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Language difficulties in looked-after children aged 5 to 14 years

Savi-Karayol, S. (2023). Language difficulties in looked-after children aged 5 to 14 years. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Looked-after children (LAC) are classed as one of the most vulnerable populations in society. They also persistently demonstrate poor life trajectories in many areas. To date, the language difficulties of LAC have not received much attention; this is despite the issues of LAC’s language difficulties appearing in parliamentary and wider political discussion (e.g., Children and Social Work Act, 2017).

Aim: The main focus of the current study is to investigate the language difficulties in LAC in a wider context and to explore the associations between LAC’s language difficulties and their life trajectories, including educational attainment and social emotional behavioural difficulties (SEBD) or social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH). The research addresses at a theoretical level the risk and protective factors for language development LAC experience. At a more practical level it is hoped the research will inform social care policies, legislation, and clinical practices.

Method: A mixed methods design has been used encompassing three studies. The first study involved conducting a scoping review, the second phase involved analysing a large sample of quantitative data, and the third phase involved analysing semi-structured interviews with professionals who worked with LAC on a daily basis.

This method allowed the investigation of language difficulties of LAC to take place in a wider context. This approach also enabled the collection of all available data sources to be considered.

In the scoping review, a six-step framework methodology (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005) examined and summarised the extent, range, and nature of research activities and findings of language difficulties in LAC. In the quantitative data, a range of parametric tests (e.g., t-tests, ANOVA and Pearson’s correlation) were utilized as appropriate to compare language scores across the three language groups (green, amber and red groups), and the association between language difficulties in LAC and their life outcomes. In this stage, a multiple linear regression (MLR) approach was used to ask what combination of factors best predicted LAC’s poor language scores. In the qualitative study, thematic analysis was utilized (Braun & Clarke, 2006) to identify common themes alongside sub-themes pertinent to each research question.

Findings: The combination of the three data sources revealed 4 main findings: (a) LAC are at higher risk of poor development of language skills across all areas of language including social pragmatics and related areas of verbal cognition; (b) there are specific demographic and environmental factors which relate to language development in LAC (e.g., OHC settings, maltreatment) although these relationships are likely to be complex and not picked up with routine data; (c) there is a link between language difficulties, educational, social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; (d) LAC face barriers accessing language assessment and intervention, but there are support strategies and systems relevant to LAC’s language difficulties.

Conclusion: This study makes valuable contributions to the knowledge base regarding language difficulties in LAC and the association with language and LAC’s life outcomes. Implications for policymakers, local authorities, clinicians, and future research are reported.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ101 Child Health. Child health services
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
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