Last year, Atkinson Secure Children's Home became the first such organisation to be awarded the RJC's restorative service quality mark. "In 2009/10, we trained all staff in restorative approaches – now the culture is more relaxed, the kids are able to express themselves more," says Peter Spearman, manager of the home. "Restorative processes are about emotional communication to introduce better relationships between young people and between young people and staff."
But how does it work in practice? Spearman says they involve putting five questions to young people, including: what's happening?; how are you feeling?; who else are you affecting? Spearman says the idea behind the questioning is to get children and young people – who may find it difficult to talk about their feelings – to communicate and understand the consequences of their actions. He adds that young people in children's homes may have suffered abuse and may find it difficult to trust adults, but restorative processes help them have a "more mature response to a difficult situation".
The success of the restorative processes at Atkinson Secure Children's Home is particularly remarkable considering the use of restraint more generally in the UK youth secure estate is on the increase. Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice this year showed that the number of incidents of RPI per 100 young people increased 2% compared with the previous year, equating to 25.6% of young people in total.
So what are the benefits of restorative processes? "If you have a punitive regime, for example, if you send them to their room, you're reinforcing the negative impact," says Spearman. "If you simply punish, if they do something wrong, we're doing something negative."
He adds that with a restorative approach, young people are encouraged to explore how they feel and confront negative feelings if necessary.
Spearman argues that it is relatively easy to implement restorative justice in children's homes. "Anyone can read a book, go to the Restorative Justice Council or find a trainer," he says. "We designed a bespoke record-keeping approach and we saw a dramatic improvement, but it takes commitment and you have to keep your nerve."
What advice does Spearman have for other children's homes considering the introduction of restorative processes? "You need to communicate the idea to all staff, get a trainer and ensure you have good record keeping to monitor the impact," he says.
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