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Restorative Justice Practice in Youth Work


Restorative justice is a healing way of addressing conflicts as well as crimes. Rather than seeking justice through punishment, it seeks justice through repair. Keeping people whole and connected to community is the key.

Relationships are at the core of restorative justice practice. And that’s what make it is such a powerful and effective approach to bring to your youth work. Youth workers are all about building trusting relationships that support positive youth development.

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    The art of restorative justice

    Many of the values and practices of restorative justice originated from indigenous culture. There are deep roots in indigenous peacemaking.

    Peacemaking is a process where people can resolve conflict by talking together. The needs of everyone involved are addressed as a community.

    This approach is more about a way of being than a prescribed practice or tool set. The art of restorative practice honors people as whole and engages their heart, head, and spirit.

    In youth programs, the restorative mindset sees youth behavior as more than an action. You're seeking root causes and considering cultural contexts of behavior.

    When you address behaviors in context, you're focusing on the harm done in any conflict. You're addressing the obligation of the person to repair their harm in connection with their community. You’re responding to the needs of the person that was harmed.

    Values are central to the practice.

    • Empowerment
    • Honesty
    • Respect
    • Personal accountability
    • Inclusion
    • Collaboration

    As a result, restorative justice practices are an excellent way to build trusting relationships and stronger communities.

    Young people flourish when they have trusting relationships.

    Different approaches for different situations

    There are many different approaches in restorative justice. The principles and practices can be adapted to fit the situation. So, you can decide what works best for the young people you work with.

    Here are four common methods:

    1. Mediation – Uses a facilitator to guide people who were harmed through the process of acknowledging the harm, understanding the impact of the harm, feeling remorse, and making amends to the person that was harmed.
    2. Family group conferencing - Engages family members and community participants to support both the person that was harmed and the person that caused harm. The focus is on the person who harmed taking responsibility for their actions and changing their behaviors.
    3. Circles – Includes wider community member participation with a focus on repairing harm done to the community.
    4. Dialogue – Typically initiated by the person that was harmed. The focus is on having the person that caused the harm understand the impact of their harm.

    Bringing restorative practices into your program

    Start practicing in small ways. You'll learn as you go. An easy way to incorporate restorative justice practices in your work is to approach young people with curiosity. Ask open, nonjudgmental questions. Keep an open mind as you listen. And be sure your responses always convey positive regard for them as a whole person.

    This provides young people the opportunity to reflect on how their behavior has affected someone else. And building that empathy is a step toward preventing future harm.

    Restorative justice practices can be used informally in any youth work setting. They provide many positive ways to help young people and their communities stay connected. You are modeling how to respond, repair, and respect.

    I invite you to learn more about restorative justice in youth work. There are many ways you can include these practices in your programs. You can start by learning about the restorative mindset and philosophy. Check out YIPA's training, Empower Young People Using a Restorative Justice Lens.

    About the author

    Joanne Rice is the member satisfaction specialist of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Joanne a question or share your feedback about this blog, email

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