4.14 Use of Interpreters, Signers and Others with Communication Skills
All agencies need to ensure they are able to communicate fully with parents and children when they have concerns and ensure that family members and professionals fully understand the exchanges that take place.
- 1. Recognition of Communication Difficulties
- 2. Interviewing Children
- 3. Using Interpreters With Family Members
1. Recognition of Communication Difficulties
The use of accredited interpreters, signers or others with special communication skills must be considered whenever undertaking enquiries involving one or more of the following:
Children and/or family members 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)
- Those with a hearing impairment;
- Those with a visual impairment;
- Those whose disability impairs their speech;
- Those with learning difficulties;
- Those with a specific language or communication disorder;
- Those with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties;
- Those whose primary form of communication is not speech.
When taking a referral, social workers must establish the communication needs of the child, parents and other significant others. Relevant specialists may need to be consulted e.g. a language therapist, teacher of hearing impaired children, paediatrician etc.
Independent Interpreters should be used within the interviews although can be used to arrange appointments and establish communication needs.
2. Interviewing Children
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 (the Strategy Meeting stage).
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 purposes of criminal proceedings is not possible.
All interviews should be tailored to the individual needs of the child and a written explanation included in the plan.
Every effort should be made to enable such a child to tell her/his story directly to those undertaking enquiries.
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.
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.
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 (the Children's Commissioner has published guidance on children's entitlement to advocacy);
- Social Workers specialising in working with children with disabilities.
Government guidance 'Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures' (March 2011)covers additional issues which need to be considered if the linguistic or cultural origin of the child differs from that of the interviewer.
Such interviews are generally much slower than those normally carried out under video interview procedures. Where an interpreter is employed, the interview may be long and difficult and might need to be broken into two or three parts.
If, during the course of an interview, it emerges that a child has particular communication needs, which had not been anticipated, consideration should be given to stopping the interview and setting it up on another occasion with whichever professional is most able to assist communication.
3. Using Interpreters With Family Members
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.
Interpreters used for child protection work should have been subject to references and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks and a written agreement regarding confidentiality. Wherever possible they should be used to interpret their own first language.
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 words 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 interpreters availability 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.
Invitations to Child Protection Conferences and reports must be translated into a language/medium that is understood by the family.