Bilingual Contact Supervision and its benefits.

Consider the following scenario: the start of a contact visit is fast approaching, and the parents, whilst awaiting the arrival of their children, are joined in the waiting room by two more people: the supervisor and an interpreter. Everyone experiences a sense of relief because the interpreter has actually made it and contact can proceed. (Far too often, confusion over session times or booking issues mean the interpreter does not show up at all). So the children arrive and all present squeeze into a medium-sized contact room, with the supervisor standing, as there is not enough space for them to sit down.


The family’s verbal interactions with each other are constantly accompanied by the murmur of the interpreter conveying the content to the supervisor, who regularly asks clarifying questions of the interpreter. There are times when the interpreter asks the children to repeat what they have said to their parents, as the interpreter could not hear it clearly. The environment does not lend itself to a natural flow of conversation, and family interactions that should inform assessment of parenting capacity and personal relationships are anything but reflective of the reality of how they might behave at home. Contact ends with awkward goodbyes overshadowed by several adults talking to each other, including the ongoing interpreting. The family members go their separate ways with a sense of unease and frustration. The local authority is left with an invoice for work involving two professionals (contact supervisor and interpreter). The next contact visit might or might not take place, depending on whether the interpreter makes it on time…


This scenario is all too familiar to social workers who have had to manage contact for non-English speaking families involved in care proceedings. But there is a far better alternative to this working model: the use of a bilingual contact supervisor. In fact, we at AGFS have come to think of it as the gold standard practice in such settings, based on our significant experience of contact work.


All AGFS bilingual contact supervisors are trained family support workers. Because they are our employees, they receive robust training and ongoing professional support and supervision. Our bilingual workers are able to engage with families in a culturally competent way, which helps decrease parental confusion and defensiveness whilst increasing their levels of cooperation with professionals and enhancing their sense of being heard and truly understood.


Moreover, this setting enables children and their family members to engage with each other in the most natural way possible under the artificial (and at times frightening) supervised contact environment. There are fewer adults in the room, and the family is not constantly interrupted by interpreter-supervisor communications. There is no room for misunderstandings or things being lost in translation. Wherever possible the allocated worker remains involved for the duration of the assignment, which helps build professional relationships and ensure consistency, both for the family and professionals. The ensuing contact reports are subject to double quality assurance before being filed with the Service Commissioner and are always fit for purpose. In the end, the invoice refers to payment for one worker, instead of two, which is charged at rates no higher than those which an agency interpreter alone would normally cost.


Please contact AGFS for further information and to make a referral