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1.10 Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Skills


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  Use of Interpreter, Signer or Others with Special Communication Skills
  Recognition of Communication Difficulties
  Interviewing Children
  Video Interviews
  Using Interpreters with Family Members


  1. Communication is an essential part of working in partnership. Many families perceive professional involvement in their lives as painful and intrusive, particularly if they feel that their care of their children is being called into question.
  2. Professionals can make the child protection process less stressful for families by the way in which they approach working in partnership. Children and families may be supported through their involvement in the child protection process by advice and advocacy services and they should always be informed of them.
  3. Children's Social Care has a responsibility to make sure children and adults have all the information they need to help them understand child protection processes. Information, support and advice should be available to the family in the language of their choice.
  4. If there are specific communication needs because of language or disability, the services of a professionally trained interpreter or a specialist worker should be used. Family members or friends should not be used as interpreters, since the majority of domestic and child abuse is perpetrated by family members or adults known to the child. Children should not be used as interpreters.

Use of Interpreter, Signer or Others with Special Communication Skills

  1. All agencies need to ensure they are able to communicate fully with parents and children when they have concerns about child abuse and neglect and ensure that family members and professionals fully understand the exchanges that take place.

Recognition of Communication Difficulties

  1. The use of accredited interpreters, signers or others with special communication skills must be considered whenever undertaking enquiries involving children and/or family:
    • For whom English is not the first language (even if reasonably fluent in English, the option of an interpreter must be available when dealing with sensitive issues)
    • With a hearing or visual impairment
    • Whose disability impairs speech
    • With learning difficulties
    • With a specific language or communication disorder
    • With severe emotional and behavioural difficulties
    • Whose primary form of communication is not speech.
  2. At their first involvement staff must establish the communication needs of the child, parents and other significant family members. Relevant specialists may need to be consulted e.g. a language therapist, teacher of hearing impaired children, paediatrician etc.
  3. Family members should not be used as interpreters within the interviews although can be used to arrange appointments and establish communication needs.
  4. Staff should feel confident that any interpreters will respect the family's confidentiality. Families should be given a choice of interpreting service where this is possible.

Interviewing Children

  1. The particular needs of a child who is thought to have communication problems should be considered at an early point in the planning of the Section 47 Enquiry (i.e. at the Strategy Discussion/Meeting stage).
  2. If a decision is made not to use an interpreter when the child's first language is not English, the reason for this should be clearly recorded.
  3. Professionals should be aware that interviewing is possible when a child communicates by means other than speech and should not assume that an interview, which meets the standards for the purposes of criminal proceedings, is not possible.
  4. All interviews should be tailored to the individual needs of the child and written explanation included in the plan about any departure from usual standards. Every effort should be made to enable such a child to tell her/his story directly to those undertaking enquiries.
  5. It may be necessary to seek further advice from professionals who know the child well or are familiar with the type of impairment the child has e.g. paediatrician at the child development centre or for child's school.
  6. When the child is interviewed it may be helpful for an appropriate professional to assist the interviewer and the child. Careful planning is required of the role of this adviser and the potential use of specialised communication equipment.
  7. Suitable professionals are likely to be drawn from the following groups:
    • Speech and language therapists
    • Teachers of the hearing impaired
    • Specialist teachers for children with learning difficulties
    • Professional translators (including people conversant with British Sign Language (BSL) for hearing impaired individuals)
    • Staff from CAMHS
    • Specific advocacy/voluntary groups
    • Social workers specialising in working with children with disabilities.

Video Interviews

  1. Interviews with witnesses with special communication needs, may require the use of an interpreter or an intermediary (see Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on Interviewing Victims and Witnesses, and Using Special Measures), and are generally much slower. The interview may be long and tiring for the witness and might need to be broken into two or three parts, preferably, but not necessarily held on the same day.
  2. A witness should be interviewed in the language of their choice and vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, including children, may have a supporter present when being interviewed.

Using Interpreters with Family Members

  1. If the family's first language is not English and even if they appear reasonably fluent, the offer of an interpreter should be made, as it is essential that all issues are understood and fully explained. If an interpreter is not used the reasons should be clearly recorded.
  2. Interpreters used for child protection work should have been subject to references and Disclosure and Barring Service checks and a written agreement regarding confidentiality. Whenever possible they should be used to interpret their own first language and have received training in child protection issues.
  3. Social workers need to first meet with the interpreter to explain the nature of the investigation and clarifying:
    • The interpreter's role in translating direct communications between professionals and family members
    • The need to avoid acting as a representative of the family
    • When the interpreter is required to translate everything that is said and when to summarise
    • That the interpreter is prepared to translate the exact works that are likely to be used - especially critical for sexual abuse
    • When the interpreter will explain any cultural issues that might be overlooked (usually at the end of the interview, unless any issue is impeding the interview)
    • The interpreter's ability to interpret at other interviews and meetings and provide written translations of reports (taped versions if literacy is an issue).
    • Family members may choose to bring along their own interpreter as a supporter.