Restorative Justice: the positive story

Some lively discussion on the BBC last week around the use of “informal” community responses to violent crime, including Restorative Justice practice, focused on adult crime. As well as a rather dismissive tone in the description of these techniques as “informal”, one of the main concerns in discussion was with regard to the inappropriateness of restorative justice in the case of domestic violence, where vulnerable women in particular may be pressured into accepting “unreal” apologies from perpetrators. But of course the story may be very different with children and adolescents using violence in the home, where restorative techniques have been found to be extremely positive, enabling children to acknowledge their abusive behaviour, restoring family relationships and avoiding the criminalisation that might otherwise follow involvement in the youth justice system.

A joint paper by Hull Youth Justice Service worker, Paul Morris, and Barnardo’s Senior Practitioner, Paul Staines, recently proposed such a model for the Hull area, after teen violence to parents was increasingly identified as an issue in their work.  Paul Morris and Paul Staines researched the issue before undertaking training themselves from Alternative Restoratives, and then offering an introductory session to practitioners in the Hull area. In all 14 participants attended this training, and from this the pair set out a strategy and a series of recommendations:

  • Training to the wider workforce, in the recognition that parent abuse impacts on all areas of social care
  • The incorporation of parent abuse within the domestic violence strategy
  • The raising of awareness through Hull DV forum leading to better collaboration in the future

Within the context of a thriving interest in the field of family violence, the paper met with an extremely positive response from the Hull DV partnership, with acknowledgement of the need for coordinated multi-agency approach.

Paul Morris, with colleagues, has now begun running 1:1 sessions with families within the Hull YJS, and has reported very positively on their experience of using restorative techniques.

“As facilitators we were encouraged by both boys active involvement within this session, they spoke openly and respectfully, even getting up and writing their thoughts on the flip chart.  An interesting part was in the exploring our strengths session, mum appeared to struggle with this and both boys quickly came to her aid highlighting that she was a strong person and never gave up, this was a profound moment, mum appeared to be moved by this as were the facilitators.”

“An interesting area was when we explored the Abuse and Mutual Respect Wheels, initially both boys gave low scoring on the questionnaires, our view was that they were minimising their behaviours.  When discussing the Wheels both boys accepted and acknowledged that they had both used abusive behaviours identified within the wheel.  This is a significant step forward in both boys acknowledging their abuse towards mum and each other.”

We are now seeing the development of a variety of programmes in the UK, and indeed around the world – this work was first developed in the States – for families where teenage violence to parents is an issue; and many of these are adopting elements of the restorative approach. It would be good to hear the positive side of the story in future discussions of this topic.

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