Journal of Community Health

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 739–747 | Cite as

The Adolescent Health Care Broker—Adolescents Interpreting for Family Members and Themselves in Health Care

  • Jennifer R. BanasEmail author
  • James W. Ball
  • Lisa C. Wallis
  • Sarah Gershon
Original Paper


Parents with limited English proficiency might rely on their adolescent children to interpret health information. We call this adolescent healthcare brokering. Using a mixed-methods, transformative research approach rooted in grounded theory, we sought to answer these questions: (a) “What is happening? What are people doing?” and (b) “What do these stories indicate? What might they suggest about social justice?” High school students from a community in which 53.4% speak another language at home were invited to participate in a survey and focus groups. Of 238 survey participants, 57.5% (n = 137) indicated they assisted with healthcare tasks. When doing so, 81.7% (n = 112) translated. Common tasks were reading prescriptions and talking to doctors. While some participants cited negative emotions associated with brokering, the net emotion was positive. Focus groups (n = 11) revealed that tasks varied broadly in complexity and type, emotional experiences were dichotomous, and access to interpreting services and other supports was inconsistent. This research adopts an advocacy lens and uses a mixed-methods, transformative research approach rooted in grounded theory to describe and call attention to a social justice phenomenon we call adolescent healthcare brokering. We define adolescent healthcare brokering as young people acting as linguistic interpreters in healthcare situations for themselves and for family members with limited English proficiency (LEP). In such situations, language acts as a barrier to health literacy and access to healthcare [17]. Despite this known barrier, there is a gap in the research regarding how to successfully address this situation (McKee, Paasche-Orlow, Journal of health communication 17(3):7–12, 2012).


Adolescent Immigrant Healthcare Interpreting School health Community health Limited English proficiency 



Qualitative work funded by a Northeastern Illinois University faculty research summer stipend

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northeastern Illinois UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Waukegan High SchoolWaukeganUSA

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