Sunday, June 04, 2006

What a Restorative Approach is NOT

I have the opportunity through Risking Connection training to meet many people in different agencies who are starting the switch to a trauma-informed treatment approach. At the beginning staff have many mistaken assumptions about what a relational model would mean. It is important that we address these directly.

A Restorative Approach does not mean no limits or rules. The adults are responsible to create a safe, orderly setting that maximizes the safety and success of the children. This means clear expectations, organized schedules, plenty to do, and immediate intervention when things start to go wrong. Unsafe behavior should be stopped. Restraints will some times be necessary (although less often). Children will need to be separated from each other or from the group at times.

A Restorative Approach does not mean that staff does not have or use authority. It means we use our authority honestly, directly, and with respect. We use our teams to make sure of our direction. We are in charge of the children, and responsible for their well being. We become the kind of authority that we appreciate in those that have authority over us. For example, we have supervisors who have the authority to correct our behavior at work. Yet it would be easy to describe both respectful and disrespectful ways they could exercise that authority. The same applies to our work with the children.

A Restorative Approach does not mean that staff ignore maladaptive behavior. It is one more form of neglect of these kids if we just ignore their behaviors because it is easier for us, or because we don’t know how to intervene. We must have the strength to be direct with them about what they are doing and how it is affecting us, others, the community. We do so in a context of our own self-awareness and emotional regulation. We engage with the kids in a respectful, collaborative manner that is based in our complete conviction that behaviors are adaptations and have been learned for self protection. And we know that the child needs to learn new, more effective behaviors.

A Restorative Approach does not mean that our prime intervention is constantly asking the child how they are feeling. It is rarely helpful to ask the kids how they are feeling. They usually don’t know unless it is obvious to us all (i.e. furious), and they react to the “therapy sounding” question. Instead we use the art of engagement, exploration, humor, distraction, looking for patterns, listening, repeating, until we and they discover what is going on.

A Restorative Approach is not something that can only be employed when everything is calm and we have plenty of time. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be much use in residential treatment. Whether we are intervening in a crisis, whether we have to fill out a form for external requirements, whether we are in a hurry and only have ten minutes, we can still be respectful and collaborative with the children. We can be honest and share directly what our constraints are. We can speak from our hearts. We can convey our certainty that the child is doing the best she can, and that together we can learn ways to do better.

As we explore the misconceptions about the Restorative Approach and learn what it is not we will have a better ability to discover and practice what it actually is.

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

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