Where SLTs work – justice settings

Key points

  • Speech and language therapists (SLTs) work in a variety of environments across the justice system
  • Over 60% of young people in justice settings have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)
  • Around 80% of registered intermediaries are SLTs

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Speech, language and communication needs: the invisible or hidden disability

Speech, language and communication needs are often called the invisible or hidden disability because they are often not visible or obvious. As a result, their significance is often overlooked.

Some examples of the SLCN experienced by young people are:

  • Difficulty understanding spoken words and using language to communicate.
  • Difficulties remembering and recalling information accurately.
  • Difficulty understanding commonly used legal vocabulary, for example liable, remorse, reparation, threatening or victim. These difficulties have prevented effective access to the legal and court system. More information on this can be found in ‘unfitness to plead’.
  • Difficulties in listening and understanding.
  • Difficulties sequencing information to tell a story.
  • Difficulty using abstract language (for example, idioms, metaphors).
  • Difficulties staying on topic.
  • Understanding non-verbal communication and relating to others in socially acceptable ways.
  • Difficulty expressing feelings and emotions in an appropriate way, for example they may use aggressive behaviour, instead of words, to express themselves.

Role of SLT in justice settings

Speech and language therapy may be provided by direct or indirect interventions. Individuals with severe and complex speech, language and communication needs will need direct speech and language therapy intervention. Others with less complex SLCN may benefit from indirect speech and language therapy provision.

Direct speech and language therapist intervention

  • Screening: All young people in England receive a screen of their SLCN, but there is no mandatory requirement for a screen to be conducted with over 18s. The SLCN Screening tool in AssetPlus will help practitioners in England identify any SLCN.
  • Assessment: SLTs assess, treat and develop personalised plans to support people with speech, language and communication problems.
  • Provision of therapy: SLTs support young people to develop their own strategies to facilitate communication. SLTs provide direct support by working one to one, in a pair or in a group with young people.

Indirect intervention

  • Access to written information: SLTs support others by modifying existing written material. This may include changing wording and including visual supports.
  • Consultation: Speech and language therapists support other staff, by providing advice on how to communicate effectively, or how to modify verbally-delivered programmes to improve engagement and comprehension.
  • Staff training: A key role of SLTs in any setting is to train staff, to raise awareness of SLCN to enable the development of strategies to support young people they work with on a day-to-day basis. Supporting staff to identify and alleviate the levels of SLCN within the youth offender population is of vital importance.

Registered intermediaries

  • Over 80% of registered intermediaries are speech and language therapists. Their role is to facilitate participation and engagement of children and adults who are classed as vulnerable to access the criminal justice system. This role is to support two-way communication and they are impartial and neutral, their duty is to the court. An intermediary facilitates communication between the police, prosecution and defence legal teams and/or the court and a witness, to ensure that the communication process is as complete, coherent and accurate as possible.

How speech and language therapy can help offenders

Speech and language therapy helps people to:

  • Develop language skills for daily life (for example, metalinguistics: non-literal language, inference, multiple meanings, figurative language).
  • Understand complex information and words associated with the criminal justice system.
  • Develop conversation and social skills e.g. body language, turn taking, nonverbal communication.
  • Develop their vocabulary and the way they put sentences together.
  • Express their feelings and emotions more effectively, for example verbal or non-verbal/pictorial.
  • Aid their understanding of different types of emotions, and how these can result in a range of feelings.
  • Develop strategies to manage their own communication difficulties.

These communication skills will help offenders to:

  • Deal with the triggers that spark anti-social behaviour.
  • Find ways to overcome drug-related problems with short-term memory, to deal with authority figures, for example, coping at interviews.
  • Understand, and be understood, by professionals and services working within youth justice settings, for example, police, court officers, prison staff social workers.
  • Cope better with the social challenges in, for example, institutional life, education and work settings.

Communication tips for justice professionals

Think about the language you use. Many young people do not understand terms such as breach, custody or remorse.

Using alternative words and phrases to explain what the words mean will help. SLTs could help offenders by doing the following:

  • Use simple clear language and avoid jargon
  • Ensure the young person understands the vocabulary used and explain abbreviations
  • Use short simple sentences (limiting the number of words used)
  • Avoid using open questions
  • Some young people will need structured short answer questions with lots of support
  • Gain a young person’s attention before presenting information
  • Speak a little slower than you would normally do
  • Give extra time for the young person to listen and process the information
  • Make written materials simple and clear
  • Use pictorial materials, visuals or imagery to support the written word (whenever possible)
  • Use gestures and visual cues to further supplement the spoken word
  • Check that the person has understood what has been said, for example, ask them to repeat back the information in their own words
  • Encourage them to say when they have not understood

Training for justice professionals

The Box training

Learn the skills to successfully work with people who have communication issues with The Box training course.

Contact us to discuss the training programme, make a booking, or receive a copy of the pilot evaluation report.

Call us on 020 7378 3002 or contact us.

This training has been recommended by the Youth Justice Board.

Further resources

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Where SLTs work – education

The role of speech and language therapy in educational environments

Where SLTs work – children’s services

Learn about the ways SLTs work in children’s services

The Box e-learning at rcsltcpd.org.uk

A free online tool for people working in the justice sector