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Restorative practices

Restorative practice includes both formal and informal processes that help to build relationships and strengthen communities. It can prevent conflict and wrongdoing and create a positive environment.

Restorative practice combines theory, research and practice. Restorative practice is a social science. It studies how to strengthen the relationships between people and how to strengthen the social connections within a given community.

Restorative practice is a way of dealing with conflict by focusing on repairing any harm that had been done. It can precede wrongdoing and prevent it from occurring. Restorative practice can also be reactive. These can be formal or informal responses or reactions to wrongdoing that occur after the wrongdoing has taken place. This is known as restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a form of conflict resolution that should include all involved parties. Restorative practices aim to repair any harm done to an individual, while also repairing any damage done to relationships. People are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and show an understanding of the consequences of their actions. Restorative practice should not simply be a punishment. Instead, individuals are encouraged to feel remorse.

Restorative practice can be used in a number of settings, including:

  • Education.
  • Social work.
  • Counselling.
  • Criminal justice system.
  • Organisational management.

Many of these settings have developed their own methodology of conducting research and implementing restorative practices without being aware of similar practices in other settings or fields.

Restorative practices have multiple functions. They can help to:

  • Reduce crime, violence or bullying.
  • Improve the behaviour of individuals.
  • Strengthen society and communities.
  • Provide effective leadership.
  • Restore or strengthen relationships.
  • Repair harm.
A woman in social work using restorative practise

How does restorative practice work?

Traditional disciplinary methods or preventative behaviour can be overly focused on the negative. They often do nothing to prevent the behaviour from reoccurring, nor do they provide the individuals with any skills or strategies to self-regulate their behaviour, understand consequences, and empathise with others.

Restorative practices can be implemented in a number of ways. They can be used as a way of resolving conflict, preventing harm, and reducing behaviour that challenges.

Some examples of how restorative practices can be implemented include:

  • Community building circles – This helps individuals to form relationships, build trust and build empathy with others. Community building circles are usually conducted in new environments or new classes.
  • Community circles – This is similar to a community building circle but can be used at any time. It can be used for discussion and helps to build listening skills and mutual respect for others.
  • Norm setting – This enables individuals to collaboratively build norms, rules and expectations within the setting. Participants have an opportunity to discuss the setting’s values and create rules and actions.
  • Restorative conversations – These can be used after a negative event has occurred. It can help you to establish what happened, what the individual was thinking, feeling or experiencing when the event happened, whether anyone or anything was harmed and what reparation can be done.
  • Restorative conferences – These are more structured and formal and should include everyone who was involved in the situation, as well as an impartial mediator. You may also include third-party individuals such as parents/guardians or members of the community. Individuals should be given the opportunity to prepare for a restorative conference. The individual who was affected by the situation should have the opportunity to explain the impact on them. This can help the victim to forgive, move on, and reconnect with the offender.

All restorative practices should focus on restorative language. This involves a change in the way that all members of the community think and speak. Instead of using language that blames, shames and is retributive, you should aim to use language that is not negative or accusatory and instead acknowledges the experiences of all individuals involved in the situation.

What is restorative practice in social work?

Restorative practice is used in several aspects of social work. It helps professionals to create and maintain mutual, trusting relationships with children and their parents/caregivers. Using a restorative approach in social work can help practitioners to support families, help to resolve difficulties and repair harm within the family.

A restorative approach aims to empower children and families to find solutions to their own problems and reach their full potential.

Restorative practices are often applied in cases of child protection, where a child has experienced or is at risk of experiencing harm. Restorative practices can be conducted with the family to help everyone involved understand the behaviours, the harm that has been caused and what can be done to ensure the safety and emotional wellbeing of the children.

A Restorative Child Protection Conference brings together the family members that have been affected and the core group of professionals that can help them to improve the situation, prevent harm from occurring again and repair the relationships within the family. Although the family will lead the discussion, a facilitator can help to manage the discussion and ensure the aims are met.

The restorative conference will aim to identify:

  • What are the issues or harm that has occurred?
  • What has the impact been on the children?
  • What has the impact been on other family members and the family as a whole?
  • How does each family member feel about the situation?
  • What could be done to better the situation and how can this be achieved?
  • How can the harm be repaired?
  • How can the situation be prevented from occurring again?
  • What support does the family need?

