Embedding restorative practices when working with young people

Published: Wednesday, July 27th, 2022

This is a blog by Restorative Justice Development Officer (Youth Justice), Leah Robinson. 

Trauma-informed practice requires working according to a person’s entire life experiences in a holistic way, adopting a person-centred approach and focusing on ‘what happened to you?’ as opposed to ‘what’s wrong with you?’. 

Restorative practices involve separating the person from the action by focusing on the people involved and how to move on from an incident. It is concerned with repairing the harm that has been caused, rather than labelling anyone involved as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Working in a way which is participant-informed means there is no ‘one fits all’ approach. This is true for both trauma-informed practice and restorative practices. 

The principles of both practices are mutually beneficial and often cross over. Working with young people in a way that is both in line with trauma-informed and restorative practices means working in a way that is best for that young person.

Many, if not all Youth Justice Services, as well as other professionals working with young people, such as those from Children and Social Care, are well-versed in adopting a trauma-informed approach. The words ‘trauma’ and ‘child first’ are commonplace among staff working in the Youth Justice sector. One of the key aspects of this is referring to the young person who has offended as a ‘young person’ rather than a ‘young offender’, in line with trauma-informed practice. 

Similarly, restorative language refers to the young person who has offended as the ‘harmer’ and the victim as the ‘harmed’. Both practices adopt the same principles, whereby the term ‘offender’ is avoided. Labelling someone as an ‘offender’ can lead to them identifying as such, meaning their behaviours and actions begin to mirror this label. In this way, a self-fulfilling prophecy can occur, whereby the young person continues to offend due to them identifying with the label given to them. 

It is crucial that when taking into account the trauma of the harmed person, the trauma of the young person or harmer is not neglected. By working according to restorative practices, this would not happen as the thoughts and feelings of all participants underpins all the work done.

In fact, restorative practices require the practitioner to be neutral in their conduct, not favouring either the harmed or the harmer. Working according to trauma-informed practice allows practitioners to take into account the additional complexities involved when working with young people. By combining the two ways of working, this allows for a neutral, targeted approach that benefits all parties involved and contributes to the overall goal of repairing the harm caused and preventing reoffending.

Why me? strongly advocates for the adoption of restorative practices alongside trauma-informed practices. 

You can read the first blog written by Leah on this topic here. 


If you want to find out more about the work we are doing in the Youth Justice space, please contact Leah via leah.robinson@why-me.org.

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