Improving Leeds children’s lives through restorative practice

In today’s child friendly Leeds blog we talk to Marvina Newton, the founder and programme director of Angel of Youths, a charity helping young people from deprived backgrounds to work towards their career aspirations.

Marvina, who was nominated for a child friendly Leeds award, talks about how discovering restorative practice, which is at the heart of Leeds City Council’s new approach to improving children’s social care, made her re-think the way she works with young people.

Marvina works with young people from across Leeds

Marvina first encountered the concept of restorative practice at the Leeds anti-bullying conference last year. For her, restorative practice meant realising new ways of resolving conflicts and preventing those conflicts escalating in ways that might become criminal or harmful to those involved. Solving arguments by being open and non-judgemental; listening to the views of all those involved; taking on board every point of view and being solution focused, are all important.

Marvina said:

Angel of Youths works to bring about positive change for young people in Leeds. Restorative practice resolves conflicts before they escalate into crime; it’s an effective approach to dealing with the impact of their behaviour on others.

But what does it mean to take a restorative approach?

Imagine two young people have been involved in a dispute – what happened? One young person is saying one thing and the other is saying something different. They are both blaming each other for starting the argument and now the argument has escalated

In situations like this, a restorative approach recognises that one of the reasons they are blaming each other is because traditional ideas of conflict resolution are focused on blame and punishment. In a situation like this young people will often be dishonest and play the ‘blame game’. It can be hard to get to the truth and in the worst cases this can result in blame being wrongly placed.

This is where restorative practice would offer a different solution.

A neutral party or responsible adult would take a restorative approach by asking questions. To a young person exhibiting challenging behaviour you might ask:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking about at the time?
  • What have your thoughts been since?
  • Who has been affected by what you did?
  • In what way have you been affected?
  • What do you need to do to make things right?

To a young person harmed by others actions you might ask:

  • What did you think when you realised what had happened?
  • What have your thoughts been since?
  • How has this affected you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

(©IIRP , used with permission)

The questions do not initially seek to lay blame at anybody’s door – classic non-restorative questions might have been “why did you do that?” – but restorative questions are a chance for those in dispute to talk and be listened to; a chance to reflect. In restorative language we don’t use the word ‘why’.

Where traditional methods of conflict solution start by seeking blame and administering punishment, restorative solutions start by seeking understanding. Restorative practice offers a chance to rebuild relationships that have been broken, giving everybody a chance to explain their actions.

Marvina said:

It’s been two weeks since my restorative practice course and I’ve applied it to everything I do. When I had the opportunity, I listened to everyone – young people, work colleagues, teenagers, children, friends, business partners – for three minutes without making an interruption.

You should try it. It’s really hard. It’s almost like we’re programmed to interrupt each other – offer our views, our advice, our comments. When we talk to others, often all we want to do is get something off our chest, or explain something. We don’t want to be judged; we don’t want sanctions – we just want to be listened to. That’s all we want, to explain ourselves.

Restorative practice says we should support (encourage and nurture) those we work with in a way that’s controlled (limiting settings and discipline).In short – we need the structures of a system that helps identify individuals that need our support and a process of conflict resolution that restores and encourages us to work as a community.

Marvina said:

Restorative practice is something everybody should know about.

I’d strongly recommend that schools, youth groups, communities, and everyone else working with young people, has a strong foundation when it comes to managing behaviour and I think a restorative approach is the way to go about this.

We shouldn’t just want children to do as they’re told, this shouldn’t be our endgame. We should want young people to be responsible, autonomous and independent – capable of making their own, moral choices and decisions. Restorative practice is about guiding young people and allowing them to think about and make their own choices, by giving!

A big thanks to Marvina for telling us her story today!  

If you’d like more information on restorative practice and how to begin taking a restorative approach to your work with children and young people, you can contact: restorative.practice@leeds.gov.uk

How has restorative practice affected your work with young people? Did you enjoy hearing Marvina’s story? Why not let us know on Twitter @child_leeds or by leaving a comment below…

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