A Child First approach to Restorative Justice

Published: Friday, May 10th, 2024

This is a blog by our new Restorative Justice Trainer and Service Coordinator, Mark Hamill. You can read more about Mark on our ‘Meet the Team’ page here


Child First is the title given to the four evidence-based principles that inform current practice in Youth Justice in England and Wales. Originating from research undertaken in Wales in the late 90s, Child First (Offender Second) was a challenge to the punitive, ‘anti-child’ elements of ‘the new Youth Justice’ at the time that labelled children as ‘offenders’ who presented a risk that had to be managed. This critique drew heavily upon decades of research that demonstrated the effectiveness of a more positive approach. In 2020, Child First became the recommended strategy for all Youth Justice Services in England and Wales. It requires practitioners to collaborate in a developmentally-appropriate way with children in conflict with the law, diverting them away from further stigma and helping them to build a pro-social identity. All work undertaken with children should be strengths-based and future-focussed. 

Restorative Justice fully aligns with a Child First approach. The voluntary principle of Restorative Justice means that it is not something that can be ever done ‘to’ or ‘for’ children. It must always be something that is done with them. A restorative process offers children the opportunity to leave behind feelings of guilt and shame around their previous actions by offering an apology or an explanation to those whom they have harmed. This can be done either in person or in writing. Alternatively, with help, they might repair something they’ve damaged or raise funds for an appropriate charity. In all of these activities, children are learning important skills that will serve them well in later life. When working collaboratively on a restorative process, children are also exercising agency, a vital component in turning away from committing further crime. 

Children’s willing involvement in a restorative process signals to others their existing or emerging pro-social identity and provides a solid platform from which this can be further nurtured and developed. Research studies have consistently shown that involvement in Restorative Justice produces high levels of satisfaction amongst those harmed by crime. As children represent the largest cohort of people harmed directly by children in conflict with the law, Restorative Justice is able to address the different needs of all children known to Youth Justice services – both those who have been harmed and those who have caused harm. It acknowledges also that, in many cases, children referred to Youth Justice services fall into both categories. For this reason alone, Restorative Justice can be considered to be doubly Child First. 

If you have an interest in Restorative Justice within Youth Justice, you can find the details of our project on improving restorative practice for young people in conflict with the law on our website. The page includes a link to our Good Practice Guide

Interested in sharing your thoughts on Restorative Justice and Child First? Join us at our free, online Restorative Justice Forum on 10th July from 2-3pm. Sign up here.


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