Small Talk: Identifying communication problems in maltreated children

Frederico, Jackson, Black, Cox & Joffe (2018) Small Talk: Identifying communication problems in maltreated children. Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol 75, p 139-148


What do we already know?

Research background

  • Trauma increases risk of communication difficulties
  • Over 30% of children in care have communication problems
  • Early detection and intervention may prevent future problems with mental health, behaviour, and educational achievement.  
  • Children in care are not routinely assessed for developmental issues
  • Current speech and language assessment tools are not responsive or sensitive to the needs of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

So ... can non-speech practitioners identify maltreated children who need a speech and language assessment?



Sample: 65 maltreated children 4-7 years

Method: Children were assessed by child protection practitioners with normal observation process + Small Talk Tool.  Children were also assessed by a speech and language specialist.

Outcome explored: Whether child protection practitioners identified children with possible speech and language issues.



All referrers had been trained in the impact of trauma on development, but ...

Only 69% of referrers referred to children's early milestones

31% of children with speech and language issues were missed by referrers without the tool

Children residing with parents were at higher risk for speech, language and hearing issues


The Small Talk Tool was a better predictor of whether or not the child had problems than simply asking a general question to the referrer


So what does this mean for practice?

While we all understand how important early intervention is, practitioners may find it difficult to identify WHAT TYPE of intervention is required for a child without the right assessment tools to assist them – be it for speech and language, or for other medical and health issues.

Practitioners working in intensive family intervention models may need to pay careful attention to speech and language issues for children and support families to access appropriate supports for these children.  

... and what about research?

The Small Talk Tool is being refined to only include items where there was a correlation between the tool and the speech pathologists assessment.  This has resulted in a briefer one-page tool that will be trialled in a new study.  So watch this space!

Image Descriptions: Visual inspiration this week was derived from one of our favourite cafes - Kin & Co at Teneriffe.  The first image is of a doorway with a small round sign saying "Kin & Co" with umbrellas and green bushes in the background.  The second image is a garden bed with a range of large succulents.  The third image is a four-story brick old brick building with white words painted at the top of the building saying "Elder Smith & Co Ltd. Wool Store."

What do you think about this research?  Do you have a screening tool for speech and language issues in children?  Comment and let us know!