Australian-first youth detention initiative launches in Queensland

In what’s believed to be an Australian first, youth justice speech pathologists are providing direct services to at-risk young people from within Queensland youth detention centres.

Our Youth Justice Services team has welcomed 6 new speech pathology positions including 1 senior practitioner, 4 youth detention centre-based speech pathologists in Brisbane and Townsville, plus 1 regional position.

The prevalence of speech, language and communication needs affect up to 90% of young people in the youth justice system, according to Senior Practitioner (Speech-Language Pathologist) Stella Martin (pictured).

Speech pathologist Stella Martin sits with a young person.

“The appointments are an important development in the practice of speech pathology and the Queensland Government’s broader youth justice agenda that seeks to implement evidence-based reforms to reduce offending and reoffending,” Stella said.

“Communication disorders are tough to identify – communication difficulties are often seen in young people with mental health issues, intellectual disability and trauma and attachment issues.

Sometimes, communication disorders leave young people unable to find the right words to explain what they want to say.

Many young people drop out of school because they find it hard to participate in classroom tasks including reading, writing and understanding key concepts, which they may have missed out on learning, she added.

Truancy and offending has long been linked, Australian Government data suggests.

“The earlier we can identify any communication difficulties in young people, the better chance we have of keeping them in school, which is a huge protective factor against offending.”

According to Stella, young people may nod their head and say ‘yes’ during class or other interactions, but they may not understand information or teachings.

The speech pathology positions will respond to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the system by teaching the differences between Australian Aboriginal English, Torres Strait Islander languages/dialects and Standard Australian English.

“For many young people in the system with an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, English may be their second, third, or even fourth language.”

The speech pathologists will offer assistance to young people who may have cognitive disabilities and other impairments such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), autism and trauma-related issues. The roles would also help young people to better understand and interact with the court systems, legal professionals, restorative justice and the abstract legal language, processes or procedures involved.

“Identifying issues via early intervention is key to improving the quality of life of the young person, and may help prevent or reduce re-offending.”