FINDINGS ON SPEAKING AND LISTENING SKILLS
IN THE JUVENILE POPULATION
Bryan K, Freer J and Furlong C (in press) Language
and communication difficulties in juvenile offenders, International
Journal of Language and Communication Disorders.
To gauge the number juvenile offenders with
speech, language and communication problems and the extent of
any difficulties found, a sample of 58 juvenile offenders (half
of one establishment randomly selected with no exclusions to be
reasonably representative of the juvenile population given that
admission criteria to juvenile establishments vary slightly) were
assessed on a standardized tool, the Test of Adolescent and Adult
Language 3rd Edition (TOAL-3) (Hammil et al 1994). The
four verbal subtests which focus on spoken language skills were
used. These were:
speaking/vocabulary (SV); and
These subtests involve the understanding or
use of spoken symbols, and their collective results can be used
to estimate proficiency in spoken language. (Hammil et al
1994). The standardised data for this test is available up to
age 24 years 11 months.
The age of the sample ranged from 15 years and
two months to 18 years one month (juveniles with a short period
of their sentence left to run after their 18th birthday will normally
be permitted to finish their sentence within the juvenile establishment
rather than transferring to a Young Offender Institution (18-21
years). The mean age was 17 years.
The length of sentence varied from 4-54 months.
Fifty six of the participants had English as a first language
and two did not. This is a lower than average proportion of non-English
first language than might be expected across the juvenile prison
estate but reflects the catchment area of the establishment. This
also reflects the importance of considering speaking and listening
skills for first language speakers. Recording of ethnic group
information was also available, 37 were white British or Irish,
nine were mixed race white and black Caribbean or white and Asian,
three were Asian or Asian British, two were black Caribbean and
four did not have this information available.
Nineteen of the participants were "looked-after"
children. Nine of the participants had a medical diagnosis listed
in their prison record. This might be ADHD or autistic spectrum
but also included physical illnesses, although the illness would
not be so severe as to preclude placement within a prison environment.
Forty of the participants had a history of drug and alcohol misusethis
would include a spectrum of difficulties from single episodes
of drunkenness that had attracted the attention of authorities
through to prolonged drug and/or alcohol abuse. Five had Learning
Difficulties (they entered prison with a statement of special
educational needs or a confirmed diagnosis). Only three participants
had received SLT previously.
In terms of school attendance, data was not
available for eight participants, of the remaining 50, four participants
ceased to attend school at 16, I was still in school at the time
of conviction, 18 ceased to attend at age 15, 10 at age 14, eight
at age 13, six at age 12, one at age 10, one at age 9 and one
at age 8. The results therefore show that 90% of juvenile offenders
in this sample ceased to attend school before the statutory leaving
age with 18% of these not attending at age 12 or younger.
Literacy and Numeracy levels for the participants
on entry to the establishment (using standard screening) were
|Below entry level||1||0
|No information available||7
The data suggests that 62% of the participants did not reach
level one in literacy and 60% did not for numeracy.
On the TOAL-3, summary statistics for standard scores (scoring
scale 1-20) were:
|TOAL-3 Listening/Vocabulary Standard Score
|TOAL-3 Listening/Grammar Standard Score
|TOAL-3 Speaking/Vocabulary Standard Score
|TOAL-3 Speaking/Grammar Standard Score||54
|Valid N (listwise)||53||
The scores show that as a group, the mean scores are below
the midpoint on the standard scoring. Based on this sample, the
results suggest that juvenile offenders are likely to have lower
levels of vocabulary and grammatical competence than age matched
On the TOAL-3, standard scores are used to give the clearest
indication of the person's performance. The following guideline
for scores (based on a standard distribution) is suggested:
||% normal population included|
Using these parameters, the performance of the participants
can be classified as shown in table three.
|Test||Poor or very poor %
||Below average %||Total % below average
The results show that 66-90% score below average on sub-tests
of the TOAL-3 ie have skills below the level that would be expected
for their age. Taking the poor or very poor group (equivalent
to the bottom 9% of the overall population for this age group),
this sample suggests that the juvenile population shows a much
higher than expected proportion of young people within this category
46-67% (across the four sub-tests).