Winstanley et al. (2019)
A very accomplished colleague of mine from the UK (Dr Maxine Winstanley) has just published new research with her UK colleagues.
Maxine had a career as a police officer before training as a speech-language pathologist and undertaking a PhD. Like me, she was shocked by the high rates of communication difficulties in youth justice. Around 50-60% of young people in contact with the justice system have Development Language Disorder - this is a condition where people have severe difficulties understanding or expressing themselves using spoken language.
In her PhD research, Maxine was also interested in a difficulty with perceiving and understanding one’s own emotions, known as “Alexithymia”.
This new paper is based on her work with young people in the north of England – mostly as they first make contact with the youth justice system. Here’s a brief overview, relevant for all working (or interested) in the youth justice space.
Dr Winstanley interviewed and assessed 145 young people (mean age 15.8) who were in contact with a community based triage centre and/or youth offending team (this included 33 young women)
Assessments into the following areas were completed: nonverbal IQ, oral language, and literacy, as well as Alexithymia (ability to perceive and identify emotions) and socioemotional skills
60% presented with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)
There were no significant differences between males and females
60% had Alexithymia/possible Alexithymia. But this was not associated with DLD
The participants’ language difficulties were largely unrecognised before completing the assessments in the study:
Only 2 of the participants with DLD had ever seen a speech-language pathologist (SLP) before
None were currently receiving SLP support
None had speech, language and communication difficulties listed as as a primary need
On average, the young people were 3-4 years behind peers in reading, but those with DLD performing significantly lower in reading
These findings emphasise that having language difficulties make it very difficult for young people to participate fully in court processes, including Restorative Justice, and access education
If a young person can’t understand everything that’s going on during these processes, then they cannot participate fully
Because young people with DLD often provide monosyllabic responses (or in their writing, they may only write very short letters due to literacy difficulties) and have poor emotional recognition and expression - they are likely to be perceived as rude or indifferent to a judge or victim
These assessments may be an underestimate of the difficulties young people experience, as these tests are completed in optimal conditions – so the results represent the best possible scenarios
Speech, language and literacy assessments for all young people in YJ would help identify and meet these specific language and learning needs.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ THIS PAPER
The article has a great summary of what we already know about language and literacy difficulties in the youth justice space. The authors also give important examples of how language and socioemotional problems (like Alexithymia) affect young people’s ability to navigate the justice system, and access education.
The authors also demonstrate how assessments of speech, language, and literacy skills can help identify key learning needs, and develop appropriate supports for young people whilst in the justice system, and for their transition out of it.
Read the paper here: Winstanley, M., Webb, R. T., & Conti‐Ramsden, G. (2019). Psycholinguistic and socioemotional characteristics of young offenders: Do language abilities and gender matter?. Legal and Criminological Psychology.
What is DLD? Afasic
In the Read the Research series, I’m putting together bite-sized overviews of new research, aimed at practitioners and researchers working with young people on language, literacy, and learning.