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Just CareReview - Just Care
Restorative Justice Approaches to Working With Children in Public Care
by Belinda Hopkins
Jessica Kingsley, 2010
Review by Charles Mpofu, MHsc (Hons)
Oct 26th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 43)

Having worked with both children and young adults in public care settings, I read this book with curiosity because from the beginning chapters I found it challenging my practices especially how I should have handled issues those days before moving into the academic career. This does not mean that I had a feeling of guilty for employing approaches that are not consistent with those suggested in this book. Instead, I took reading this book as an opportunity for reflection and hence lifelong learning. As a university lecturer with social justice interest in the field of health care practice at the present moment I feel I am in a strategic position to contribute to the field of restorative justice in public care in the form of advocacy oriented research. In this case I am doing my contribution by recommending Belinda Hopkins' 224 page comprehensive work with a compelling title: "Just care: Restorative justice approaches to working with children in public care".

On first reading the foreword of this book by Jonathan Stanley, one gets impressed by the fact that this work is a result of collective input from all concerned stakeholders. It is affirming that input was sought from teams that implement the restorative justice approach in most parts of the UK especially youth offending teams in England and Whales. Perhaps the most important part of this consultative process was that it happened not as a review of what has already been prepared but at an early planning stage and hence this renders it a peoples' book.  Voices of those working in the sector have been included. For example, quotations from stakeholders such as magistrates have been included.

This book about children and young people in public care with behaviors considered as either offensive, disruptive or antisocial is set around residential childcare practice in England. It offers an alternative to restorative justice practices in this area of the world. Practical strategies of working with children in public care using restorative strategies, especially not responding to, but being proactive about conflicts, challenging, antisocial, violent and destructive behaviors have been suggested. The book clearly explains and gives examples to illustrate that 'responding to' is a feature of restorative justice and while being 'proactive' is a feature of restorative approaches, which are the core of what is being advocated for in this book.

The key messages it sends to all those in residential childcare practice and related fields is centered around the themes of positive care, and non-institutional approaches to care. This is achieved by what has been articulated as a naturalistic paradigm of care where young people are valued as distinct and unique beings. In this case offending young people should be given not only a chance to reflect on their own feelings, thoughts and behaviors but also to understand others' thoughts feelings and behaviors. Belinda Hopkins further emphasizes that the focus is on improving relationships by employing restorative justice as a preferred way of dealing with conflicts and this is important where shared responsibility and group living is assumed to be a therapeutic.

By these less formal restorative approaches advocated in this book, Belinda Hopkins advocates for what is consistent with current movements around the world where the criminal justice system is against approaches that crowd not only the prisons but the court system. The book adds to knowledge about restorative practice as well as to movements that advance the need to advance relationship improvement rather than punishment instilling approaches. Contrary to approaches that end with punishment restorative approaches advocated in this book are based on community responsibility for wayward behavior and finding a way forward with every incident instead of ending with punishments.

The book clearly makes a contrast between restorative approaches and dealing with human beings in scientific paradigm which underpin what Belinda Hopkins calls the "name , blame, shame and punish" approach .  A move away from prescriptive interventions that involve thinking in terms of how to react to undesirable behaviors as opposed to how to encourage desirable behaviors is therefore advocated in this book. Belinda Hopkins writes of a paradigm shift from the adversarial system which results not only from the member s of staff feeling victim but the offender too feeling a victim. She emphasizes that in such cases the ripples of the adversarial system can spread to the other people in the residential home and that the court system also has frustration in dealing with trivial issues.

The book therefore challenges families, schools, and public care institutions to consider the core values of restorative approaches which are self-determination, inclusiveness, empowerment, personal accountability,  and inclusiveness as they inform restorative justice approaches. The book also challenges those concerned to recognize the fact that young people in public care are likely to have lived a life where their needs have not been met and hence approaches informed by the aforesaid values do recognize these issues.

In addition to the above issues about the subject of the book, I would not have done justice in this review if I do not mention issues about the content of the book. Firstly, the foreword done by Jonathan Stanley helps to authenticate the philosophical inventions of Belinda Hopkins so that it does not appear as though Belinda Hopkins is dancing to her own music. In addition to activities for those wanting to implement restorative approaches, the content features of the book also include sample dialogues that bring situations to life and case studies of challenging situations that can arise in public care settings. Examples of how to manage these situations have also been included.

Ease of reading the content is aided by diagrams and mind mapping exercises. In some instances self-check questionnaires have also been used. This therefore affirms Belinda Hopkins' intention that the book will be useful not only as an instructional manual but also a refresher of skills, and as a framework for those committed to implementing the restorative justice approaches. Appendices at the end of the book also add to its use as a resource.

There are only two minor issues that were identified after reading this book. Firstly, although Belinda acknowledges having missed the voices of young people themselves, it is noted that the inclusion of voices of the young people themselves would have enhanced the inclusive nature of values underpinning restorative approaches.

The usefulness of the book for those in public care institutions could have been enhanced by simple links of the approaches with reflective practice which is already employed in these settings. Although there has been many activities for reflection in this book, no articulation of reflective practice or linking this model with reflective practice has been done.

Apart from the above this book is a highly recommended resource for anyone working in conflict resolution, in relationship management situations or setting where people may witness challenging behaviors. Professionals in Child and adolescent mental health services, will find this book useful as both a guide and a resource for reflective practice activities. Although some may argue this book is written from an English perspective but the approaches suggested here can be adapted for use globally. For example even the philosophies that inform this approach were from indigenous practice all over the world including Africa, Australia, south and North America, and the Australasian countries.

 

© 2010 Charles Mpofu

 

Charles Mpofu, MHsc (Hons), PhD Cand., AUT University, faculty of health sciences, Auckland , New Zealand.  He is a lecturer with interests in social justice and empowerment as well as ethics and health law. His research methodologies are empowerment oriented. Has taught mainly in the school of public health, School of occupation and rehabilitation and now teaches in interdisciplinary studies health care practice.


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