The Youth Justice Service – The place of Restorative Practice in Youth Offending Services
Restorative Now recognise the specific benefits for staff, young people and their families in being part of Restorative Practice initiatives. The key focus of Restorative Practice is the strength of relationships within a community or organisation and the capacity of that community to address relationship strain and harmful behaviour in a way that allows for the effective addressing of that harm and the healing of relationships.
An organisation’s capacity to deliver a high standard of support and interventions is predicated on the health of the relationships within that organisational structure. In presenting compelling theory, activities and skills through training workshops, staff learn an approach which allows for the voice of those impacted by an event to share their perceptions, feelings and needs and then collaborate on resolution. This impacts both the service delivery to clients and the organisational culture.
By Restorative Practice we mean an intervention approach to individuals and communities which values the dignity of each party. It recognises their need of each other, in order to heal situations of harm and relationship breakdown. The integrity of the process is ensured when the needs of both parties are valued and respected equally. Restorative practice emphasises the imperative to engage parties in the ownership of incidents that have had an impact upon them and to allow them the empowerment of resolution. These interactions present people with the opportunity to view the other as more than their negative behaviour and to reach beyond labels to recognise their common humanity. We are hardwired to relate to people, and the provision of such a forum allows for healthy neurological development evidenced in increased empathy and understanding. Indeed, without such interactions, many individuals live in the absence of the information they need to attain neurological wellbeing. Restorative practice harnesses personalised events to provide individuals with the opportunity to attain psychological resilience and health.
Youth Justice Service – Vision and Mission
In focusing upon services for young people within the Youth Justice setting, the Vision of the Youth Justice Service UK provides a guiding message:
“Our vision is that every child and young person lives a safe and crime-free life, and makes a positive contribution to society. This vision has children and young people at its heart. We want every child in England and Wales to be able to live a life free from the impact of crime. Our work contributes to preventing children and young people becoming offenders or victims of youth crime and to mitigating the impact of crime on families, communities and victims. Our mission for 2016-2018 is to:
- Develop and champion a child centred and distinct youth justice system, in which a designated youth justice service keeps children and young people safe and addresses the age-specific needs of the child, to the benefit of the community.
- Develop a ‘centre of excellence approach’ in youth justice which will support innovation by using and interpreting available evidence to support the delivery of youth justice services in custody and the community. Also, more effectively drawing on the contribution of academic institutions and other relevant bodies.
- Drive continuous improvements in youth justice services delivered in custody and the community through our robust monitoring system and by identifying and promoting best practice.
Restorative Practice and Trauma Informed Therapy
Another key point of reference regarding the place of Restorative Practice in youth justice settings is the recognised synergy between Restorative Practice and Trauma Informed Therapy. It is widely recognised that children exposed to abuse and neglect will evidence difficulty in behaviour and emotional self-regulation; the capacity to describe emotions; and the ability to sustain goal-directed behaviour – situation made additionally challenging once the behaviour has escalated and become criminalised. For these specifically affected children, this makes attending to learning tasks and engaging in intervention programmes difficult, and their behaviour will often cause harm or disruption to those around them. In these incidents of Developmental Trauma Disorder, Restorative Practice provides a non-judgemental forum for all of those affected parties to discuss impact and need, and to strive to repair relationships as an outcome. Neuroscience confirms that in these affected young people, there is evidence of developmental lag and the provision of a forum which invites dialogue related to ‘feelings and needs’ does assist in ‘rewiring’ and healing. Indeed, the development of empathy and the capacity to shift from states of shame is required by all individuals. To be afforded the opportunity to voice impact and need, contributes to the growth of emotional intelligence and a strong sense of self.
Restorative Practice and Mind-set Theory
Within Youth Justice Detention establishments, young people are required to attend 30 hours of education per week. And within the community, up to 40% of Youth Offending Service young people are attending Alternative Education Provisions, having been excluded from mainstream schools. Restorative Culture within these educational settings has evidenced strong links between the Restorative Approach and the Mind-set Theory of Learning. A young person’s capacity to learn, can be impeded by a fear of failure and by states of shame related to previous life events. These often relate specifically to responses to their perceived failure at a task or their commission of harmful behaviour. Restorative communities afford individuals the dignity of addressing mistakes and harmful actions, within the context that these events represent opportunities for learning and subsequent behaviour change.
Testing one’s boundaries and risk-taking in learning, requires a measure of self-belief and a sense of safety. In order for young people to engage in educational programmes and reach for higher goals, a culture reflecting this need for safety is essential. This culture is best evidenced in its response to incidents of failure, behaviour and discipline, and it is here that Restorative Practice provides a model to promote the capacity of every individual to nurture growth and self-actualisation.
Specific Restorative Practice Projects in the Youth Justice sector
The scope of Restorative Practice in the area of serious youth violence is expanding. Evaluative Reports have recently been completed by Restorative Now on two projects. Firstly, addressing Harmful Sexual Behaviour exhibited by young people and secondly, Violent Acts within the Home which threaten Family Cohesion. These reports will be available shortly and indicate significant gains for all parties.
As Restorative Practice lead with the South London Resettlement Consortium, there was an opportunity to train and embed restorative practice across six Local Authority Youth Offending Services and three Youth Offending establishments. This two year project confirmed the importance of Restorative culture change within organisations being effected ahead of it being possible to routinely deliver restorative interventions to the Young People in their care. Evidence of effective Restorative Practice embedded within organisations means evidence of restorative enquiry taking place whenever situations of tension or conflict arise. It means that within statutorily required processes, a place is made for restorative dialogue.
Once Young People’s behaviour is harmful, there are inevitably people impacted by those actions. This specific incident provides a targeted focus for the application of Restorative Practice. Facilitators engage in restorative enquiry with the Young Person and the victim of harm, and once safety and readiness factors are checked, a joint meeting takes place between the parties. With the resolution achieved in that forum there is then an opportunity for a Restorative Meeting with the young person and their family, to better inform the family of the learning and gains achieved in the earlier forum.