Restorative Practice has been around for a good while in its current form (though it’s still evolving), and elements of it have been used independently for many years; indeed many indigenous people’s traditional forms of dispute solving are strongly restorative and have existed for centuries.
It’s important to emphasise that Restorative Practice is a way to be rather than something to do, or in an organisation, ‘the way we do things here’. It’s not something which is done sometimes, or under particular circumstances. It is not a behaviour management tool, and it is not just about disputes and incidents. This is not always clear as many people’s first contact with it is from hearing about or experiencing Restorative Justice, where typically offender and victim(s) are brought together after an incident to discuss what happened and find a way forward. As a way to deal with incidents more effectively than normal processes allow, Restorative Justice has many merits, and is included in its entirety on any Restorative Practice implementation, but it is only one element of Restorative Practice, and is not the complete picture.
Restorative practice provides clear and practical actions and behaviours which initiate, support, strengthen and, where necessary, repair relationships between individuals and groups. It promotes understanding, trust, respect and thoughtfulness and requires that people understand that every one of their choices and actions affects others, and also that people are responsible for their choices and actions and can be held accountable for them. It recognises that a community will work together to make things as good as they can be for themselves whilst minimising negatives, and it encourages dialogue about how to do this.
Correctly implemented, a restorative community will spend far more of its time on proactive, community and relationship building activities than it does on reactive, corrective activities. Where these are required, however, a spectrum of approaches is available to suit everything from 5 year olds wishing to solve a playground dispute to law enforcement officers dealing with the most serious crimes. A facilitated restorative meeting provides a forum where individuals and groups can work together and improve their mutual understanding about an issue and reach the best available solution; soon you can take a look at the stories section for details of what this can achieve, examples being ending long-running neighbour disputes, solutions enabling children to remain with family members, and resolving anti-social behaviour issues.