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2002 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 7, No. 3
June 2002

Why We Shouldn't Use Family Members as Interpreters

Many North Carolina counties still have few Latino residents. As a result, many county DSS’s may be at a loss when they need someone to act as an interpreter when working with a non-English-speaking family.

In these circumstances, agencies and workers may be tempted to use bilingual children or family members as interpreters. As Union County DSS’s Rodney Little and Tommy Lopez explain, this is a temptation to which they should not yield:

CSPN: Is the issue confidentiality?

Little: There’s that, but it’s more the position it puts the child in in terms of the structure of power in the family. I’m thinking about a child who is lower in the family hierarchy than the lead male. Now, because you’ve asked him to speak for you, the child’s got more power because he can interpret and twist the meaning of what’s being said. Or, he may be harmed by being exposed to information about his family that he is not developmentally ready to hear. Or, he may get in trouble for telling the truth.

It puts the child in a very precarious position.

Lopez: The traditional Latino family is as it used to be in the American family in the 1950s, with “Father Knows Best.” That’s all you need to think of.

Never, ever put a child in that position.