This study explored how communication impacts restorative justice measures in the context of referral orders, including whether reparation to the victim and to the wider community is possible for young people with communication difficulties in England and Wales.
- How are speech language and communication needs (SLCNs) identified in Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) for young people on Referral Orders?
- How do communication needs of young people affect the reparation process in Youth Offender Panel (YOP) meetings?
- How young people’s SLCNs affect referral order outcomes?
- Hypothesis: Young people with SLCNs are more likely to breach their referral orders than those without.
Speech, language and communication needs refer to “a wide range of difficulties related to all aspects of communication in children and young people. These can include difficulties with fluency, forming sounds and words, formulating sentences, understanding what others say, and using language socially” (Bercow, 2008: 13). Key research points to the difficulties young people with SLCNs face when engaging with services within the young justice system. Recent studies have estimates the prevalence of SLCNs in the young offender population to be up to 60% (Gregory and Bryan, 2007: 507), whereas 6% in the general population in the UK (Law, et al. 2010). Communication difficulties, such as lack of understanding, poor vocabulary and difficulties with expressive language have a negative impact on how young people’s behaviour is perceived by YOT (Youth Offending Team) practitioners (Gregory and Bryan, 2009: 8). Research shows that young people with low levels of language ability are likely struggle particularly with verbally mediated interventions (Bryan and Gregory, 2013: 360). Referral Orders were introduced by the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and should operate on the restorative justice principles of responsibility, reparation and reintegration (Ministry of Justice, 2015: 10).
This project explored the impact on young people’s SLCNs on referral orders using a mixed methods approach. Twenty two YOTs with seconded Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) were identified and approached (Five in Wales and 17 in England). Participants included: YOT Case Managers, Referral Order Coordinators, Early Intervention Officers, Volunteer Community Panel Members (VCPMs) and seconded SLTs from a total of 16 YOTs. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants in person, over the telephone and interview questions were available in questionnaire format for participants’ convenience. Non-participant observations of Youth Offender Panel meetings were undertaken, including initial and review panel meetings. Finally, quantitative case level data were collected from one YOT in Wales to answer the third research question.
Practitioners interviewed mostly agreed that there was a large prevalence of SLCNs in young people on referral orders and that communication is of great importance in referral order processes. Young people mask their SLCNs by adapting behaviour that may be perceived and misinterpreted as difficult by YOT practitioners. The two main themes emerging were SLT service provision and SLTs role within the YOTs and the second theme was practitioners effectively engaging and communicating with young people with SLCNs during the referral order process. There were differences of SLT service provision within individual YOTs in terms of the SLTs role, such as screening young people, referral to SLTs by YOT Case Managers, and whether the SLT was able to provide intervention for those young people with identified SLCNs. Similarities in the role of SLTs were training of YOT practitioners in SLCN awareness and engaging young people in interventions. SLTs had an important role of providing material for YOT practitioners and a consultancy role for practitioners to discuss particular cases. In Wales, there was a need for bilingual English and Welsh SLT service provision for those young people who are more comfortable using Welsh.
In terms of YOP observations, VCPMs’ level of experience in engaging young people greatly differed with more experienced volunteers engaging more effectively with young people during panel meetings. Volunteer panel members were provided information through the referral order report written by the YOT Case Manager, including the Asset assessment, which informed panel members’ approach to engaging young people in a dialogue. Reparation directly to the victim was affected by young people’s SLCNs in terms of their ability to express themselves both verbally and participating in reparative activities.
Just like any programme based on restorative justice principles, referral orders assume open communication between stakeholders. However, effective communication is lacking, a power imbalance is created which hinders reparation and restoration of the harm. Most interventions in referral order processes are verbally conducted, and require young people to understand and process complex information. Consequently identification and appropriate support of young people with SLCNs is of great importance in order to successfully complete referral orders, young people must be able to communicate with other stakeholders. Analysis of case level data on young people with SLCNs indicate that there is no significant relationship between young people’s SLCNs and their referral order completion/breach rates. Therefore the hypothesis was rejected.
BERCOW, J., 2008. The Bercow Report A Review of Services for Children and Young People (0–19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs. Nottingham, England: DCSF Publications.
BRYAN, K., FREER, J. and FURLONG, C., 2007. Language and communication difficulties in juvenile offenders. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 42(5), pp. 505-520.
BRYAN, K. and GREGORY, J., 2013. Perceptions of staff on embedding speech and language therapy within a youth offending team. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 29(3), pp. 359-371.
BRYAN, K., 2004. Preliminary study of the prevalence of speech and language difficulties in young offenders. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 39(3), pp. 391-400.
GREGORY, J. and BRYAN, K., 2009. Evaluation of the Leeds Speech and Language Therapy Service provision within the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme provided by the Leeds Youth Offending Team. Leeds% 20SLT% 20report% 20Jun% 2010a.pdf (accessed 12 December 2010).
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MINISTRY OF JUSTICE, 2015. Referral Order Guidance. United Kingdom: Ministry of Justice.