Bilingual Family Assessments - AGFS' innovative and effective approach

AGFS is regularly approached by social work professionals and the courts in regards to independent social work (ISW) assessments of families at risk. Whilst this specialist service is at the core of what we do and we have a team of experienced ISWs who take those referrals on, assessing non-English speaking families can present with a unique set of challenges to both the assessor and the families they engage with. However, our niche specialism in this very area enables us to utilise a culturally competent approach, which then helps achieve best possible outcomes. The model of bilingual work which we have developed and regularly used over the past several years, has time and again proven most effective - it simply makes sense! 


·       Bilingual ISWs. One of the most common question we hear from Service Commissioners is: ‘Do you have an ISW who speaks XXX language?’ The usual answer we give is that yes, we have Polish speaking ISWs but practitioners with other languages are very scarce indeed. In fact, we are not even aware of a native Lithuanian, Slovakian, Romanian, Hungarian (etc) speaking ISW, who might be practicing in the UK. The reason for this, in regard to Eastern European countries at least, is that those have joined the EU in 2004 or later. Some, like Romania, have had their employment rights restricted until recently. For all, converting their social work qualifications from their home countries would necessitate a protracted process of gaining relevant UK experience and further studies. Finally, by definition an ISW is an expert in UK child protection processes and assessments within care proceedings, with an average of 25 years of post-qualifying experience and who often are a former social work manager - many social work professionals from Eastern Europe still have some way to go before achieving even close to that level of expertise within the UK. 


·       ISW working in tandem with a native-speaking Family Support Worker (FSW). We call this model of working the best available alternative to a bilingual ISW. In fact, we have been promoting this model since our company’s inception and have now had several successful years of implementing it in practice. To illustrate this approach, we will use the following scenario:


The family to be assessed are Lithuanian. The ISW is a native English speaker, but like all our ISWs, a very experienced and competent professional. We then allocate one of our native Lithuanian speaking Family Support Workers (FSWs) to work alongside the ISW, providing the social worker with cultural consultancy and language support (interpreting). Many of our FSWs are professionals in their own right and some are also practicing linguists. All of our FSWs are exceptionally well trained and supported workers, who are our company’s employees ( we are not an employment agency! ).


Our FSWs are skilled and versatile. They can engage with the family independently where so required, in order to build positive professional relationships and gather basic information which then feeds into the ISW assessment. They can deliver elements of parenting training, link parents with local resources, explain expectations and responsibilities, monitor child safety and welfare (where children are still living at home), supervise contact etc.


Our ISW/FSW assessment model ensures there are no unnecessary challenges which could otherwise plague the assessment process, such as: unskilled and/or unreliable interpreters, multiple interpreters, cancellations due to interpreter unavailability, no access to cultural consultancy and local knowledge


·       Assessment of family members abroad. AGFS uses the above mentioned working model when assessing family members abroad, usually as potential special guardians. Cultural consultancy and local knowledge in such settings are invaluable and it is something that an agency interpreter would simply not be able to deliver. This also extends to telephone/video initial viability assessments, which we are routinely asked to complete on cases in UK courts. An example of the value of specialist knowledge in the context of assessment work abroad is demonstrated in the following blog of ours (read


As an organisation AGFS has well developed, professional relationships with Central Authorities in Poland, Romania and Hungary. By this we mean to convey that we have actually met in person with Central Authority professionals in those respective countries, on their territory, in order to discuss our collaboration and practice challenges. It is of course also the case that we have had regular indirect contact with Central Authorities in many other countries, as well as direct contact with local social services in all countries in which we have carried out assessment work.


·       FSWs supporting in-house social workers. We can and routinely do extend our culturally competent FSW support to local authority social workers, in the context of case work and assessments of non-English speaking families from Eastern Europe. This includes contact supervision (read and extended community based assessments (read


Please contact us for more information