Have you ever wondered what a ‘typical’ working week looks like for an intermediary? To give you a glimpse into the intermediary world, Laura has shared her experience of a final hearing at Newcastle Family Court, where she assisted a service user named Mandy*.
*Names, locations, case details and other identifying information have been changed
A bit of background…
I first met Mandy before her final hearing, in fact, I was the assessor who met with Mandy and recommended that she was assisted by an intermediary throughout her case. The assessment was carried out with the assistance of an interpreter, as English wasn’t Mandy’s first language.
During her intermediary assessment, I noted Mandy had difficulty in a number of communication domains, which would likely affect her engagement and participation in court proceedings. For example, she had difficulties with concentration, she often digressed at length from the topic of conversation to discuss unrelated topics, and she did not always recognise when she needed a break. I also observed her to have literacy difficulties, limited understanding of court vocabulary and limited understanding of less commonly used words in general.
The assessment took three hours. Working with an interpreter always requires more time, as more communication is required to share information. In addition, Mandy often moved away from the topic at hand, to discuss unrelated matters at length. She required support to refocus upon the current subject. These two factors meant that the assessment tasks were not all completed within our three-hour meeting. For this reason, I carried out the remaining assessment task at court (just prior to the Case Management Hearing).
I assisted Mandy at a Case Management Hearing and then returned for the Issues Resolutions Hearing, where I was able to assist the court during a short Ground Rules Hearing. This step is to ensure that measures are put into place and agreed to ensure Mandy has a fair trial.
Thanks to our regular encounters, Mandy became comfortable around me, and we were able to build a good rapport in advance of the Final Hearing. I was pleased I was assigned to assist her during her Final Hearing as I already knew her case and understood her communication needs well.
The final hearing
The final hearing started off as normal. I was required to attend court at 9am. Luckily, it was only a short train trip for me as I am already based in the local area. This was a case where the Local Authority was seeking a care order for the children (foster care)*. The guardian agreed with the Local Authority’s proposals. Mandy opposed the social worker’s plans and wanted her children back in her care.
On the first day, we listened to the current social worker give evidence. On the second day, we heard from the social worker who completed Mandy’s parenting assessment.
Whilst in court and conferences, I worked with Mandy to ensure she understood the evidence. She had difficulty understanding legal terminology, following lengthy legal discussions and understanding written information. I used strategies including visual aids, simplifying information, repeating key points and asking her to repeat what she understood in her own words (to check her understanding). These strategies were helpful in this case. After discussion with the court, I also asked the interpreter not to directly translate everything that was being said as this would overload and confuse Mandy. Instead, I provided simple explanations throughout, which were then interpreted to Mandy.
Evidence from the professionals began to paint a picture which suggested that Mandy should have been provided with additional support to learn parenting skills (as recommended in the parenting assessment), which had not been provided. This appeared to be the theme of the case and it was becoming a concern for both Mandy’s barrister and the guardian.
Unfortunately, the next day was adjourned due to one of the social workers having health issues*. I went back home on this day and used it as an admin day (which included updating case notes and replying to emails). I also worked on one of my targets. This target was on researching the effects of strokes upon communication, specifically dysarthria (slurred or unclear speech), and creating an information sheet that included some strategies intermediaries can use when working with individuals who are affected by this condition.
A change in direction
After listening to more witnesses from the Local Authority, the guardian asked the Local Authority to reconsider their position. This meant that, if the Local Authority took the guardian’s suggestion, they would have to do a new parenting assessment with Mandy, providing her with the right support and education as part of that process. Proceedings would be adjourned until this work had been undertaken.
The next day, the Local Authority decided that Mandy should be re-assessed and they were no longer asking for a care order. Court was then adjourned to allow the Local Authority to make enquiries about how the assessment would be carried out.
After the hearing
That afternoon, I spent time with Mandy, her barrister, and the interpreter. Due to her learning difficulties and language barrier, I decided it would be a good idea to construct a visual aid to help her during contact sessions.
I created a document with pictures of healthy food, a parent hugging their child, game boards etc. The purpose of this was to give a printed version to Mandy to look at before contact sessions, to remind her of what to do and what to bring. Through working with the interpreter, we were able to come up with simple words we could put below each picture in Mandy’s first language, so Mandy had some extra context. Mandy was really happy with this resource and was able to clearly explain what to do at contact, when her understanding was checked.
On the final day, we came back to court for a short hearing which confirmed the local authority plans for Mandy’s re-assessment.
As an intermediary, there’s no such thing as ‘typical’ day or week. Sometimes we may work with service users we have previously assisted and other times we meet new ones. Everyone we work with has differing communication strengths and needs. As intermediaries, it’s important to recognise this and think of ways to improve their participation and communication.
In my case, I enjoyed working with Mandy at different stages – from the assessment stage to the Issues Resolution Hearings, down to the Final Hearing. I managed to build a good rapport with her, which helped her to become more comfortable around me, engage well with my strategies and allowed me to recognise how to better assist her.
I was also able to implement effective strategies to work with the interpreter, without overloading Mandy. Approaches like discussing the boundaries of our overlapping roles (at the outset of proceedings) and the importance of verbatim translation of intermediary simplifications, helped to ensure Mandy’s needs were being met throughout.