Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Skills


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 the family's first language.

This guidance sets out the overarching principles which should be followed when agencies develop their own policies for the provision of interpreters, signers and others with special communication skills.


This guidance was rewritten in July 2016.

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, has a very limited understanding of English, or has another special communication need, 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 any discussions and / or written communications.

For a number of children and families in Doncaster 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 be translated into the language in which the client is literate. Where the client is not literate the documents must 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.

3. When to Use Interpreters, Signers or Others with Special Communication Skills

The use of accredited interpreters, signers or others with special communication skills must be considered 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);
  • 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.

At their first involvement with a family staff 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.

Family members 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) Procedure) or possible Forced Marriage (see Forced Marriage Procedure) 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 violence and 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.

4. Preparing Interpreters

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 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); and
  • The interpreter's ability to interpret at other interviews and meetings and provide written translations of reports (taped versions if literacy is an issue).

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

5. Preparing Children

The particular needs of a child who is thought to have communication difficulties 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. (For more information please see Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings, Guidance on Interviewing Victims and Witnesses and Guidance on Using Special Measures, CPS)

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 e.g. Paediatrician, school teacher or nurse and/ or Social Worker.

An appropriate professional may assist the interviewer and the child.