Over the last two years or so, some exciting developments have taken place in Lancashire. Thanks to the RAiL (Restorative Approaches in Lancashire) initiative, there is a growing interest in using restorative practices (RA) to make a real difference in the way relationships are conducted in schools and social care settings.
RAiL has been led Dr Helen Flanagan an experienced educator, trainer and inspirational leader in the field of Restorative Justice and RA. Dozens of Facilitators have been trained firstly in schools and later, in children’s homes.
Restorative Approaches, as an extension of Restorative Justice, are based on the premise that we humans need for our existence to make relationships with others. We rely upon relating to other people for our fulfilment. We are programmed to seek out connections with others. In simple terms RA is all about relationships. It helps to understand how we make, maintain and when things go wrong – repair those relationships.
Conflict between people is inevitable, but when it occurs, restorative approaches can help to restore the balance in a just and acceptable way. In resolving the harm done it works to prevent it happening again.
It encourages those who have caused harm to acknowledge the impact of what they have done and gives them an opportunity to make reparation. It offers those who have suffered harm the opportunity to have their harm or loss acknowledged and amends made.
This approach is very appropriate to use in a children’s home, so we shared some initial information in preparation for a day of ‘whole house’ training. The staff team and young people were all invited to participate, and of course the young people in some cases chose not to join in. The day started with an informal gathering of the young people, staff and trainers to share breakfast and break the ice before the whole group got down to start work!
After introductions and an explanation of the programme, we established some ground rules. This led to an invitation to the young people to consider ways of making the room and the people in it more amenable to communication, sharing and equality. The young people quickly determined that a circle was the most effective way of sitting together. Circles are used extensively in RA to afford eye contact, provide equality, using the symmetry of the circle to bind the individuals together as one.
We mixed some presentation material with a number of activities and role play and concluded the day by inviting everyone to say some closing remarks whilst sitting in the circle.
The feedback has been very positive and adults and young people are resolved to make efforts to use their learning to act and live restoratively. These are the first steps on a journey which will improve relationships by using empathy and a shared understanding of each other’s needs, which in turn will create a more harmonious atmosphere and a means of resolving conflict without the reliance on traditional models of punishment.