Communication Needs in Youth Justice

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Addressing the communication needs of people in youth justice is key to improving lives. The lack of attention to this is costly. On the 17th of April, we organised a seminar to look at the underlying issues and share good practice.

We were delighted with the collaborative mix of people attending. We had representatives from: the Scottish government, the NHS; Third sector organisations working in youth justice, the police, social workers, professional bodies, universities and social work.

Our thanks to Professor Richard Simpson for chairing the day and setting the tone by emphasising from the start  that understanding communication is key to improving service delivery. Following his introduction a series of excellent and stimulating presentations took place creating a fusion of ideas and practice from Scotland and New Zealand.

  • Kim Hartley Kean, head of the Royal College of Speech and language therapy  Scotland office highlighted the current position in Scotland
  • Sally Kedge and Alayne Mckee described the approach adopted by their organisation Talking Trouble in New Zealand.
  • Jane Macer the therapeutic service co-ordinator from Starley Hall Fife described an whole system approach to embedding good communication practice within an organisation
  • Yvonne McKeown and Sandra Polding Speech and Language Therapists working with young people in a NHS inpatient psychiatric unit in Glasgow shared some case examples.

In different ways the speakers brought up very similar themes:

  1. Communication can be treated glibly. There is a lack of understanding of what communication difficulties are and of the impact that they have on the lives of young people. These difficulties are often hidden and take time to identify. Lack of identification can have a huge impact on the future lives of young people.
  2. Finding ways to hear the young person’s voice is key both for the young person but also for organisations in order to deliver appropriate and effective care.
  3. Recognition of the intergenerational cycle and the importance of getting care and support correct so we break patterns and enable change.
  4. Providing collaborative solutions and understanding the breadth of communication will help services improve. However, given services often don’t know what they don’t know in terms of the impact of communication difficulties we have to find ways to express those solutions in language that those services can relate to and understand. Listening to organisations and exploring their processes by analysing the communicative demands of each stage can be a helpful way to start.
  5. Moving forward it is important to knock on open doors i.e. work with people who are receptive to recognising the impact of communication difficulties on young people and their lives but also find the strategic influencers who are sympathetic, in the words of our New Zealand colleagues ‘the aunts and uncles in the field’ who can help to promote the issue and raise awareness at a National level.
  6. You can’t explore the issue of trauma and adverse childhood experiences without certain precursor, building blocks being in place. This takes time and requires a constancy of approach.
  7. The importance of inclusive, visual tools becoming common place so that they are not used in isolation and in a vacuum.
  8. The challenge of supporting and nurturing a young person’s inner voice when they have significant difficulties with language.
  9. Lack of understanding of communication difficulties may lead to services responding to internalized behaviours that can lead to a fork in life; one way can send the young person down a route of offending behaviour services and the other mental health services.
  10. The solutions lie in partnership and collaboration between professions and services.

There were lots of creative ways of using Talking Mats that were shared. A couple of examples that stand out were

  • Using Talking Mats with social workers to help them unpick what they already know about a young person’s language and communication. This approach helped them think about all the different aspects that contribute to communication and where the young person’s strengths and weaknesses lay e.g. non verbal communication , humour , word finding , understanding complex information, understanding simple information etc .
  • Using Talking Mats to support a psychiatric assessment of a young person. One person used his Talking Mat to say he was hearing voices something he was unable to disclose verbally. In this case this enabled an accurate mental state assessment and non-custodial sentence.

I will leave the last word to a young man living in an inpatient unit to support his mental health, his words about communication difficulties are ‘They make you more vulnerable when bad stuff happens’ how true that is and this is why it is important we work together to improve services .

Next steps The community justice network met in the afternoon and were challenged to think about the opportunities and barriers in developing services – read the for blog that covers the afternoon ……… If you missed the seminar and want to join a multiagency network to discuss this and help take this forward in Scotland then please let us know .

Click to read the excellent presentations from the seminar

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