This paper will examine the potential of restorative conferencing and a less formal restorative justice approach in managing challenging behaviour in children's homes. It will highlight the need for adapting the approach to meet the needs of the more damaged and disturbed children found in Intensive Support Units. It will explore the extent to which such an approach can deal with incidents when looked after children commit crimes within residential homes enabling the incident to be resolved away from the formal criminal justice system.

...Restorative approaches were first introduced by way of a pilot project in ISUs in Northern Ireland by Barnardos Children’s Charity in April 200519. As already indicated, ISUs deal with the most damaged and disturbed young people in residential care. Children in ISUs differ from children in ‘general’ care homes not only in that they are more damaged and more disturbed but also that many of them already have a history of serious offending on entry to the unit. Staff in the units can do little to prevent court appearances relating to these offences. Indeed many of these young people will have been remanded on bail to the children’s home and staff have been particularly troubled about how to deal with breaches of bail. This is an area which required specialist training and the drafting of a protocol on the various procedures.

...Where an incident occurs in a children’s home and the wrongdoer(s) is/are resident and the victim(s) is/are fellow residents or staff, restorative justice may be suitable. Suitability will depend on the seriousness of the incident, the victims’ opinion and the perpetrator’s willingness to acknowledge responsibility. The Children’s Home will determine if restorative justice is possible. It is not in general a police decision. If restorative justice does take place that in itself does not always preclude criminal justice proceedings.

...In order to engage in a restorative approach to conflict and challenging behaviour in care settings, adults and young people alike need to develop: a willingness to listen to others’ perspectives on a situation and suspend the notion that there is only one way of looking at something; an ability to listen to the feelings and needs behind others’ words, especially if these words are offensive, hurtful or accusatory; an ability to be in touch with one’s own feelings and needs so that these can be expressed in a way that gets heard and understood by others; and a commitment to giving everyone a chance to share their story. Many of these skills are those identified by Clough et al as key to best practice in Residential Child Care. The contribution that restorative training makes is to indicate how these key values, principles and skills can be applied in a consistent and congruent way even when staff find themselves faced with difficult and challenging situations.

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