DLD in young people leaving care

Clegg, J., Crawford, E., Spencer, S., & Matthews, D. (2021). Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) in Young People Leaving Care in England: A Study Profiling the Language, Literacy and Communication Abilities of Young People Transitioning from Care to Independence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(8), 4107.


What was the aim?


This paper looks at the language, literacy and communication abilities of individuals leaving care, as there is a high rate of DLD that goes unidentified in this population. Early identification can lead to interventions that encourage positive life outcomes. This paper aimed to further the understanding of DLD among care leavers and investigated how they evaluate their own abilities. 44 care leavers between 16 and 26 participated in the study. The staff were also asked about their perception of the care leavers’ language and communication abilities.


Key terms:

Care - This is a term commonly used in the UK. Being in care means being looked after by a local authority and not by your parent/guardian. For example, a child may live in a care home, where they are looked after by residential workers, because their parents cannot look after them. Most people leave care when they are 16-18 (Childline, n.d.).


What was found?


  • For language ability 38 individuals (90%) were below average, 3 individuals (7%) were in the average category and 1 individual (2%) was above average.

  • 27 individuals, or 61% of the sample, met the criteria for DLD but had never been diagnosed. In addition, compared to individuals who did not meet the criteria for DLD, these individuals also suffered from increased neurodevelopment disorders, social and emotional difficulties, and poorer mental health.

  • For literacy 16 out of 39 individuals, or 41% of the sample, were in the poor/very poor range and 17 individuals (44%) were average or above average.

  • In terms of the young person’s ability to adapt their language for different situations, the care leavers rated themselves higher than the staff members rated the care leavers. However, the ratings for social engagement were similar in the young people and staff.

  • Staff members agreed that language and communication difficulties make transitions from care to independence harder and believe that further training and services are required.


What does it mean?


This study found that a high proportion of care leavers have language and literacy difficulties. In addition, there is a high rate of DLD among care leavers that goes unidentified. These difficulties make the transition from care to independent living harder. These findings further previous research by identifying the poorer life outcomes care leavers face. Individuals in care need their language and literacy skills supported as well as training and services implemented for earlier identification of DLD.


Where can I read this paper?


This paper is open access, which means that everyone can read it.

Please click here to find the full paper