This exploratory study examines how the speech language and communication needs of young people affect the restorative justice process in the context of referral orders. It is estimated that up to 60-90% of young people have speech, language and communication needs within the youth justice system in England and Wales. Recent literature highlights the improvement of services within youth justice by providing speech and language therapy to young people with communication difficulties. Research indicates that young people with speech, language and communication needs struggle to fully engage with verbally mediated interventions. However, the impact of young people’s communication difficulties on community orders which encompass restorative justice principles have not been explored. Thus, the impact of speech language and communication needs of young people on referral orders will be examined.
Twenty two Youth Offending Teams with Speech and Language Therapist seconded roles within core services were approached. Using a mixed methods approach, the project sets out findings from semi-structured interviews with youth justice practitioners, volunteers and Speech and Language Therapists, as well as, non-participant observations of Youth Offender Panel meetings. Analysis of data from interviews with practitioners and volunteers and from Youth Offender Panel meeting observations was completed using thematic analysis. Quantitative case level data on young people on referral orders were obtained from one Youth Offending Team.
Findings indicate that the speech, language and communication needs of young people negatively impact the principles of restorative justice embedded in referral orders: responsibility, reparation, and reintegration. Results also demonstrate that seconded Speech and Language Therapists within Youth Offending Teams help to mitigate the impact of communication difficulties of young people on referral orders.