Adults who have difficulty communicating in English and those who have specific communication difficulties should have access to the services of an independent interpreter with a relevant knowledge of culture and observances.

Family members should not be used in this role.  Practitioners/professionals may also need to consider the suitability of friends or associates, particularly if they present with the adult at risk, to ensure a possible perpetrator is not being used in the interpreter role.  This is particularly significant in cases where the concerns involve coercion and control, such as domestic abuse/violence, sexual exploitation and modern day slavery and trafficking.

It may assist in smoothing the way for an interpreter, and would be good practice, to ensure that the interpreter has a briefing prior to an interview. This should ensure that the confidential nature of the meeting they are about to interpret is made explicit and that they are prepared for any disclosure that may be of a sensitive nature. The interpreter’s job is to interpret, not to mediate or get involved in the case in any other way, but he/she needs this background preparation in order to be able to comprehend what is being said and to interpret as accurately as possible.

It is important that members of staff are aware of potential conflicts which may arise when using an interpreter and the need to ensure that the interpreter has no involvement in the case. The involvement of an advocate may also be required in such situations.

Any interpreters from a source that is not a recognised contractor must be required to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to undertaking any interpreter service. Interpreters must understand that they must not divulge any of the contents of a meeting or interview to any other person.

In addition, any contract for the provision of interpreting services must comply with the following overarching principles:

  • The interpreter should be acceptable to both the service user and the agency. The service user should be consulted about the acceptability of a named interviewer. There may be concerns for instance about gender, religion, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest. Every effort should be made to use an interpreter who is acceptable both to the service user and to the agency;
  • Interpreters should also be asked to inform the worker if they know personally any of the people involved in the case;
  • Interpreters should also be asked in advance about their own requirements during an interview or meeting e.g. breaks, water, equipment;
  • Any anticipated difficulties, e.g. with the behaviour of a third party, should be planned for prior to the event;
  • Decisions about the way in which the interpreter will be used will depend on the interpreter’s skills and training, the needs of the service user and the type of the interview or meeting;
  • The interpreter may be a helpful source of practical advice about making culturally appropriate arrangements to interview family members. However, professionals should not use interpreters to gain assessment information about racial, cultural, religious and linguistic factors as they affect a particular family’s lifestyle or attitudes. This is not a proper use of an interpreter and in any case, the interpreter’s values and life experiences will not necessarily coincide with those of the family.