Updated: Feb 21
Written collaboratively with Caterina Bruce, Senior Specialist Speech and Language Therapist
Caterina works in a unique split post that spans across youth and adults criminal justice system (y/a cjs). Read on to learn more about her role and experience!
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Caterina Bruce and I am a speech and language therapist working within the adult and youth criminal justice system.
Q: How is your service currently set up?
The service that I work for is commissioned to deliver a service to individuals who are pre-sentence i.e. have not received a judicial outcome to their Police case.
My work involves assessing and diagnosing speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and writing expert reports for use by the judicial system to better understand the client's needs and any barrier to their effective engagement with legal processes. My reports are used by the justice system to support:
The direction of sentencing decisions;
Decision making about the capacity of an individual to engage with justice processes and;
Identification of appropriate special measures and reasonable adjustments to facilitate more effective communication from the client in this context.
I do not deliver intervention.
I deliver assessments both virtually and face-to-face across the entire county of Sussex. Assessments take place from client's homes, educational settings, Children Services and Youth Criminal Justice System (Y/CJS) offices, Court cells, Police Custody and Prison.
I also deliver a lot of education training about SLCN in the justice system to key stakeholders including the Police.
Q: What does a typical work week look like for you?
The pace of work is fast and there are rarely any 'lulls' or quiet periods. In the Y/CJS the 'caseload' is reactive, making it challenging to know how many referrals will be received in any given week.
I receive referrals from my colleagues who work in Police Custody, Magistrate and Crown Court settings, and also directly from the Police Service, Probation, Children's Services, and occasionally other NHS community-based services.
There is often a short deadline on these referrals since the clients often have court hearings coming up or have to return to Police Custody to answer bail so referrals have to be triaged and actioned as quickly as possible.
Q: Are there similarities and differences between working in the youths vs adult criminal justice sector? If so, what are they?
Juvenile clients are typically much better connected to support/community services, be it education, Children's Services, children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) etc. this makes it much easier to identify needs quickly, link in with support networks for information sharing purposes and to arrange appointments - and usually other professionals like to join the appointments, so there is always a much lower risk of the client not attending the scheduled assessment appointments.
Most adults have a limited awareness of their SLCN and/or additional needs. They are also much less well connected to supporting services since there are fewer of these dedicated for adults in the community - especially SaLT services.
The incidence of individuals who are street homeless is much higher in the adult population compared with youths and consequently it can be difficult to arrange appointments, or to make contact with the client following release from custody, especially if their phone has been seized. I am referred many more adults than youths who have cases being heard in Magistrate and Crown Courts - these demand more comprehensive SaLT assessments, compared with the assessments written for lower level offences and youths who are still in education.
Q: How have you found this line of work and what do you enjoy about it?
I've been working in this sector for almost 5 years and hope to continue working in the justice system for many more. I am the sole SaLT employed by my team. The need for SaLT assessment for individuals who have contact with the justice system significantly exceeds capacity, which creates a challenge to service provision. However, I enjoy the fast pace, peripatetic nature of the role, constantly changing caseload and opportunity to raise awareness of SLCN.
We are very thankful for Caterina Bruce who kindly shared her experience and insight with our community on her work in the criminal justice sector.
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