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1.15 Interpreters, Signers & Others With Special Communication Skills


This chapter was updated in March 2014. Reference to requiring CRB Checks was removed and replaced with the requirement to carry out a Disclosure and Barring Service Check.


1. Introduction

1.1 All agencies need to ensure a capacity to communicate fully with parents and children when there are concerns about abuse / neglect and to ensure family members and professionals fully understand the exchanges that take place.

2. Recognition of Communication Difficulties

2.1 When taking a referral, social workers must establish the communication needs of the child / parents and other significant family members. Relevant specialists may need to be consulted e.g. language therapist, teacher of hearing impaired children, paediatrician etc.

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.
2.3 Family members should not be used as interpreters within the interviews although can be used to arrange appointments and establish communication needs.


3. Interviewing Children

3.1 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 enquiry (Strategy Discussionstage).
3.2 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.
3.3 All interviews should be tailored to the individual needs of the child and a written explanation included in the plan about any departure from usual standards.
3.4 Every effort should be made to enable such a child to tell her/his story directly to those undertaking enquiries.
3.5 It may be necessary to seek further advice from professionals who know the child well or are familiar with the type of impairment s/he has e.g. paediatrician at the child development centre or for child's school, social worker from the disabled children's team.
3.6 When the child is interviewed it may be helpful for an appropriate professional to assist the interviewer and 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 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS);
  • Specific advocacy/voluntary groups;
  • Social workers specialising in working with disabled children and those in the deaf services team.

Video Interviews

3.8 Achieving Best Evidence provides guidance on interviewing vulnerable witnesses, including learning disabled and of the use of interpreters and intermediaries accessed via the police.
3.9 Interviews with witnesses with special communication needs, may require the use of an interpreter or an intermediary 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.
3.10 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.

4. Using Interpreters With Family Members

4.1 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.
4.2 Interpreters used for child protection work should have been subject to references,Disclosure and Barring Service 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, aim and plan of the interview, and clarify:

  • 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 interpreter's availability to interpret at other interviews and meetings and provide written translations of reports (taped versions if literacy is an issue).
4.4 Family members may choose to bring along their own interpreter as a supporter.
4.5 Invitations to a Child Protection Conference and reports must be translated into a language / medium that is understood by the family.
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