.

“We conduct all of our interviews in a child friendly environment,” Heil said. “ We try to make it as comfortable as possible so they really don’t realize that they are talking to somebody to do with a criminal investigation. You know I try to minimize my role and allow the child to be the authority and the expert.”

Heil also trains first responders and child welfare officers, who may be the first to interact with the child.

“Not only to maybe how to identify if things are going on,” Heil said. “But then how to respond appropriately as well. Then one of the other duties that I have in my job is to be an expert witness in criminal trials. So, I go in and educate the jury on characteristics to do with child sexual abuse, what we see, what the research states and is supported through my own practice in the field.”

Heil says the job is difficult, but it can also be rewarding.

“I would not do this if I didn’t have a passion for it,” Heil said. “But at the same time you have to maintain a very appropriate boundary as well, and just know your role. I’m just a tiny little part in a big giant system, and so I’m happy that I have that opportunity to help the kids that I get to help.”