Restorative practice is now the in thing in residential child care. This was the theme - in the context of Every Child Matters - of the recent York Group day conference at St Peter’s School in York.
Professor Ewan Anderson
Ewan reported that the idea came from the 1970s concept of restorative justice, which entailed mediation between victims and offenders. Today, the term restorative practice is preferred, focusing on repairing the harm done to people and relationships rather than on blaming and punishing the offenders. Imposing penalties is seen as less constructive and positive, as people are generally happier (both victims and offenders) if they work together to resolve differences. In terms of effectiveness too, research in 1979 by Rutter showed that the harsher the penalty, the worse the subsequent behaviour.
The idea was probably based in the first place on Maori family group work, where problems are resolved within the extended family. The idea was taken up by Queensland in Australia, and it has spread ever since.
Many examples exist where this approach has been adopted in boarding schools, residential care and education for children with behavioural difficulties. At Kenton Lodge School in Newcastle, for example, they hold circle discussions at the end of each day to talk through the experiences of all the group members, to resolve differences and to come to terms with any difficulties they have had. At Peper Harow, now sadly closed, the backbone of the treatment programme was the community meetings, where students learned to relate to each other and came to appreciate that other people might have different views which needed to be respected. Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska has a similar tradition of resolving disputes by talking them through.
The Effect of Restorative Practice
The process (which is described more fully in Paddy Stephen’s paper) moves progressively from the informal to the formal if matters are not resolved. It starts with questions and statements, moves on to discussion and meetings, then arbitration and conclusion. Handled properly, the dialogue involved in these stages helps to develop respectful relationships between the parties involved. Keeping records can be useful, as a way of ensuring that there is an agreed conclusion, and in case of further problems.
One of the great advantages of using restorative practice is that victims are no longer at risk. The aftermath of events is dealt with collectively, and everyone owns the conclusion, including the bully or offender, the victim and the group as a whole. In this way, the offenders’ problems are also addressed and they are helped to contain and overcome their impulsive antisocial behaviour.
Lorraine Gelsthorpe has said that restorative practice is based on a set of values -
- restoring responsibility to the offender,
- making amends,
- restoring belief in a fair process and fair outcomes,
- letting everyone, including offenders, speak for themselves,
- enabling interaction between the offender and the victim, and
- agreeing on outcomes.
The outcome is that the victim’s dignity, self-esteem and sense of control are restored. What is more, offenders may come to be seen as victims too, and unless their sense of being victims is addressed first, they are unlikely to appreciate other people’s perceptions of them as offenders.
There are several advantages of adopting the restorative practice model. It fits in with many theoretical models. It can be used in combination with other approaches. It can be used instead of punishment or as a supplement to punishment, for example. In practical terms, it brings closure to events.
A paper was then given by Paddy Stephen, and it is also published in this issue.
Deborah spoke of her experience of restorative practice as head of a children’s home in Scarborough. Restorative practice is a well-established part of work with children and young people in the United States, where the International Institute of Restorative Practice is based. Two Americans from the Institute have recently been running very effective training sessions in schools in Hull. Deborah had attended these sessions and had been greatly impressed. The result of applying restorative practice in Hull had been a considerable drop in truancy and in staff illness, as restorative practice created reasonable working relationships between staff and children.
Simon explained the changes to his practice as head of a children’s home in Harrogate as a result of adopting restorative practice. He had got rid of the Manager’s office and opened up the interior of the home. Handover was a joint exercise between staff and children. Children monitored progress with repairs. A diary was kept of the use of restorative practice, checked twice a day to ensure that the use of punishment was minimised.
There had been problems at first, with some staff being seen as permissive and others as punitive, and with the children being reluctant to participate in meetings. Over time, though, a useful vehicle for discussion had been created, with young people taking a responsible approach to smoking, for example. Now, overall, their comments on the approach were positive.
The York Group
The York Group is an invited group of professionals which focuses on residential child care. The members come from all types of residential child care provision, including hospital schools, public schools, boarding schools for children with learning difficulties, children’s home, and so on. The Group is organised and led by Professor Ewan Anderson who introduced the theme at the York Day conference. The Group holds annual conferences in York, focusing on various aspects of residential child care.