Oral language competence (i.e. skills with verbal expression and auditory comprehension) underpins and emerges out of, early social-emotional relationships, and forms the basis of the transition to literacy in early childhood. Some outcomes of suboptimal language development in the early years include difficulties forming and maintaining interpersonal relationships, and identifying and understanding affective states of others. This paper presents findings from a study of 100 incarcerated young male offenders in Victoria, Australia. We sought to determine the prevalence of language impairment in this very high-risk group, and also examined correlates of language impairment that could act as early intervention levers, e.g., early engagement with Child Protection Services. A particular focus of this study was the examination of associations between language impairment and the nature and severity of the young person's offending history (most notably a history of convictions for interpersonal violence). Selected language measures (Clinical Examination of Language Fundamentals – 4th edition; Test of Language Competence – Expanded Edition) were administered, together with a measure of nonverbal IQ (the matrices subtest of the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test – 2nd Edition) and a measure of mental health functioning (the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale). In addition, the Cormier-Lang Crime Index was used to quantify offending histories along two dimensions – violent and nonviolent. The mean age of the sample was 19.31 years (SD=.85), and they had completed an average of 9.8 years of formal education (SD=1.7). Using published norms on the tests employed, and a stringent cut-off of suboptimal performance on two standardised language measures, 46% were classified as language impaired (LI), and this was not accounted for by low IQ. Of the 26 participants with very high (>75th percentile) CLCI Violence scores, 18 (69.2%) were in the LI group. LI also aggregated strongly with a history of Out of Home Care Placement, with 62% who had been removed from their homes due to maltreatment being identified as having a LI. Findings will be discussed with respect to (i) early intervention implications for boys who display both language-learning and behaviour difficulties in the early school years, (ii) forensic interviewing, (iii) restorative conferencing and (iv) psychological counselling.
1In Victoria, Australia, young people aged 18-21 may be sentenced in the Youth Justice system, in an effort to delay/prevent their entry into Adult Corrections