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LutonChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Using Interpreters With Children and Families

This chapter was added to the manual in September 2018.


  1. Introduction
  2. Requesting an Interpreter
  3. Roles and Responsibilities
  4. Quality Standards
  5. Practice Tips

1. Introduction

This policy sets out arrangements and guidance for working with interpreters when supporting children and families.

All children, young people and families need to:

  • Communicate with the practitioners working with them;
  • Understand what is happening; and
  • Be able to participate in decision-making.

Some children, young people and families will require an interpreter to help them to do this. This may be because they do not speak English as their first language, or they have communication difficulties relating to a disability.

Some children and families will be able to speak, but not read or write in English. In this case documents should be translated either in writing or verbally.

Clear communication is particularly important:

  • When working with families to bring about change, for example through motivational interviewing;
  • When statutory intervention (child protection inquiries or care proceedings) is being considered;
  • When gathering evidence in an Achieving Best Evidence Interview.

2. Requesting an Interpreter

The interpreter service is a commissioned service providing a pool of interpreters, who speak a range of different languages. As at January 2018, this service is currently under review.

If a social worker requires an interpreter, they should seek approval from the Team Manager. One the request is approved, the social worker calls the commissioned service to discuss their requirements.

3. Roles and Responsibilities

It is the responsibility of the allocated social worker or other lead practitioner to:

  • Identify any communication needs in families they are working with, including if parents need an interpreter even when the child's first language is English;
  • Make arrangements for an interpreter to be present when meeting with the child or family;
  • Work with the interpreter to prepare for the meeting with the family to ensure the interpreter understands what is happening in the meeting;
  • Explain the interpreter's role to the family, making clear that they are not the decision-maker or lead practitioner.

The interpreter should understand their role in:

  • Directly translating what is being said, and particularly the importance of clearly communicating language that could indicate abuse;
  • Offering cultural insight that might help the practitioner to understand what has been said;
  • Acting empathetically, and with positive regard.

4. Quality Standards

Every effort should be made to allow children and families to tell their story directly, or as directly as possible, to the practitioner.

If a family's first language is not English, they should be offered an interpreter, even if they appear relatively fluent, to ensure they understand the details of what is being said.

Family members, especially children, should never be used as an interpreter.

Interpreters' roles should be clearly defined, and a clear distinction made between an interpreter and other advocate or representative role. For example if a family is being supported by a voluntary sector organisation, then that representative should not also act as interpreter.

Interpreters should not be left alone with families or asked to communicate information without the practitioner present.

5. Practice Tips

Questions and answers may take more time when using an interpreter. Be aware of pacing questions and ensuring the family have time to think and answer in their own time.

Open questions may be difficult to translate, and in some cultures may be too abstract and confusing. Think about whether to use closed questions with options.

Be aware that non-verbal communication, e.g. body language may also be different in different cultures. Adjust approaches to empathetic listening accordingly where possible.

Ask about cultural facts, attitudes and perceptions as a means of understanding the family's world.