The Children and Young People's Centre for Justice (CYCJ) has conducted research with school children on their views about Restorative Justice in Scotland, and shared findings in a new report published this past week.
CYCJ was commissioned by the Scottish Government to conduct research with children, young people and families to explore their awareness, understanding and attitudes to Restorative Justice, by the Scottish Government, as part of its Restorative Justice Action Plan.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, Keith Brown, said:
"I would like to thank the Children and Young People's Centre for Justice research team for this vitally important work. Supported by £38,000 of Scottish Government funding, this has enabled detailed analysis of children's awareness of restorative justice and how it may help address and prevent harmful behaviour.
"Restorative justice provides voluntary, safe communication between those harmed by crime and those who have harmed. Evidence shows it can aid recovery for victims and enable those who have harmed to face the consequences of their actions.
"We have made delivery of restorative justice services across Scotland by 2023 a Programme for Government commitment, and this welcome research goes some way towards furthering that aim."
Findings are shared in a report by CYCJ researchers Nina Vaswani and Aaron Brown, including children's understandings of harm, the awareness and acceptability of Restorative Justice, and key messages for the Scottish Government about the implementation and delivery of Restorative Justice in Scotland. To ensure this research is accessible to a younger audience, a child-friendly version is also available.
Key points include:
- Harm leaves a lasting impact - Pupils were able to distinguish between short-term and longer-term impacts, with incidents perceived to cause shame, embarrassment, and fear associated with longer-term harm or trauma and more likely to be described as harmful.
- Harm affects more than the immediate victim - While the victim was always the most prominent consideration in harm, some pupils appeared to be more likely to think about harm in wider terms such as potential harm to the person who had caused harm, and harm to families, friends, bystanders and communities.
- There must be a reason behind the behaviour - There was a level of compassion and understanding as to the circumstances that were behind the harmful behaviours, including mental health issues, which they often perceived as mitigating or negating the harm caused.
- Restorative justice was more likely to be recommended by children when serious harm had occurred.
- Restorative justice is for persons harmed as well as those causing harm; Pupils made decisions on whether Restorative Justice was suitable or not because of the potential impact (positive or negative) to the person or persons harmed. Of almost equal importance was the impact that Restorative Justice might have on the person who had caused harm.
- Restorative Justice is a responsibility and privilege: In situations where serious harm had been caused, such as murder, Restorative Justice was often seen as a responsibility, something that is owed to the victim.
Report author and CYCJ Research Lead, Nina Vaswani, said:
"It was encouraging to see the children demonstrating a nuanced understanding of the complexity of harm within a range of settings. Restorative Justice was seen as suitable for instances of serious harm. It was also seen as acceptable in less serious incidents of harm, but only where formal and external intervention was required. The message that there is no need to formalise a process that can be resolved informally is an important one, especially considering the risks of net-widening, or up-tariffing.
"Although pupils recognised the merits of Restorative Justice, they were also aware that it is a process that can involve risk on both sides. Perhaps because of this, there was a level of apprehension and reluctance to participate in Restorative Justice themselves. We would strongly recommend that any planned roll-out of Restorative Justice approaches for children should involve them in the design of information, communications, processes, and approaches to ensure that Restorative Justice is child-friendly and the risk of further harm is minimised."
CYCJ has been working with the Scottish Government and Community Justice Scotland to deliver the Scottish Government's Restorative Justice Action Plan 2019-2023, ensuring the rights and needs of children and young people are considered and met throughout this process.