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Restorative Justice was trauma-informed before trauma-informed was a thing.

Offering you 5 ways Restorative Justice paved the way for trauma-informed work in schools:

  1. Victim-Centered.  Restorative Justice gives voice, choice, validation, information and opportunity for reparation to those harmed by crime & conflict.  This created a trauma-informed skill-set in practitioners.  Research have shown the RJ reduces PTSD for Crime victims.  This demonstrates the approach reduces the impact of trauma.  Restorative Justice transformed to Restorative Practices in schools.  All of the skills, the philosophy and the things that really make RJ work . . . didn’t always get transferred.  One of the best pieces that did get transferred was the engagement and support for students that have been harmed.
  2. Focus on Harms (needs, obligations & engagement) – not just the harm created in the incident you might be starting with, also harms that the offender experienced that led to the harmful act.  A long standing line in RJ trainings . . .”hurt people hurt people” . . .  the hurt we are addressing was trauma.  In RJ we also say “in relationships we are broken and in relationships we heal”.  It we tend to the harm, we are tending to the trauma.  RJ does this by making sure we are present with people and we support their belonging, so that they can acknowledge they caused harm, or share about the impact harm had on them.  Restorative Justice is proactive, sensitive to the needs of those holding trauma, by its very nature of responding to harm and seeking the needs as defined by the individual and not assigned or assumed by someone else.
  3. Storytelling as a path to healing, is a basis of RJ.  We know trauma lives in the past and in our bodies.  Trauma is not exclusively the event as much as what we tell ourselves about the event.  In RJ we have been helping people with sharing stories to those most involved.  This kind of storytelling gets reflected back to us, and we hear our own story as someone else hears it and it break apart the cycle of “I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve to be treated well” and other mantra’s created by a trauma-lens.  One of the biggest influences to how traumatized we feel about an event, is how we see our “aloneness” either before, during or after the event.  (Gabor Mate book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts).  When done well, RJ does NOT re-traumatize victims . . . because they are not alone when they revisit the story, the memories.  RJ is always about excellent PREP before a session.  That kind of prep work, is trauma-responsive.
  4. Practitioner Presence, RJ facilitators have been trained for decades to do the now labeled trauma-informed approach of W.A.I.T. (why am I talking).  Listening and compassionate listening have been staples and foundations of doing RJ.  People need empathy, compassion, healing presence, people carrying trauma need it a more so.  Holding space for others to share is good RJ and good trauma-informed.  When I trained volunteers for being present in Circles, we would talk about our own state of regulation having an impact on others.  Necessary skills for anyone working with traumatized youth.
  5. What happened? instead of WHY did you do that.  I was trained on the Restorative Questions back on 1998, by Real Justice (now IIRP), using “what happened” has been part of RJ since early foundations in the late ’80’s.  On my birthday last year, Oprah Winfrey made it famous .  .  . saying it’s trauma-informed to ask . . . what happened, instead of why.

For a number of years, I saw the swell of the word Trauma.  Trauma Responsive Schools, Trauma-informed Care, Trauma-based leadership . . . and I and smiled to myself about how much they were mirroring, echoing, stating the same things common to RJ work.  I took pride in the RJ movement for being ahead of the curve.  It made sense to me linking back to Indigenous Communities that knew how to take care of trauma in the way they honored community.

Now it is time to embrace and recognize the Restorative Justice is the PATH to doing trauma-responsive work! Click To Tweetthat is not only sensitive to trauma, but reverses the negative impacts of trauma!