Shocking over-representation of young people with communication needs in the Criminal justice system

Published 19/04/2023   |   Last Updated 02/05/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

Far too many children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) end up in the criminal justice system

That’s the message in ‘60% - Giving them a Voice’ - a report published today by the Senedd’s Equality and Social Justice Committee. 

It has found that the support young people with SLCN receive to navigate the justice system is inadequate in most of Wales.  

SLCN include a broad range of challenges including hearing impairments, dyslexia or social communication difficulties as a result of autism.  

Jenny Rathbone MS, Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, says:  

“This over-representation of young people with communication challenges getting dragged into the criminal justice system is deeply worrying. 

Compare this 60% with just 10 per cent of young people in the general population  and it is obvious we have a serious issue to be tackled. This report is aimed squarely at giving a voice to these young people.  

“We want to see much more focus on children’s communication needs from birth in order stop such high numbers of young people with SLCN entering the criminal justice system in the first place. Secondly, we need to ensure that everyone working in the criminal justice system is aware of this bias so that young people get the support they need to navigate their way through the youth justice system. Otherwise it undermines any claim to equitable access to justice.  

“That requires Welsh Government, working with speech and language therapists, to improve awareness and early identification of SLCN by frontline services, particularly schools. Staff and services must have the skills, knowledge and resources to be able to respond to those presenting with these communication needs with the appropriate support.” 

The Equality and Social Justice Committee’s one day inquiry found a lack of organisations in Wales championing the needs of young people with SLCN. Others cover the whole of the UK and lack a specific focus on Wales.  

The inquiry found clear support for embedding speech and language therapists in all youth offending teams across Wales, and heard about the sector leading practice in Neath Port Talbot Youth Offending Team. The report asks the Welsh Government to work with local authorities to plan for embedding speech and language therapists into every Youth Offending Team in Wales.  

The Committee recommends that the Welsh Government works with stakeholder organisations to create a plan by the end of this year, with a priority to improve the recruitment and retention of speech and language therapists. 

The full report is available here: 60% Giving them a Voice