15 Apr 2014
Children missing school to interpret English for parents
Report to a council watchdog finds that children are missing lessons to help their parents as concerns are raised over the practice
Children have been taking time out of school to interpret for their parents who are unable to speak English, a new report has claimed.
The report to a council watchdog in Leeds, West Yorkshire, has raised concerns over the practice – including the pressure on the child, the potential for family conflicts, and the fact that they are missing lessons.
The absences were high enough to spark a review over the extent to which children can be allowed to aid their parents, as front line staff report at least three instances a week of children being used as interpreters.
Under 16s cannot be taken out of school during term time without good reason, and local councils have the power to fine or prosecute parents who do not ensure their child attends regularly.
The practice was exposed during a review of interpreting and translation services used to access council services, which cost taxpayers in Leeds £127,000 between April and September last year, by the council's Scrutiny Board.
The report presented to the Resources and Council Services says: "There are concerns with the use of children as interpreters. Although it is not usual practice to use children under 18 as interpreters, it is recognised professional discretion can be used.
"It should not be viewed as usual practice but ... emergency situations may allow professional discretion to ensure immediate safety and welfare.
"Discussions have taken place with other local authorities and although they don't have a policy stating whether children should be used as interpreters, the general rule is children are not used as interpreters apart from passing on short messages."
The report warns that the adults can get frustrated with the children and sometimes come to the council building alone and persuade a young person in the library who they recognise to interpret for them, even though they are not even related.
The board recommends that "children would not be used for interpreting purposes except in emergency situations".
The watchdog committee at Leeds City Council carried out the interpreting inquiry after concerns were raised about the efficiency of the service and whether it provided value for money.
Freelance interpreters can charge the authority £18 an hour between 7am and 7pm, and £27 after 7pm and at weekends.
Telephone interpreters cost £13 an hour, with translation work a minimum of £19 based on word count.
The authority was billed £67,000 between April and September last year for one to one interpreters, with a £12,000 sum for phone interpreters and £48,000 for written translations.
The report noted the need to reduce costs.
Councillor Ron Wood, spokesman for the committee, said the key was to make the service "run more efficiently".
He said: "We want to see a fair, consistent policy that provides assistance where needed, but which ultimately also encourages people to learn English and feel part of the community they live in."
Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said a decision on interpreting and translation policies will be made "at the appropriate time".