Preparation is Key

By: Hend

After about a year of working at this agency, I encountered the paper intake of a client who spoke neither English nor Spanish. English is the most common language spoken among our clients, accounting for about 89.5% of our client base. Spanish comes in second, at 10.4%. Our agency does not receive many clients who don’t speak either English or Spanish. In fact, from the period of July 2015 – July 2016, only two non-English/Spanish speaking clients sought services from us.

I realized while looking at the intake form that this was going to be a learning experience for me. The client, who was experiencing domestic violence, was seeking peer counseling services. The client's primary language is not commonly spoken around our relative area. My first step was to find an interpreter who could provide translation services in-person. With the support of my colleagues, and after several phone calls, this goal was achieved within about two weeks. The next step was to contact the client and book an appointment using a telephone translation service. This was difficult to do as the client was working full-time, and was not always available to talk. It took a few phone calls within a 10-day period to be able to reach the client. After finally being able to speak to the client, it turned out that she had begun a counseling program through another agency, and no longer needed our services. 

I was glad that the client was able to find help. However, I couldn't help but notice how long it took me to be able to reach the client: more than three weeks. Although I did my best at the time, the following thoughts crossed my mind: "What if the client was not able to find help within the three week period?" "What if the client was in imminent danger and needed to safety plan?" "What if something happened to her that could have been prevented by a more prompt response from our agency?" 

Thoughts like these are helpful because they can inspire ideas for solutions. I asked myself, "what can I do differently in the future to ensure a faster response?” So far, I have come to the conclusion that expanding a network of available translators can help save time. Thanks to this situation, I have already found one interested translator that I can put on the list. I don’t know what kind of circumstances I will come across in the future, but I do believe that I will learn more as I go along. For now, preparation is key.