The family may then be subject to a Restorative Child Protection Plan. This will have a list of outcomes that the family wants to achieve and a list of actions and who is responsible for them. These actions will be decided by the family and will be based on the identified harm. The core group of professionals will help support the family to achieve these outcomes, but the main responsibility will fall on the family themselves.

Using restorative practices in these situations can be extremely beneficial, as families learn the strategies and skills themselves, rather than being told what to do. This could reduce the likelihood of the harm occurring again or remove the need for social work interventions.

What is restorative practice in education?

Restorative practices are increasing in popularity in educational settings. Restorative practices can have a positive impact on the school community, with schools that implement restorative practices showing an overall improvement in behaviour and attendance.

Restorative practices can help to promote positive relationships between both pupils and staff. Instead of focusing on traditional disciplinary actions and punishments, restorative practices help to resolve any conflict, repair harm that is done to individuals or the school community, and repair relationships.

Traditional disciplinary actions, such as detentions, exclusions and expulsions, occur more frequently in children and young people of colour, and those from low-income families. This can further disadvantage these children and have a negative impact on their education. Using restorative practices can disrupt this pattern.

Educators know that learning is a social process. Strong peer and teacher relationships that are developed and maintained by restorative practices can help teachers and the wider school community to understand every student’s individual needs. This can help to create more equal, less divisive educational experiences and outcomes for every student.

Different types of restorative practices can be implemented in schools and other educational settings:

  • The implementation of proactive schoolwide strategies that help to develop a sense of belonging and build healthy relationships whilst also giving the students the skillsets to resolve conflicts.
  • To respond to incidents that cause harm, educational settings can employ restorative approaches such as circles, conflict-resolution programmes, and peer-led practices.

Restorative practices can help address the underlying reason for a student’s behaviour. Students are encouraged to learn from their choices and mistakes and take ownership of their own behaviour. They will learn how to resolve disagreements, empathise with others, show forgiveness and communicate more effectively.

Restorative practices can be implemented in all educational settings with children and young people of all ages, including nurseries, primary schools and high schools. They can help to safeguard children by ensuring the school environment is positive, safe and nurturing. For more information on safeguarding in schools, consult our knowledge base.

Restorative practise can be used in counselling

What is restorative practice in primary schools?

Restorative practice enables children to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Instead of being told by an adult that they have done something wrong and being given a punishment, restorative practice encourages the child to think about their behaviour and the consequences and consider what they can do to improve it.

Once children have taken responsibility for their behaviour and understand the reasons for their actions and the effect it has on others or the school community, the likelihood of them repeating the behaviour decreases.

Primary school aged children will be encouraged to think about their behaviour and its implications.

A member of the school staff will ask the child some key questions:

  • What happened?
  • Why or how did it happen?
  • What were you thinking or feeling at the time?
  • What do you think about the situation now?
  • Was anyone affected by the situation and in what way?
  • How were you affected by what you did?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • How can you make things right?

Restorative approaches can be beneficial in multiple situations in primary schools, such as:

Bullying

An ongoing problem in primary schools is incidences of bullying. Traditional punishments can be ineffective when dealing with bullying because they do not address the root cause of the behaviour and may exacerbate the problem by increasing the negative feelings towards the victim. Bullying is a type of behaviour that challenges and is often a sign that the child has unmet needs.

Using restorative practices, such as a circle or restorative conference, can help the bully to recognise their behaviour and the impact it has. It can also help them to feel empathy for the victim. Both the bully and the victim should agree with the proposed solution. It is important to discuss ways to prevent this behaviour from happening again. For more information on bullying and restorative practices, visit the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

Disagreements or arguments

In situations of conflict, or when students are experiencing a disagreement or breakdown in their friendship, a restorative approach can be beneficial. Not only can it help to defuse the situation, but it also encourages children to consider another person’s experience or point of view.

Peer mediators can also be an effective way of dealing with issues of conflict, especially when these take place in the playground. Students can act as a facilitator or mediator to help their peers resolve the conflict, with no need for adult intervention.

