Toggle Contrast
Top of Page

45.46 Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Skills

Show amendments

Last reviewed in October 2019

Next review October 2023




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.


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. Relevant specialists may need to be consulted e.g. a language therapist, teacher of hearing impaired children, paediatrician etc.


Interviews of Children where there are Communication Issues


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 her/his 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 (s)he has 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.

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 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.


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.

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;
  • 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;
  • 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).


lscb-logo 01273 481544
wsscb-logo 0330 222 5296
bhlscb-logo 01273 292379

This page is correct as printed on Thursday 30th of June 2022 10:40:26 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.