The Couch

The Couch – Not a doll

The Couch is a place to exchange ideas and brainstorm, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. Although interpreter ethics exist in part to prevent interpreters from getting into sensitive situations as much as possible, sometimes life happens anyway. A special thank you to this week’s contributor for the Couch idea.


You have been assigned to a case involving Child Protective Services. A woman is experiencing devastating postpartum symptoms and does not understand her own feelings; nor does she know how to take care of her newborn. You are in a courthouse waiting room with her and notice she is treating the child as though he were a doll or a toy, attempting to make him walk as though he were seven years old [no more details were given]. The newborn is softly whimpering, and clearly something is wrong.

You are alone in the room with her, trying to read out CPS’s measures as they apply to her, but you are disturbed by what you are seeing. What would the best possible course of action look like for you?


Please note: If you have a topic you’d like to see discussed on The Couch, write to the Editor. The comments section here should be used only to reply to the issue under discussion today. When you submit a question or topic for The Couch, we will make sure to remove all information that might make the parties or case identifiable.

Body photo by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay.

10 thoughts on “The Couch – Not a doll”

  1. Gila Khabbaza says:

    As an officer of the court I feel it is my duty to promptly inform child protective services. – Gila

  2. Jason Knapp says:

    1) Why am I alone with the LEP?
    2) Why am I reading the CPS measures to her without a case worker or attorney present to explain them?

    So many things wrong with this scenario…
    It goes without saying that if I were to find myself in the situation as described, the first thing I would do is try to get professional help for mother and chiles, a case worker or *someone*. This whole scenario is about doing what’s best for the welfare of the child after all.

  3. Kathleen Morris says:

    I agree with Jason. There is no scenario under which I would agree to be alone with the mother. It’s fine to sight-translate CPS directives to her; however, an attorney or child services worker should be present during any requested interpretation (verbal or sight translation) for an out-of-court interview. Chances are that the caseworker or attorney would then have noticed something amiss with mother’s behavior towards the baby, and would appropriately intervene.

    If this does not occur during an interview when an interpreter is requested, I think it’s more appropriate to mention mom’s behavior to the caseworker or attorney, after the interview…that is, that you “don’t wish to interfere, but it is a cause of concern to you. It is then up to the caseworker or attorney to take appropriate action.

  4. Grace Couto says:

    I will not be alone with the LEP. However, if I were to find myself in a situation similar to the one described here, I would excused my self from the interpreting section, and report the situation at once!
    I will be acting as my self, and I will accept a reprimand or loosing my job if it comes to that.
    As a person, as a woman, or as a mom, I cannot imagine a situation where I will ignore something like that.

  5. Francesca S says:

    Totally in agreement with Gila and Jason. Immediate attention to this situation is warranted and as officers of the court, we have the responsibility and obligation to notify someone that can assist (without any conflict of interest) of these types of situations. In this particular case, the safety of a child at peril is key!

  6. I too agree with Gila and Jason (and now Francesca).

    I would feel a duty to report as well. But, would it be a duty in a legal sense? Is a court interpreter a mandatory reporter?

  7. MARIA JUEGA says:

    In answer to Michelle’s question, I think it depends on the state. Here in NJ, EVERYONE is a mandated reporter, apparently. https://reportingchildabusenj.org/faqs, which means that in this scenario the interpreter would need to call the Child Protection hotline, IN ADDITION to reporting it to the court’s interpreters supervisor or whoever might be at hand at the time. Interesting hypothetical. Thank you for raising the issue.

  8. Ingrid E Oseguera says:

    We can sight translate but in the presence of an SW or a lawyer. We need to ask one of them to stay in the room with us. This is a great example for interpreters to implement role boundaries. Code of ethics, Cannon 4. can be cited, “Limitations of Practice”. What do you think?

  9. Mai Ho says:

    Hi Jason and Maria,
    I agree with you,. Your solutions are practical, helpful and thorough.

  10. That was real on target! Standards of Practice are our friends ;o)
    Catalina

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