The missing link in youth justice?

A La Trobe University researcher has identified that oral language skills are a crucial missing component in the rehabilitation of young people in the youth justice system.

In an Australian first, Speech Pathologist and Head of the La Trobe Rural Health School Professor Pamela Snow has published a study describing provision of 1:1 speech pathology services to six high-risk young offenders as part of their rehabilitation behind bars.

All of these young people engaged well with the speech pathologist, collaborating on setting goals to improve their everyday communication skills (e.g. working on improved vocabulary, social skills, or ability to process verbal information).

Professor Snow’s research has already identified that some 50 per cent of male young offenders on custodial sentences have significant oral language difficulties - which means they struggle to understand the language directed to them by others and have difficulty putting their own ideas together into words and sentences.

Professor Snow said these problems can be easily misinterpreted as rudeness or disinterest and contribute to the poor academic skills and behavioural problems that are universally a part of their life histories.

All made gains over a 2-3 month period and reported that they found the intervention worthwhile.

Professor Snow said youth justice staff in the custodial setting said it had never occurred to them that many of the everyday interpersonal difficulties they face with young offenders could be helped through the skills of a speech pathologist.

“Communication is pervasive in everyday life and successful communication is fundamental to our success as humans,” she said.

She believes speech pathologists working with young offenders in youth justice centres could create significant opportunities to help bridge the gap back into the community when they are released.

“Detention is a last resort for young offenders, so the time spent there needs to value-add their very fragile skill-sets, and communication is a skill set everyone needs to succeed in the mainstream,” Prof Snow said.

The research was conducted in the NSW Juvenile Justice system and funded by the NSW Government.

Media Contact: Briena Barrett 0432 566 014

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