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Working with Interpreters


  1. Introduction
  2. Communicating with Children and Families
  3. When to Use Interpreters
  4. Preparing Interpreters
  5. Preparing Children
  6. During the Session
  7. What you can Expect from a Trained Interpreter

    Amendments to this Chapter

1. Introduction

All agencies providing services to children and families must have a clear policy in place explaining how they will work with families where there are safeguarding concerns and English is not a first language.

Effective communication is an essential part of working in partnership with families. Where there are safeguarding concerns about a child who does not speak English, an interpreter should always be used.

Family members, children or friends must never be used as interpreters.

2. Communicating with Children and Families

All agencies need to be able to communicate clearly with parents and children when they have safeguarding concerns about a child. They must ensure that family members and other professionals fully understand both any discussions which have taken place and / or written communications.

For a number of children and families in the city, English will not be their first language and others may speak no English at all. It is essential, particularly where important information and expectations are being conveyed, that this is done in the child / family’s first language; through the use of an approved interpreter. Children must never be used as interpreters.

Some children and families may speak English, but may not be able to read or write in English. Important documents and agreements must therefore be translated into the language in which the client is literate. Where the client is not literate the documents must be read to them and their understanding of the content confirmed by careful checking.

Wherever practicable the same interpreter should be used throughout the course of any involvement with a child or family, in order to ensure continuity and to encourage an effective working relationship. Interpreting should as far as possible be a neutral communication channel. If a family requests a particular interpreter, this should be respected provided the interpreter is available and registered.

Working with an interpreter is a learned skill and therefore it is important that the Lead Professional has been trained how to work with an interpreter. For example:

  • Speaking in simplified language;
  • Using short, clear sentences to make a single point. This is important and it enables the interpreter to be very clear about what the professional is asking / saying;
  • Being aware of cultural issues which may affect an answer, i.e. some subjects may be taboo so careful thought may have to be given as to the best way to address the issues;
  • Allowing time for the interpreter to ask the question in the required language. Even an excellent interpreter may need a few seconds to convert your question from English; and
  • Being clear that the interpreter is not the Lead Professional.

3. When to use Interpreters

The use of accredited interpreters must be standard practice whenever an organisation is working with a child and/or family for whom English is not the first language (even if they appear to be reasonably fluent in English, the option of an interpreter must be available when dealing with sensitive issues).

At their first involvement with a family, staff must establish the communication needs of the child, parents and other significant family members.

Family members, in particular children, should not be used as interpreters during any interviews / assessments, but they can be used to arrange appointments and to help establish communication needs.

Interpreters used must provide references, have been subject to Disclosure and Barring Service checks and have signed a written agreement regarding confidentiality. Whenever possible they should be used to interpret their own first language. Ideally they should receive training in safeguarding and child protection issues before commencing work.

In the case of Female Genital Mutilation (see Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Safeguarding Practice Guidance), possible Forced Marriage (see Forced Marriage Safeguarding Practice Guidance) or Honour Based Abuse (see Honour Based Abuse Safeguarding Practice Guidance) the interpreter must not have any connection with the family, and their cultural beliefs should be examined. Similarly their views on issues such as domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental health and any other safeguarding children aspects may need to be discussed and explored with the interpreter before the interpreter undertakes the work with the child or adult. Consideration may also need to be given to issues around religious / cultural beliefs and gender.

The interpreter is not;

  • An advisor;
  • A consultant;
  • A messenger;
  • An advocate;
  • A friend; or
  • The Lead Professional.

4. Preparing Interpreters

The Lead Professional is required to guide the session, from which the interpreter will take their lead. Before an interpreter becomes involved with a child or family, the Lead Professional should contact them to discuss:

  • 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 –this is especially critical for sexual abuse; e.g. this could be the requirement to relay the exact disclosure from a victim and also the requirement to ask difficult questions posed by the lead professional without being influenced by their own or the family’s culture or beliefs;
  • The interpreter may need some additional support and preparation if they are going to be translating complex information, for example medical terminology;
  • The importance of explaining any cultural issues that might be otherwise be overlooked (this would usually be done 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);
  • To establish that the professionals may refer back to any of the above points during the process of working with a family to prevent any concerns regarding trust.

This conversation should also be used an opportunity to prepare the interpreter for any session which may have potentially difficult / distressing content.

See also: Interpreter Good Practice Guidelines (2017) - this document provides guidance for interpreters on their role as an interpreter, boundaries and confidentiality; and Interpreters Code of Practice (Haven).

5. Preparing Children

The particular needs of a child whose first language is not English should be considered at the beginning of any intervention or enquiry.

Professionals should not assume that an interview is not possible or that it may not meet the legal standards required to be admissible in court.

Building trust with a child will take time, particularly if they have been told not to talk about some issues.

A child may become anxious, distressed or over tired and regular breaks should be offered.

Prior advice and information should be sought from professionals who know the child well or are familiar with any specific communication needs.

6. During the Session

The Lead Professional should intervene if the interpreter appears to be attempting to lead the session or is giving advice/offering their opinion. This is not their role.

The interpreter should not be left on their own; if the Lead Professional leaves the room, then they should leave also.

The interpreter should not be asked to give information to the client when they are not present. It is the Lead Professional’s role to give information and advice to the client.

7. What you can Expect from a Trained Interpreter

That they will:

  • Be prepared;
  • Be punctual;
  • Maintain confidentiality;
  • Be impartial;
  • Maintain professional boundaries;
  • Interpret accurately everything that is said;
  • Ask for clarification if required;
  • Convey tone;
  • Remain calm and emotionally distanced;
  • Not give advice or offer their opinion;
  • Maintain positive body language and eye contact;
  • If any of these standards are not met, speak to the agency that booked the interpreter; and
  • Interpreters should be offered the opportunity to have a debrief after a difficult session, even if this is time limited.

Caption: further information

Amendments to this Chapter

In January 2018, links were added to two new publications which have been written to support the provision of high quality interpreting services: