Jenny Moody sits in the forensic interview room at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Lewiston. Moody is the lead forensic interviewer for the program. The room is outfitted with unobtrusive cameras which record and transmit the interview to a nearby observation room. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Jenny Moody will sit in one of the two large armchairs that face each other.

Between them is a small round table.

These is no other furniture.

On the table is a bowl. It contains “fidgets,” so-called to help relieve the stress of the children being interviewed as they disclose traumatic events, she said.

There’s a Rubik’s Cube, Playdough and a foam ball.

There are no dolls, crayons, or toys in the room as often depicted in TV shows and movies. Those items might distract the child being interviewed, she said.


Moody is the forensic interviewer at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Lewiston, where children are brought to describe the abuse they’ve reportedly experienced.

Moody points to two cameras and microphones obscured behind darkened half-spheres located in upper corners of the room. Jenny tells the children she interviews that the equipment is there to record them.

There are no secrets here.

“We are honest with them because we want them to be honest with us,” Moody said.

The interviews typically take 45 minutes, but could could go for more than an hour or last less than 15 minutes, Moody said.

“You never want to cut a kid off,” she said. “If they’re disclosing to me, I’m never going to say, ‘Times up!'”


Moody starts the interviews with rapport building questions that might ask about the child’s background, about life at home and school “just to get them really grounded and comfortable.”

Her questioning slowly transitions to: “Tell me what you know about coming here today” or “Tell me what you came to talk about today?”

If a child doesn’t know why he or she is there, Moody said she will talk generally about safety at home and body safety and waits for the child to provide the context.

Moody said she takes the discussion in the direction chosen by the child.

“You kind of start big. And then if they disclose, ‘Oh yes, so-and-so did this to me,’ then we go in that direction and we explore that,” she said. “And my job is to get all the details they’re willing to share.”

Moody’s questioning is intentionally neutral, she said.


“All of our questions are nonleading and nonsuggestive. So, I can’t introduce any information to them,” she said. “If they’ve told somebody, I can never say, ‘Oh, I heard you told so and so about this.’ So, it really has to come from them.

“You’re talking about really hard stuff. And kids can get embarrassed by that type of stuff,” Moody said. “So, you have to be sensitive in the way you’re asking. But you still have to get the information. You don’t want to leave anything open for questioning or speculation. My job is to make sure I’m covering everything, that there’s not any holes, that they’re describing everything, that there can’t be any misunderstandings.”

Moody said her role is clearly defined.

“I’m not coming in here to decide if a kid’s telling the truth or not telling the truth,” she said. “I’m coming in here to say, ‘I need every single detail that you can possibly remember.'”

Sitting in an adjacent “observation room” might be a police detective or a caseworker from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The long, narrow room is equipped with a computer monitor connected by closed circuit to the cameras in the interview room.


The observer can watch and listen in real time to the interviews Moody conducts with the children.

Observers enter the building through a back door and never interact with the children, Moody said.

Sometimes a child will ask Moody who’s watching on the cameras, she said.

She’ll tell them that a “team” is viewing them in a different room “so that it can just be you and I in here’ and that ‘you don’t have to talk to a bunch of people over and over again.'”

Before an interview starts, Moody and the observer will meet with the child’s family or guardian at a table in the kitchen area at the back of the building where they offer to answer any questions family members might have about the process.

Amy Morin, the lead family advocate at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Lewiston, supports the family as the child goes through the interview process. Morin helps the child get comfortable in the interview space. After the interview, Morin will ask the child to choose a pair of words from the Wall of Courage to describe how they feel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Meanwhile, the child is in a room at the front of the building with Amy Morin, another member of the center.


The Children’s Advocacy Center in Lewiston has a worry tree on the front porch, where children can tie a strip of fabric representing a worry to leave behind. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“Amy really gets them comfortable and settled,” Moody said.

“Most kids are going to come here with anxiety or anxiousness or nervousness so that time out there with her really kind of gets them grounded and settled into the space,” Moody said.

One of the things Morin does in the front room is ask a child to pick out a reaffirming adjective from a wall of signs. If a child can’t decide, Morin might pick one for them, such as “worthy” or “important.”

Children usually are able to respond in interviews better than their parents think that they will, Moody said.

“I mean, a lot of times we’ll sit at the table and the parents are like, ‘you know, they’re really nervous. I’m not really sure how much they’re gonna talk to you.’ And I always say, ‘It’s OK. If they aren’t ready to talk about it today, that’s OK. We can come back another time when they’re ready.’ We never make kids talk when they’re not ready.”

She doesn’t push, she said.


And the cameras are never turned off once a child is in the interview room. Everything is captured on tape.

Over the five years she’s been at the Lewiston center, Moody said she’d conducted roughly 700 interviews.

Buttons for Bravery is a display on the wall of the family room of the Children’s Advocacy Center in Lewiston. Each child that goes through the forensic interview process is offered the opportunity to choose a button to glue on to the board. Family Advocate Amy Morin tell the children “Sometimes the button chooses you.” The board is around six months old, according to the staff, and there are already 125 buttons, each representing one child. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Moody’s certification to work at the nationally accredited site started with 40 hours of training that included classroom work and practice interviews.

But the training didn’t stop there. It’s ongoing, Moody said.

“You’re training all the time,” she said. Local peer reviews as well as statewide reviews held quarterly involve team critiques of interviews.

Maine created a system of child advocacy centers that coordinate investigation and intervention services about 10 years ago, according to Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth.


Children’s Advocacy Centers preserve all video and audio recording of the full forensic interviews. These interviews are often used in child protective proceedings. Now they will be allowed as direct examination evidence at criminal trials.

Moody said the neutrality demanded by her job is challenging at times.

“Of course, it’s hard seeing anybody sad, especially a child, and we’re in this work because we’re compassionate people,” she said. “Of course, I feel empathetic, but because of my role, I can’t show empathy. I can’t. I can’t tell kids, ‘You know, it’s not your fault. You know?’ I can’t tell them, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ I can’t do all of those things.”

Moody said she is heartened by the knowledge that Morin is in the other room engaged in activities such as letting children pick out a button to put on the “Buttons for Bravery” wall that shows the children they are not alone.

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