Children's hearings training resource manual: volume 2

Volume 2 is a children's hearings handbook, focusing on the problems that some children face, the environment in which they live, their needs and their rights.

5 Communicating with Adults

The number of adults at a hearing can vary considerably. The chairing member has a duty to keep the number of people present to a minimum. Limiting the number can help to ensure that the atmosphere is relaxed and as informal as possible. However, this needs to be balanced against the contribution which people involved with the child's life may make to the hearing. The reason for their presence should be clear. Each should be treated with respect. The principles of communication with children also apply. Language and literacy difficulties often run in families. Some specific points for panel members to consider follow.

Relevant Persons

Relevant persons will be expected to talk to the hearing about their family life, their ability to care for the child, and their feelings about the situation. They may not have had much experience of talking about such things to each other, let alone to three strangers with the child and professional people present.

Comments made by some parents on their experience of hearings include:

"I was so worried I couldn't concentrate."

"They ask too many questions, by the time you've understood, they've moved on to something else."

"It's my impression that panel members always take sides with the social worker."

Whatever the reason for the child being present at the hearing, relevant persons must be given the opportunity to put their views and to have those views taken into consideration. They must be treated fairly.


Participation in a hearing and pre-hearing panel not only involves an understanding of the process but the ability to communicate and make one's voice heard. The child and each relevant person is entitled to be accompanied by a representative at a hearing and pre-hearing panel to assist the child or relevant person they are accompanying. This may mean that they may speak on behalf of that person or just be there for support. They should be asked for their view about what should happen.


It is important to allow professionals and others who have taken time to attend the hearing to have their say. The writer of a report should have the opportunity to discuss it. If he or she is making a recommendation they should comment on why that one has been put forward and whether other courses of action were considered and discarded.

Someone who has been living in close contact with a child, for example, a foster carer or key worker will have a particularly valuable contribution to make. A social worker or safeguarder who has helped to prepare the child for the hearing may be well placed to encourage him or her to express views.

Although panel members may come to know social workers and others who regularly attend hearings quite well, it is not a good idea for them to appear too familiar with them. This can give the impression to the family that there has been collusion and the outcome of the hearing has been decided beforehand. If it would assist the discussion of the case, and the chairing member consents, the reporter may briefly outline the options available for a procedural matter, or the outcome of the hearing. The reporter will also alert the chairing member to any procedural or human rights requirements that appear to have been omitted or carried out irregularly.


Reporters should not in any way present a case to the hearing or advocate a particular outcome. However, they can give factual information to the child or relevant persons e.g. the likely time frame for a proof hearing in court. Panel members may wish to ask the reporter for their view on a particular issue along with the views of others at the hearing on that issue. They should make it clear to all present why they are seeking that view. If it would assist the discussion of the case, and the chairing member consents, the reporter may briefly outline the options available for a procedural matter, or the outcome of the hearing. The reporter will also alert the chairing member to any procedural or human rights requirements that appear to have been omitted or carried out irregularly.

Other panel members

Most of the communication during a hearing is between the panel members and the child, family and other professionals. However, panel members do, on occasion, need to communicate with each other.

To help make a hearing run as smoothly as possible, panel members should work as a team at a hearing by:

1. not interrupting the flow of questions from another panel member

2. not labouring their own points at great length and hogging the hearing

3. listening to other panel members. questions and the answers given so they do not go over the same ground.

Special circumstances: Use of Interpreters

The hearing needs to maintain a focus on the best interests of the child, and to endeavour to protect people's rights. Careful use of an interpreter can help in this process.

It may be necessary to use interpreters in a hearing where English is not the first language of a child or relevant persons. When it is known that an interpreter is required SCRA will instruct an interpreter via an approved agency who will attend the hearing. The interpreter will have been advised of the first language used by the child and relevant persons and will be able to interpret in this language.

In many cases the section 67 grounds and other paperwork from the Scottish Children's Reporter's Administration will have been provided in the child and relevant person's native language. This should also be the case with Local Authority Integrated Assessment reports and any other reports relevant to the case. These complex documents would be prepared by a professional translator.

The function of the interpreter

  • The interpreter receives information in one language, analyses its meaning and the speaker's /signer's intent and interprets that in a second language.
  • Mutual comprehension is the aim - a two way process.
  • Interpreting is not the same as translating.

Professional interpreters will:

  • adhere to a code of ethics including a commitment to confidentiality, where they belong to a nationally recognised professional register
  • act in an impartial and professional manner
  • not discriminate against anyone
  • be fluent in the specified language
  • not pretend to understand when they don't
  • introduce themselves and explain their function
  • use 'I' as in 'I think...' not 'they think...'
  • refer back to the speaker to seek clarification if the meaning is ambiguous or may be misunderstood
  • interpret everything said by everyone in the hearing without omitting, adding, condensing or changing anything.

Methods used

Consecutive translation

This form of translation is the most common in the hearing situation.

  • using this technique the speaker has to finish speaking before the interpreter begins
  • the interpreter may need to take notes while you speak and then relay what you have said.
  • this method is structured and requires turn taking which restricts the pace of a normal discussion or conversation.

Intervention by the interpreter is a sign that they are correctly carrying out their function. This will happen if the interpreter:

  • can't hear you or you are speaking too fast
  • does not understand something
  • thinks people are misunderstanding something
  • feels there is ambiguity in something said which needs clarification e.g. 'Is your family complete?'

Simultaneous translation (whispered).

Using this method the interpreter translates at the same time as the speaker is speaking. This is highly complex and requires considerable concentration on the part of the interpreter. It is a technique which is often used in courts or at conferences, debates etc.

  • it saves time
  • it gives immediacy and flow.


  • have a brief practice before starting
  • don't speak too quickly
  • use short phrases / questions / statements
  • remember the interpreter is one step behind you so can't keep up if you suddenly change topic. It is helpful to signal a change of topic.
  • languages have different structures therefore the interpreter may have to wait until you finish a sentence to enable them to construct a grammatically correct translation.

General points

  • Considerably more time will be required for the hearing depending on the method involved and because expressing English phrases in another language may require more words.
  • The interpreter needs to be perceived by everyone as being impartial.
  • Jargon may present a problem to an interpreter - there may not be an equivalent word in the other language e.g. reporter, safeguarder, section 67 grounds, compulsory supervision order.

What you can do to help the process:

Chairing Member

All Panel Members

Briefing and preparation is vital. The interpreter needs to know what you are going to talk about; what sort of things you are likely to say at the start of the hearing.

Consider the level of concentration the interpreter needs to maintain.

Check to see if there are any time constraints on the interpreter's time.

Be clear about the role of representatives - they are not at the hearing as interpreters

Ask the interpreter to introduce him/herself to the hearing generally and to those requiring interpretation.

Talk directly to the child / family and maintain good eye contact (where this is culturally appropriate). Address the people to whom you are speaking not the interpreter.

Explain the interpreter's role and requirement to respect confidentiality and check that the child and family understand this.

Observe any non-verbal communication - body language, facial gestures - but be careful of misinterpreting.

Do not allow more than one person to speak at once - make this clear at the outset.

Use simple, plain English - avoid jargon, specialist terminology and acronyms.

Speak slowly and clearly, pausing after each sentence to enable the interpreter to translate manageable chunks

Throughout and at the end of the hearing give the child and family an opportunity to ask for clarification of anything they have not understood.

Keep explanations, questions etc. simple. Do not use long drawn out sentences.

Be aware of your own non-verbal communication.

Be aware that the child / family may relate better or more closely to the interpreter than to you.

Summarise slowly and carefully.


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