Behaviour that challenges in the classroom

Rather than punishing behaviour that challenges, the teacher or teaching assistant could implement restorative practices. This could include effective questions or statements to encourage the students to think about the impact or consequences of their behaviour. For more information on behaviour that challenges, visit our knowledge base.

Primary school children thinking about behaviour

Can restorative practices in schools make a difference?

Restorative practices in schools have many potential benefits, including:

  • Building and maintaining positive relationships between peers.
  • Building and maintaining positive relationships between students and staff.
  • Addressing the needs of the whole school community.
  • Resolving conflict.
  • Encouraging students to be responsible for their own behaviour.
  • Preventing and reducing harmful behaviour.
  • Repairing harm.

Although it may seem time-consuming to implement restorative practices, the potential benefits can be numerous. However, in order for restorative practices to make a real difference, the school needs to commit the time and effort it takes to make this approach a success. It may also need to invest money in resources and staff training.

If the whole school community, including the students, are not committed to the restorative approach, they are much less likely to make a positive impact on the school community.

As well as the benefits listed above, some other key benefits of restorative practices that have been reported by educators who have successfully implemented them in their schools include:

Students learn important life skills

Learning how to discuss and resolve issues is an important life skill. Children learn how to resolve conflict independently and in a positive way. Not only will this give them skills to solve conflicts in the future, but they can also use restorative practices to prevent themselves from engaging in harmful behaviour.

It addresses the root causes of behaviour

Restorative practices help children to understand why they have behaved in a harmful way. This can help them to address the root issue, as well as understand the implications.

Enables a more effective learning environment

Restorative practices can result in improved decision-making and self-discipline in students. It can also create more positive relationships within the school community. Teachers are likely to experience reduced disruption of learning. This can result in a happier, less stressful environment and fewer behaviours that challenge.

Reduces incidences of bullying

A report published for the Department for Education (DfE) in 2011 gave whole school restorative practices the highest possible rating of effectiveness at preventing bullying. In fact, 97% of surveyed schools rated restorative practices as effective.

Restorative practise can be used in the criminal justice system

What are the benefits of restorative practice?

Restorative approaches have multiple benefits in a variety of situations and settings. We have already looked at the benefits of implementing restorative practices in schools, but what about in other settings?

As mentioned earlier, restorative practices are used in a variety of settings. The benefits of following a restorative approach can vary, depending on the setting or community.

Some benefits can include:

  • Helps to develop an individual’s social and emotional competency – You are likely to see an increase in empathy, improved decision-making and self-discipline and moral development.
  • It can create a sustainable change – The skills that are learnt through restorative practice can be used in all aspects of the individual’s life and can result in a life-long change in their actions and the way they deal with conflict.
  • Moves the focus away from blame and negativity – Instead of shaming the individual, restorative practices focus on the reasons why the situation occurred, reparations and preventions.
  • It can help to build and maintain positive relationships – This is one of the main focuses of restorative practices. Stronger and more positive relationships have a positive impact on the community as a whole.
  • It can reduce repeat offending or repeated incidences of harm – This has been seen in the criminal justice system. The Centre for Justice and Reconciliation reports that restorative justice reduced repeat offending more effectively than prison in many cases.
  • It increases the understanding of your actions and their impact – This can help to build empathy and prevent further harm from occurring. Understanding why you behaved the way you did can prevent you from doing this again, whilst also ensuring you are aware of the impact your actions have had on other people.
  • Relationships can be repaired – Restorative practices can help the person who was harmed to forgive and reconnect with the offender. It can also help them to move on from what happened. The offender also has the opportunity to understand the victim’s experience and empathise with them. They can then begin to make amends and repair the relationship.

What is restorative practices training?

Restorative practices training offers professionals and other relevant individuals the opportunity to learn the knowledge, skills and strategies that enable them to implement restorative practices in their community. They will learn how to help people work through conflicts and recognise behaviours and their consequences.

Training usually involves:

  • Exploring the principles and theories behind the restorative approach.
  • Learning proactive and preventative strategies.
  • Learning intervention techniques.
  • Learning conflict prevention and conflict resolution techniques.
  • Learning how to help individuals identify and express their emotions.
  • Learning de-escalation techniques.
  • Learning collaborative problem-solving processes.
  • Learning how to facilitate restorative circles, conversations and conferences.

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.



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