Saturday, March 25, 2006

Restorative Approach (sm)

I am a social worker who is currently a Vice President of a large child welfare agency in New Britain, CT. Klingberg Family Centers ( We are pioneering a newly developed, trauma informed approach to congregate care of children with serious emotional disorders. Many of the children we treat have suffered early trauma- physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, multiple moves- within their biological families. Then when they enter the child welfare system they often suffer more abuse, and experience many more moves. They present to us with serious problems of aggression, suicidality, self harm, property destruction, and unsafe choices. We are a highly clinical program, and we treat the children in our state with the most serious difficulties. We used to use a traditional points-and-levels approach in our congregate care programs (residential, acute residential, extended day after school treatment, special ed therapeutic school). But we found that these approaches were not working, and also were not transferable to a home setting.
We have learned a lot about trauma and about attachment, and have been influenced by the work of Daniel Hughes (especially Building the Bonds of Attachment, a wonderful book), Jon G. Allen and Judith Herman.
We have been trained using the Risking Connection trauma based training curriculum ( and are now involved in delivering this training.
So, we have invented and are using the Restorative Approach.

What is the restorative approach to treatment? The basic tenet of this approach is that relationships provide the strongest motivation to people. The restorative approach concentrates on the relationship effects of behavior.

This approach emphasizes the importance of shame. Most of our children have been seriously abused, which they have felt is their own fault. Therefore they are shame based: completely sure in their hearts that they are no good worthless people. Any set back reaffirms this basic belief. Punishment that includes isolation and public humiliation further reinforces this internal certainty.Therefore, the first step in the restorative approach is to understand that it is our job to form a relationship with every child and family we treat. It is our responsibility to reach out to them to find the good in them, to learn about them.

Then, when they do something that hurts others, the approach of the consequences is two-fold: the consequences should provide an opportunity to make amends, and they should provide teaching of skills that will help the child avoid similar problems in the future.

The theme here is that instead of "doing time" the child is learning skills and reconnecting with people.

If a child has injured or had difficulty with a particular staff, that staff should be central in establishing and working through the restorative work.

Because the restorative approach requires more flexibility and creativity of the part of the staff, it also demands a high degree of self-awareness, and the ability of a team to talk honestly with each other. Each child does NOT have to receive the same response for the same action. We should not hold consistency (in the sense of sameness) as our goal. Instead, we should be consistent in our values and our purpose. The response to each child and each instance of misbehavior will consistently be personalized, related to their goals and what they need to learn.

In addition it is important for staff to recognize and discuss with others their own thoughts and feelings about the child, how these get triggered in many ways, their own concept of justice (related to their early parenting) etc.

A restorative approach offers hope for a more healing environment, and a more meaningful experience for both staff and children. It is also more transferable to the outside world, where levels and points do not exist. A restorative approach restores our focus to the most important and powerful aspects of our work with the children and each other, which are our mutual and respectful caring relationships.

I hope to write more about this approach, our use of it and our thinking about it in this blog.

©2006 The Restorative Approach is a servicemark of the Klingberg Family Centers, Inc.

1 comment:

Lisa Turner, MSW said...

Thank You for sharing more on the restorative approach. This approach is becoming central in many agencies and settings dealing with children with histories of trauma and behavioral disorders. There is limited information out there and much of the information is focused on specific populations, in particular those in the juvenille justice system. This was a helpful overview. I think since this is a new approach in many agencies it will be met with confusion and in some cases resistance. It would be helpful to give ideas and advise on how to transition this approach into programs so that it could be a positive transition as well as examples for teaching purposes.