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New report: Maryland mental health providers’ failure to provide interpretation and translation services denies care to children and adolescents with limited English proficiency

December 7, 2022

For immediate release

Sarah Polk, Centro SOL:
Ashley Black, Public Justice Center:

BALTIMORE, MD — Centro SOL and the Public Justice Center released today a new collaborative report, Speaking the Language: The Right to Interpretation & Translation Services for Children and Adolescents with Mental Health Needs in Maryland (available in Spanish here). The report finds that in Maryland, many mental health providers do not offer or refuse to provide interpretation and translation services that enable communication between individuals with limited English proficiency and their providers, despite receiving federal financial assistance that requires providers to provide language access to patients. This failure is two-fold as the State of Maryland has not provided strong monitoring and enforcement of language access rights and provider obligations embedded in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, leaving individuals with limited English proficiency with little recourse.

Speaking the Language describes the experiences of children and adolescents who were denied recommended mental health care due to their primary and preferred language as well as families who struggle to coordinate care for their young children when their request for interpretation and translation is denied. The report also highlights challenges to providing interpretation and translation from the perspective of mental health providers, including the lack of available funding for such services, the increasing population of individuals with limited English proficiency in need of mental health care, and the limited number of bilingual providers in Maryland.

Centro SOL and the Public Justice Center offer five recommendations to mental health providers and policymakers to close the gap in communication between patients and their providers to ensure the provision of timely mental health care with necessary language services:

  1. The Maryland Department of Health should provide a guide to interpretation and translation services for mental health providers serving immigrant families in Maryland.
  2. All mental health providers should have a language access plan and policy.
  3. The Maryland Department of Health should provide financial support for interpretation and translation services.
  4. The State of Maryland should adopt a monitoring and enforcement policy for interpretation and translation.
  5. The State of Maryland should provide public education on the right to interpretation and translation services.

Thousands of children, adolescents, and families in Maryland could benefit from receiving health care in their primary language through bilingual health professionals or trained interpreters. “Mental health care access depends on clinicians, patients, and family members speaking the same language” the report explains. “Without the capacity to communicate effectively–with clinicians or staff who are either bilingual or through an interpreter–children and adolescents suffering from mental illness are at risk.”

Children and adolescents in immigrant families have the right to language services to access quality and timely mental health care. Local and state policymakers must take steps swiftly to communicate legal obligations for language access rights to all the entities involved, fund language access programs, and monitor that the requirements are met.

“As a State, we cannot wait to address these serious gaps in our mental health system,” said Ashley Black, lead attorney for the Health and Benefits Equity Project at the Public Justice Center. “Maryland is failing children with limited English proficiency by not holding our mental health providers accountable for meeting their obligations under applicable law. Without consistent and timely access to language assistance services in mental health settings, patients with limited English proficiency are unjustly blocked from experiencing long-term mental health recovery.”

The report is available at: