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My RA - From over the wall to building bridges

So what is a restorative approach?  I’m often asked when delivering training or meeting a family for the first time.   Often people have heard of restorative justice and will think that restorative approaches are having a meeting to talk about a crime. When I think about my journey, I think about where I came across restorative working for the first time. 

I was asked to deliver a workshop in Cardiff Prison on domestic abuse and the impact on the children. This was the first time I witnessed first hand how powerful using restorative approaches can be. It gave clarity and safety to the people answering the restorative questions of what’s happened, what were you thinking and how did you feel, who else has been affected and how, what do you need and how are you going to repair the harm or move forward. By using the restorative questions, the person feels not judged, able to express their own thoughts and feelings but most importantly able to address their needs whilst taking responsibility for their own part.   Sitting in the chaplaincy in Cardiff prison in a circle, listening to men talk about the ripple effect of their own crime is something I’ve never forgotten. For some, it was the first time that they were given the time and space to think about who else was affected, for others it was the realisation of the impact that their crime had on not just themselves, but for their families, the victims and the community as well.

The long walk back to the car gave me more things to think about than many hours of further education or continuing professional development.  I decided from then on that I would challenge myself to learn more about the ethos and principles of working restoratively and I was very lucky to find myself, 5 years later being asked to work with the Domestic Abuse Restorative Family Approaches (DARFA) consortium to develop a module of working called choices for change, a whole family approach to working restoratively with those living with intimate partner violence.  Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership (W.R.A.P.) were a member organisation of that consortium.

The aim of a restorative approach is to work with individual people who wish to resolve any conflict and learn tools and techniques along the way to address any harm and finding a way forward. The main aim of the Choices for Change service, is to resolve issues before conflict happens.  For me that is one of the main differences of a restorative approach and restorative justice.  Restorative approaches focus on prevention of harm or further harm and restorative justice is reactive, bringing people together after the harm has happened. You can find more information about the Choices for Change Service which is developed and delivered by an organisation called Restorative Change at www.choicesforchangewales.uk

Following on from my work on the Choices for Change programme I am now the Function lead for Practice at W.R.A.P. and leading practice across all five of W.R.A.P.’s sectors.

W.R.A.P. is now working with over 54 schools across South Wales, and one of the offers we deliver is peer mediation training to the young people in schools. I have been fortunate that I have been involved in delivering 3 days peer mediation training which we have developed with young people along the way. 

The feedback I have had from schools and from the young people themselves is that pupils are happier, they feel that the school is more of a community and there is less conflict.

Because of the feedback I received from Choices for Change and the fact that our peer mediators asked “why can’t my parents have this training”? it led me to look for funding to deliver the Building Bridges project.  We are currently delivering our training in Barry in 2 schools, where we are training volunteers, parents and staff using the peer mediation modules to build the bridge between parents, schools and communities.

So for me Restorative Approaches is more than just ‘doing a restorative’ it’s being restorative.

My RA journey has led me to work with families keeping them at the heart of the solution whilst helping develop skills along the way for them to use. 

By Tammi Owen