Journal Article

Lost in Translation: How Child Welfare Workers in Norway and England Experience Language Difficulties when Working with Minority Ethnic Families

Katrin Kriz and Marit Skivenes

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 40, issue 5, pages 1353-1367
Published in print July 2010 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online March 2009 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcp036
Lost in Translation: How Child Welfare Workers in Norway and England Experience Language Difficulties when Working with Minority Ethnic Families

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This article explores the challenges that social workers in child welfare agencies in Norway and England experience when working with minority ethnic families who are not proficient in the country's language. This study is based on fifty-three interviews in which social workers reflected on an open-ended question that addresses the differences between working with minority ethnic children and their families and white children and their families, provided they believed that there were any differences at all. This study shows that social workers encounter several challenges when using interpreters in their work with minority ethnic families: social workers lose information and they lose time and trust. In addition, the lack of a common language pre-empts the types of interactions that are necessary to establish a good relationship with minority ethnic families. We found that there are hardly any differences between the two countries, even though England has historically had more extensive experience with ethnic minority families and more stringent anti-discrimination laws. The findings also suggest that minority ethnic families may lose out on accurate assessments and access to services due to problems arising from the use of interpreters. We discuss four sets of implications for practice, including strong ethical guidelines for and testing of interpreters, training of social workers in working with interpreters, affirmative strategies on the part of local authorities to eliminate language-related barriers for ethnic minorities and pro-active child welfare systems that address the challenges language differences pose to the child welfare work.

Keywords: Language; child welfare; interpreters; minority ethnic families; communication; Norway; England

Journal Article.  6016 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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