This paper presents evidence from Australia and overseas that demonstrates that high proportions of young offenders have a clinically significant, but previously undetected, oral language disorder.
Youth offenders are complex and challenging for policymakers and practitioners alike and face high risks for long-term disadvantage and social marginalisation. In many cases, this marginalisation from the mainstream begins in early life, particularly in the classroom, where they have difficulty both with language/literacy tasks and with the interpersonal demands of the classroom. Underlying both sets of skills is oral language competence—the ability to use and understand spoken language in a range of situations and social exchanges, in order to successfully negotiate the business of everyday life.
This paper highlights an emerging field of research that focuses specifically on the oral language skills of high-risk young people. It presents evidence from Australia and overseas that demonstrates that high proportions (some 50% in Australian studies) of young offenders have a clinically significant, but previously undetected, oral language disorder. The evidence presented in this paper raises important questions about how young offenders engage in forensic interviews, whether as suspects, victims or witnesses. The delivery of highly verbally mediated interventions such as counselling and restorative justice conferencing is also considered in the light of emerging international evidence on this topic.
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