Language competence and the link to antisocial behaviour

Research in the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) highlights the long-term social, behavioural and educational implications of poor language skills among disadvantaged children and the benefits of teacher professional development (PD).

Research in the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) highlights the long-term social, behavioural and educational implications of poor language skills among disadvantaged children and the benefits of teacher professional development (PD).

Recently published in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Department of Psychiatry's Associate Professor Pamela Snow collaborated on a cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) that examined the impact of teacher PD aimed at improving children's oral language skills and early literacy success.

"Reduced oral language competence in the early years compromises psychosocial development and has been shown in overseas research to predispose to mental health problems," said Associate Professor Snow.

"Language difficulties in childhood and adolescence are also linked with externalising behaviour disorders."

In the RCT conducted in 14 disadvantaged Victorian primary schools, Associate Professor Snow examined the effectiveness of an intervention to improve teacher knowledge and skills pertaining to the oral language skills (listening and speaking) in children from low socio-economic status (SES) families, in the critical first two years of school.

"Our pilot intervention was a successful ‘proof of concept', demonstrating that teacher PD leads to improved oral language competence in at-risk children," said Associate Professor Snow.

This work is now being taken to scale across 87 disadvantaged schools in the Catholic and state education sectors in Victoria, in a project funded by an ARC Linkage grant.

Importantly, Associate Professor Snow and her colleagues have identified that unless oral language competency is acquired early in life, interpersonal, academic and vocational goals may not be achieved, resulting in a higher risk of educational disengagement and social marginalisation in adolescence.

Associate Professor Snow has recently returned from the US where she delivered a keynote presentation about her research on the oral language skills of young male offenders at the US National Juvenile Defenders' Summit in Louisville, Kentucky.

"While addressing 400 attorneys representing juvenile offenders across the US, I drew out some of the implications for forensic interviewing, restorative conferencing and therapeutic and literacy interventions for young people in the youth justice system," said Associate Professor Snow.

"Although we now have the evidence showing that greater language support is needed for vulnerable young people, this must be translated into policy and everyday practice."

"From an economic perspective, the cost of language intervention services is modest compared with the cost of supporting a young person who might require state benefits, prison placement, public housing and mental health services."

Professor Snow's research was funded by an ARC Discovery and Linkage schemes and the Criminology Research Council, as well as by NSW Juvenile Justice.