Responding to language variation: Collaboration between certified interpreters and clinicians in the WA Banksia Hill Detention Centre project and beyond

Ms Natalie Kippin1,3, Ms Deanne  Lightfoot2, Annette Puruta Wayawu Kogolo2

1Telethon Kids Institute, Perth, Australia,

2Aboriginal Interpreting Western Australia, Fremantle, Australia,

3Curtin University, Perth, Australia

Background: In Western Australia, a representative sample of young people in youth detention participated in the Telethon Kids Banksia Hill Detention Centre Project, an NHMRC-funded study which examined the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and neurodevelopmental difficulties among sentenced youth. Language and communication skills are often compromised among those with FASD, so a language and communication assessment with a speech pathologist was included as part of the study’s comprehensive neurodevelopmental assessment. In WA’s Banksia Hill Detention Centre (BHDC) however, Standard Australian English (SAE) is not the first language of all young people. Therefore, both standardised and non-standardised assessment methods were needed.

Methods: Of 99 young people who participated in comprehensive neurodevelopmental assessment, 18% spoke an Aboriginal language as their first language in addition to Aboriginal English and Standard Australian English. This group of young people completed non-standardised language tasks in both their Aboriginal language/s and in English with a speech pathologist and certified interpreters. The audience of this presentation will hear from the study’s speech pathologist and Aboriginal Interpreting Western Australia (AIWA) about how language and communication assessment with young people was undertaken and challenges and opportunities that arose.

Implications: Working with certified interpreters was important to help facilitate assessment with young people as part of a neurodevelopmental assessment. Such working relationships are beneficial to minimise the mismatch in understanding and participation between service providers and service users. They are especially valuable in justice settings where legal proceedings and behaviour change programs are verbally administered.


Natalie Kippin is a speech-pathologist at Telethon Kids Institute. She worked on the Banksia Hill Detention Centre (BHDC) Project, as part of the clinical assessment team. Deanne Lightfoot is the CEO of Aboriginal Interpreting Western Australia (AIWA). She leads a team of certified interpreters, who provide interpreting services in justice, health, social services, native title, the royal commission into aged care and stolen wages class action. Senior Walmajarri woman and traditional owner Annette Puruta Wayawu Kogolo is a NAATI certified interpreter and AIWA Chairwoman. She has interpreted for the Aboriginal Land Inquiry, the Ngurrara Native Title Determination and coronial inquests.

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