1.9 Working with interpreters or signers or others with communication skills to safeguard children

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Last reviewed in Feb 2023

Next review Feb 2025




All agencies need to ensure they are able to communicate fully with parents and children when undertaking child protection work and ensure that children, family members and professionals fully understand the exchanges that take place. 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.


Good safeguarding is built on a foundation of effective communication. it is essential that all children, young people and their parents carers have equal access to child protection and safeguarding support, advice and guidance. Effective interpreting is part of the Sussex Safeguarding Children Partnership Boards collective commitment to anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice.


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.

When taking a referral, social workers must establish the communication needs of the child, parents and other significant family members. This information must then be conveyed to the relevant teams who will be working with the child and/ or family. Relevant specialists may need to be consulted e.g. a language therapist, teacher of hearing impaired children, paediatrician etc.

If the use of a communication professional is declined by the family and/ or child, this should be clearly documented.  

Communicating with children and families


The particular needs of a child who is thought to have communication problems should be considered at an early point in the planning of a Section 47 Enquiry (i.e. at the Strategy Discussion stage).


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.


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.


Every effort should be made to enable such a child to give their account directly to those undertaking enquiries.


It may be necessary to seek further advice and assistance with the interview from professionals who know the child well or are familiar with the type of impairment they have e.g. paediatrician at the child development centre or for child's school, social worker from the deaf services team or disabled children's team.


Careful planning is required of the role of this adviser and the potential use of specialised communication equipment.


Achieving Best Evidence provides guidance on interviewing vulnerable witnesses, including learning disabled (at page 53, Chapter 3) and on the use of interpreters and intermediaries.


Interviews with witnesses with special communication needs 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.


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.


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.

Who may act as Interpreters?


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 disabled children and those in the deaf services team.

Generally speaking, it is not appropriate to use friends and family members as interpreters in child protection work although it may be appropriate to ask family members to clarify the child's or person's communication needs.

 A child should never be used as an interpreter.


In the case of FGM, possible Forced Marriage or Honour Based Abuse, the interpreter must not have any connection with the family.


Interpreters used for child protection work should have been subject to references, DBS checks and a written agreement regarding confidentiality. Wherever possible they should be used to interpret their own first language and not have any significant links to the community in which the family lives.


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.


The interpreter is not;

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

Preparing Interpreters


Social workers need to first meet with the interpreter to explain the nature of the investigation, the 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. Interpreting should as far as possible be a neutral communication channel;
  • When the interpreter is required to translate everything that is said / signed and when to summarise;
  • That the interpreter is prepared to translate the exact words where possible that are likely to be used - especially critical for Sexual Abuse;
  • There needs to be consideration of the fact that some words and terminology used in English is not readily translated into other languages
  • 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).
  • There should be consideration about the most appropriate means by which to hold the meeting/s. Whilst it is preferrable for meetings to take place face to face, it is recognised that sometimes virtual or telephone meetings may be more expedient.   
  • The interpreters cultural beliefs and views on issues such as domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental health and any other safeguarding children aspects may need to be discussed and explored 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 should also be supported to be prepared for any session which may have potentially difficult / distressing content.

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.

This page is correct as printed on Friday 24th of May 2024 04:38:49 PM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.