The role of speech-language pathology in the Queensland youth justice system

Mrs Stella Martin1

1Senior Practitioner, Speech and Language Pathologist, Department Of Child Safety Youth And Women, QLD

Research has identified the prevalence of language disorders amongst young people admitted to youth offender institutions is over 60%, with only 5% of these young people diagnosed before they commenced offending (Bercow, 2008; Bryan et al., 2007). Language disorders often co-morbidly exist with neuro-disabilities (e.g. FASD, ID, ASD), exposure to complex, chronic trauma, and socio-emotional and behavioural dysfunction, and impacts on their successful engagement in education, employment, and criminogenic programs.

Queensland Youth Justice is the first state in Australia to directly employ Speech Language Pathologists under Youth Justice’s clinical governance. This is an important development for both SLP practice and broader governmental agendas seeking to implement evidence-based reforms that reduce offending and reoffending. SLP interventions were found to be effective in improving the communication of young people in youth justice settings (Gregory & Bryan, 2011; Snow & Woodward, 2016).

The Queensland Youth Justice SLP Program objectives are:

  • Provide communication-accessible information for young people within youth justice settings who have communication difficulties
  • Integrate SLP perspectives with educational, health, and youth justice priorities to build connected and coordinated services
  • Support culturally-safe practices through raising awareness of the differences between Australian Aboriginal English, Torres Strait Islander languages and Standard Australian English, which was achieved through consultation with Youth Justice Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Units and the Youth Justice First Nations Actions Board.

The establishment of the Youth Justice SLP Program has contributed to positive outcomes for young people in youth justice settings and continues to deliver services in innovative ways.


Stella Martin was the first speech-language pathologist employed by a youth justice department in Australia. She has worked in the disability sector, child and youth mental health services, private practice, and in clinical managerial roles. In 2017, she commenced the development and implementation of the Speech-Language Pathology Program in Queensland’s Youth Justice. She currently provides clinical leadership in the delivery of SLP services to young people in youth detention and youth justice service centres who have complex speech, language and communication support needs.