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:
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.
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.
Recognition of the intergenerational cycle and the importance of getting care and support correct so we break patterns and enable change.
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.
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.
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.
The importance of inclusive, visual tools becoming common place so that they are not used in isolation and in a vacuum.
The challenge of supporting and nurturing a young person’s inner voice when they have significant difficulties with language.
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.
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
Talking Mats in Germany is being extended by one of our trainers Professor Norina Lauer. Here she describes two of her current interesting projects and we look forward to reading her findings.
The German version of the Talking Mats app will now be tested in two more projects in the west of Germany. As the communication symbols were developed for English-speaking clients six German SLT students of the Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen (han) in the Netherlands want to find out if the words and symbols fit to German clients and their cultural background. Because of cultural differences between Scotland and Germany it is necessary not only to adapt the language but also check the icons.
One of the projects will be conducted with children between the ages of 8 and 10 years. The children will be asked to classify the symbols from their age-group. The question will be whether the symbols and words are relevant for the situation of German children. If not, they will be asked for possible alternatives.
The other project focuses on adults. One group of people with aphasia and one group of healthy persons will be tested. Every tested person scores the 57 icons concerning their correspondence with the words written down below by using a scale from 0 to 3. In addition, possible graphic alternatives will be enquired and collected. The two groups of adults will be used to determine if there is a significant difference between the obtained results from each group.
Talking Mats is a useful tool to help parents see their child’s point of view.
The stage for each parent when their child also has an opinion about what is best for them can come as a surprise and is sometimes challenging. For parents of children with disabilities it can be even more so. This story is an example of how Talking Mats helped parents hear their own child’s voice amongst the background noise of the voices from health, education social and voluntary services.
David was in his final year of primary school. He attended a small village school and was transitioning to a large mainstream secondary. He has mobility problems due to cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He can walk very short distances with effort using a walker and in his primary school used this method to move around the classroom and go to the hall for lunch and PE. This was a functional way to meet 2 of his targets : changing position and walking practise. His parents wanted this to continue when he transitioned to secondary school, although the health professionals involved felt it was going to be too difficult given the greater distances in the new building. An electric wheelchair was proposed for this new context. David’s parents were finding this next step challenging.
One of the professionals involved wanted to find out what David felt was important in his new school and used Talking Mats as a way of supporting him to think about various factors. The top scale used was ‘important/ not sure/ not important’.
David’s mat clearly showed that what was important to him in his new school was being with his friends. When his parents saw his mat they realised that this would be impossible if he was to move from class to class using his walker and it helped them make the transition to seeing him in an electric wheelchair. It also helped them see things from David’s point of view. They were more than happy to fit walking practise into a different part of his busy day because they had heard what was important to him.
Talking Mats allows different voices to be seen and heard.The name has been changed to protect identity.
Hearing the voice of the child Emma Atkiss, Senior Educational Psychologist, shares her findings from the Wigan Pathfinder project reporting that using a Talking Mat helps to meet the 5 criteria of Shier’s model of participation.
Supporting Looked After Children to have their say Karen Wilson, Principal Teacher for children with additional support needs in a mainstream secondary school shares her experience of using TMs to give young people a stronger voice in making decisions affecting them.
Hearing the voices of Looked After Children Rachel Clemow, Head Teacher and Donna Wood, Education Support Worker, report that Talking Mats has enabled children to express their thoughts and views in a safe, neutral environment.
Talking Mats and Mental Health Carla Innes, Clinical Psychologist for learning disability from Healthy Young minds Stockport talks about the impact of TM training on the whole team.
Sibling Attitudes Prof Juan Bornman from Pretoria in South Africa publishes a report on a study carried out with 27 typically developing children who have a younger sibling with a severe speech and language disability.
If you have been inspired and are not yet trained to use Talking Mats – come along to one of our training courses.
Laura’s 4 year old twin boys are just about to start school and she was finding it difficult to have a proper chat with them about how they are feeling. She wanted to think about how best to help them prepare for the transition from nursery so used Talking Mats.
We have done lots of ‘practice mats’ over the past few months – focusing on topics such as ‘food’, ‘animals, and ‘toys/games’, so I knew that the boys were both familiar with Talking Mats before I introduced the more emotive topic of ‘School’.
P was first to have a go at being a ‘Thinker’, with me as the ‘Listener’. We used the Top Scale ‘Happy about/ Not Sure/ Not Happy About’. P thought very hard about placing each option. It helped to have the pictures and mat to focus on rather than just me firing questions at him.
My use of open questions such as ‘How do you feel about playing at your school?’ meant that he often made additional comments such as going on to talk about the toys he had played with during his settling-in session. Some options did need more explanation, for example with ‘eating’ we talked about eating snack at playtime and having a school dinner at lunchtime. Abstract concepts such as ‘trying new things’ also required further explanation. This included relating the concept to real-life situations such as trying to ride a bike and starting swimming lessons.
P’s finished mat gives us a clear indication of his feelings about school. The ‘check and change’ stage was very useful as P changed his mind about ‘uniform’ which he had originally placed under ‘Not Happy About’ – he said that actually he is happy because he will look smart in his new uniform!