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A restorative approach to residential treatment

Zeni Thumbadoo

Individual team members are responsible for implementing the philosophical approach within residential treatment. The seamless functioning of the different components will only occur when there is agreement between the team – administration and staff – and a commitment to the philosophy.

The adoption of a restorative approach can result in a work environment where staff members experience: A focus on errors of judgement and the harm of mistakes. rather than a focus only on rules being broken. This requires a full understanding of circumstances in order to teach and heal. a critical aspect of supervision Workers cannot function effectively in the life space of troubled young people through the application of rules alone. Equal concern and commitment to all team members and the involvement of all involved in dealing with a situation of disagreement or conflict. Here the team has the opportunity to hold the individual accountable and express how his or her behaviour affected the functioning of others. This would for instance be a useful way to deal with a team member who is regularly late in coming to work or frequently absent. The restoration of those harmed and affected, and a response to their needs. This would mean that compensation for late-coming would be negotiated to ensure the other team members feels heard. Support to those team members who have made mistakes while encouraging them to understand, accept and carry out their obligations. This will ensure that accountability and healing amongst team members does take place.

Obligations that may be difficult for erring team members, but are not harmful, and are achievable. An inexperienced worker cannot be expected to achieve at the same level as a well trained, supervised and experienced worker These considerations must be explored in the obligations agreed upon. The provision of opportunities for direct or indirect dialogue between the different team members. Collaboration and integration of all parties (both those erring and others) rather than coercion and isolation. The erring team member giving attention to the unintended consequences of his/ her actions. The value of self-reflection and commitment to the deep and real consequences of behaviour in the restorative approach allows for workers to develop and grow in character and become more considered in their actions. Respect being shown to all team members. This value has been identified as the supreme value of restorative work and is the core to addressing difficulties and conflicts and yet maintaining a positive team spirit. In a residential treatment context, a strong restorative basis will make itself evident in the relationships between board, administration, and other staff – all team members. More serious violations and labour conflicts can be addressed restoratively by involving the board, a lawyer, the child and family, the supervisor, the child protection unit-whoever necessary. Any issues of violations of children’s rights, or the rights of workers versus the rights of children, are bound to be controversial in this approach with staff. However if the team is committed to a restorative approach, then the core components in the approach such as accountability and re-integrative shaming will play a critical part in the disciplinary processes with staff.

Zehr (2002) notes that there are degrees of restorative justice practices – from fully restorative processes mostly restorative, partially restorative and potentially restorative to pseudo or non-restorative It is important in dealing with violations by staff to consider the degree of restorative practice or strategy to implement. It is also important to recognise the difference between charging and sentencing In situations where the legal rights of children or other staff have been violated, management may need to legally charge a staff member – and yet support a restorative sentence. Where children are involved, the decision must be taken in the best interest of children. The best interests of the child are often served by promoting and demonstrating (role-modeling) an approach to wrongdoing that is healing and forgiving.

The philosophy adopted in any residential treatment program will only be reflected in practice if the team practice it at every level. The staff team themselves must experience the approach applied to them and their work situation to embrace and practice it fully with the children. The restorative approach in the present climate of the professionalisation of the Child and Youth Care field holds the promise of team members holding each other accountable for professional functioning by being empowered to initiate and participate in varied restorative processes, and by being confident about reporting team violations in a restorative climate. The restorative approach is in synergy with the new science This style of team functioning has the potential to demonstrate “a seamless web of mutual responsibility and collaboration, a seamless partnership, with interrelationships and mutual commitments” (Wheately,1994:140).

Thumbadoo, Z. (2004) A restorative approach to residential treatment. Child and Youth Care, Vol. 22(3), pp. 6-7

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