Karen Jill Saywitz, Ph.D., (May 1, 1956 – March 17, 2018) was an American psychologist, author and educator. Dr. Saywitz worked as a developmental and clinical psychologist and Professor at the UCLA, School of Medicine and Department of Psychiatry and Development. She earned a Masters of Science at the University of Wisconsin, obtained her doctorate in clinical and developmental psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1984, and attended a Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA where she eventually rose from assistant professor to full professor while she was director of child and adolescent psychology at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. For over 20 years at UCLA , Saywitz directed programs that provided mental health services to families and taught child development to students in nursing, law, psychology, medicine and social work.
Her scholarly activities focus on the efficacy of child interview strategies and on preparing child witnesses for court and conducted a systematic review of research on the efficacy of methods for eliciting information from children in foster care. Her research focuses on the needs, limitations, and capabilities of children involved in the legal system. In the 1980's, when nearly no one else was conducting research on this topic, Saywitz was one of the first researchers in the world to specialize in child maltreatment and its correlations with trauma, foster care, child mental health and child forensic interviewing. Saywitz achieved national and international stature in the academic community for her applied research on child witnesses, child abuse and child mental health. She co-authored articles applying child development research to legal decision-making that have been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court as well as numerous U.S. appellate courts.
Saywitz founded the APA Inter-divisional Task Force on Child and Adolescent Mental Health and has won national awards for her pioneering research, advocacy and clinical service from organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. She was elected a fellow of the American Psychological Association in 2009. Saywitz founded, co-founded, directed and served with numerous programs meant to better the lives of children. These programs include TIES for Adoption, the National Judicial College, California Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Div. 37’s Section on Child Maltreatment and the Inter-divisional Task Force on Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Dr. Saywitz is a former president of the American Psychological Association’s Division of Child, Youth, and Family Services and was president of its Section on Child Maltreatment. Dr. Saywitz has chaired blue ribbon working groups for governmental agencies like the CDC and professional organizations like the APA on child mental health as well as public health strategies to prevent child maltreatment in primary care settings. Her work was instrumental for the development of Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) for child forensic interviewing, which now number in the hundreds in the U.S. alone. In February 2018, Div. 37 awarded Karen the Lifetime Advocacy Award.
Dr. Saywitz is the co-author of “Evidence-based Child Forensic Interviewing: The Developmental Narrative Elaboration Interview” published in 2014 by Oxford University Press, which provides guidance for interviewing child witnesses and victims. She has authored handbooks and guidelines for judges and forensic interviewers and served on the faculty of the National Judicial College.
Saywitz, K. J., & Camparo, L. B. (2014). Evidence-based Child Forensic Interviewing : The Developmental Narrative Elaboration Interview. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Saywitz, K. J., Goodman, G. S., & Lyon, T. D. (2002). Interviewing children in and out of court: Current research and practice implications. In J. E. B. Myers, L. Berliner, J. Briere, C. T. Hendrix, C. Jenny, & T. A. Reid (Eds.), The APSAC handbook on child maltreatment., 2nd ed. (pp. 349–377). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Saywitz, K. J., Larson, R. P., Hobbs, S. D., & Wells, C. R. (2015). Developing rapport with children in forensic interviews: Systematic review of experimental research. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 33(4), 372–389. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.2186
Saywitz, K. J., Wells, C. R., Larson, R. P., & Hobbs, S. D. (2019). Effects of Interviewer Support on Children’s Memory and Suggestibility: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses of Experimental Research. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 20(1), 22–39. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838016683457
Nathanson, R., & Saywitz, K. J. (2015). Preparing children for court: Effects of a model court education program on children’s anticipatory anxiety. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 33(4), 459–475. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.2191
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- Camparo, Lorinda B.; Saywitz, Karen J. Evidence-based Child Forensic Interviewing: The Developmental Narrative Elaboration Interview. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/med:psych/9780199730896.001.0001/med-9780199730896. ISBN 9780190230227.