Thursday, September 18, 2008

Improving Restorative Tasks

Three ideas have recently occurred to me related to making restorative tasks more meaningful to both kids and staff.

1. Mapping the Effects of Behaviors: In a workshop I just attended on Restorative Practices in a school the presenters emphasized that after each incident they meet with the child and create a map of who was affected by the child’s recent actions. Include any one who was affected positively! Then the child has a chance to think about how to make it up to them. Some children would be unable to do this because their shame would produce overwhelming and intolerable emotions. But for those who could, taking this step formally might be a way to underscore the meaning of the restorative tasks.

2. Practicing Positive Ways to Meet Needs: A key tenant of trauma informed care is the belief that symptom are adaptive, that every behavior is a person trying to meet their needs the best way they know how at that moment. The behavior (hurting yourself, running away, throwing a chair) may be an escape from intolerable feelings of despair and hopelessness. It may be a way to draw humans closer and avoid deep aloneness. It may be a mask for desperate fear or unacceptable confusion. But the behavior serves a function, and it helps in the moment. It actually makes things better for a time, even if it also brings long tem negative results.

Led by the clinician, the Treatment Team should try to understand the needs that this child’s behavior is meeting. They can do this by talking with the child, by noticing patterns, by knowing the child and her history, even by guessing. And then their job is to teach the child how to meet these needs in ways with less negative consequences.

So how about using the learning part of restorative tasks as ways to discover and practice these new ways of meeting needs? So Yolanda is angry and destructive many nights before bed, and the team speculates that night time is hard for her and she has trouble falling asleep due to racing unhappy thoughts. What if her restorative task is to read a story to a younger girl on the unit every night? Or (with staff help) to put together a CD of soothing sounds and make copies for some other girls whose lives she disrupted? Or to make a stuffed animal for someone filled with lavender- and make one for her self too?

Get the idea? Yolanda learns some ideas of how to fall asleep, while making amends to others.

What if we postulate that Andre becomes aggressive and assaults staff whenever he feels afraid. What would we like him to do when he becomes afraid? Probably tell some one. So how could he practice that? He could talk with three of the male staff about times they felt afraid, and what they did about it (experience modeling of the desired behavior). Could he read or write a story about a boy who was afraid and handled it well? What else occurs to you?

In treatment team, think about the needs a behavior is meeting and what the desired way of meeting those needs is. Then think of some possible ways the child could experience or practice that more positive alternative.

3. Peace offerings: In a novel I just read when one character hurt a friend, she brought her friend a peace offering when she went to apologize (I think it was cookies). It occurred to me that the concept of peace offering conveys what we want to accomplish in the making amends part of the restorative task. The things we ask the kids to do to make amends can never be as big as the things they have done wrong (at least, not if we want to stay licensed). So using the phrase "peace offering" might help convey the spirit of what we want them to accomplish- a gesture of apology.

Click on the comment button below and let me know your reactions to these ideas.

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