What exactly do speech pathologists do in Youth Justice?: A practical overview

Ms Stella Martin9, Dr Nathaniel Swain10
9Queensland Youth Justice, -, Australia, 10Parkville College, -, Australia

Significant research indicates the high level of (usually undiagnosed) language and communication disorders in young people in contact with youth justice. Emerging Australian research is also showing the benefits of speech-language pathology (SLP) interventions for improving communication outcomes.

Like many jurisdictions in the UK, young people in the Queensland and Victorian youth justice systems can now have direct access to speech-language pathologists. This is an important development for both SLP practice, and broader governmental agendas seeking to implement evidence-based reforms that reduce offending and reoffending.

This presentation will showcase key future directions and goals of speech-language pathologists in Youth Justice settings, including:

  • Providing communication-accessible information for young people within Youth Justice settings. Many young people with speech, language and communication difficulties may not understand the abstract legal language and procedures that occur in youth justice, or the roles of the many stakeholders in these processes.
  • Incorporating speech-language pathologists in Youth Justice’s clinical governance;
  • Raising the awareness of the differences between Australian Aboriginal English, Torres Strait Islander languages/dialects and Standard Australian English. This is important due to the high number of young people in the youth justice system who have an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, where English may be their second, third, or even fourth language;
  • Integrating SLP perspectives with educational, health, and youth justice priorities;

Collaborating with teachers, health professionals, and other staff to build connected and coordinated services for young people in custody, that allow for smoother transitions back into the community.


Stella Martin was the first speech and language pathologist employed by a youth justice department in Australia. In 2017, she commenced the development and implementation of the Speech and Language Pathology Program in Queensland’s Youth Justice. She currently provides leadership in the delivery of speech and language pathology services to young people in youth detention and youth justice service centres who have complex speech, language and communication support needs.

Dr Nathaniel Swain undertook his PhD research working with teachers and students from Parkville College, the specialist Victorian Government School that provides education to students who are, or have been detained in custody. His doctoral research evaluated speech-language pathology intervention programs to support young people with developmental language disorder. Nathaniel now works as a Speech-Language Pathologist at the School, providing assessment, intervention, and other support services.

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