Language and literacy problems in young offenders

Instead of reading a longer post from me today, please take the time to read the excellent article in The Conversation by Dr Pam Snow, called "Young offenders need a verbal toolkit to unlock literacy".

Pam was originally a Speech Pathologist, and I was lucky enough to have her as one of my fourth year clinical supervisors. Then she retrained as a Psychologist and has ended up as Associate Professor of Psychology at Monash University, where one of her special interests is the language and literacy of young people in the criminal justice system.

For years she has been telling Speech Pathologists like me, and anyone else who will listen, that we need to take a serious look at the extremely high rates of language disorder and illiteracy in our juvenile justice and prison populations.

Most recently, Victorians might have seen the current affairs program The 7.30 Report's segment on this topic.

So much misery is associated with young kids with language disorders failing to get proper intervention for their speaking and listening skills, and literacy-teaching that makes written language digestible for them, and thus going on to fail to learn to read and write.

Too often, their self-esteem and behaviour takes a turn for the worse and they eventually end up in the juvenile justice system, and at high risk of one day going to adult jail. Sometimes the crimes they're incarcerated for are victimless, but often they're not.

I worked for a while with a teenager who was in the juvenile justice system, but on a part-time placement in a Community School, and then with some of his schoolmates.

I thought I'd worked with tough kids previously, but this was the first time I'd been sworn at constantly, had to deal with regular point-blank refusals to do any work, and had furniture thrown at me.

I wished I could have wound back the clock and worked with these kids when they were 6 or 7. We still made progress, but it was difficult and slow.

If many learners can be prevented from going down this path by good early intervention, it not only prevents this misery, it saves the taxpayer a packet.

If you know any policy-makers in this area, please make sure they read "Young offenders need a verbal toolkit to unlock literacy".

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