In whose words? Struggles and strategies of service providers working with immigrant clients with limited language abilities in the violence against women sector and child protection services

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Child & Family Social Work, 22(1)

Newcomer and immigrant clients with limited language abilities face communication barriers that can compromise their capacity to make informed decisions about themselves and their children with serious implications for their families. These clients most likely had high proficiency of language in their country of origin but are learning the language of the new host country. Using a phenomenological design to elicit descriptions from and interpret experiences of Canadian-helping professionals, we conducted four focus groups first with child protection workers, and second with violence against women service providers. Analyses of these data uncovered five themes: (1) enhancing client engagement and self-agency; (2) advantages and drawbacks in use of interpreters; (3) creative and intensive translation strategies; (4) structural challenges and (5) gender and cultural considerations. Results are organized into an ecological framework in putting forward implications for policy and practice. The over-arching finding supports that important training and preparation are necessary for service providers to deliver language-sensitive services. As well, funding levels need to be increased to better match service delivery goals. Newcomer and immigrant clients whose language needs are not adequately met potentially face safety issues and/or fragmentation of their families.

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