The Laming review - what are the next steps?

As I’ve written before, it’s a scandal that so many of the children who end up in custody have previously been in care. It’s therefore very welcome that the Prison Reform Trust has sponsored a year-long review into this issue, chaired by Lord Laming, which has reported today. It highlights the urgent need to address this issue if all children in care are to get the best start in life.

It is particularly welcome that the summary published today (the full report is imminent) highlights the importance of restorative practice in addressing this issue. As our submission to the inquiry noted, there is ample evidence that the use of restorative practice in care homes can reduce police callouts, preventing young people in care from coming into contact with the police. This is recognised by the inquiry and it is notable that of the eight examples of good practice cited, all but one involve restorative practice.

This recognition of the use of restorative practice in working with young people in care is welcome. But it is not only in the care system where these benefits are well established. Increasingly, restorative practice is being used across work with young people, with real benefits being demonstrated.

Restorative interventions with young people in the justice system are well established and can have a significant impact on reoffending. They are most effective, though, when they are linked in with mainstream children’s services, as in Surrey. Work to embed restorative practice across a local authority’s work with young people is also underway in Leeds, where Ofsted noted that their investment in restorative practice is “having a transformational impact on culture and professional practice across both the social work service and the children’s partnership”.

Similarly – and despite what you may have read in a spectacularly misinformed article on Conservative Home last week (if restorative practice is being used in the author’s school in the way that he describes then they are doing it horribly wrong) – restorative practice can be hugely beneficial when used within the education sector. It can, for example, help to reduce exclusions, tackle bullying and reduce absenteeism.

But again, the greatest benefits can be achieved when a restorative approach is used with young people not only in the school but also in the surrounding community. Monmouth Comprehensive School, for example, has implemented a restorative approach within the school but has also worked with the local policing team to ensure that young people’s challenging behaviour outside school is dealt with using a restorative approach. Antisocial behaviour in the town has dropped substantially.

It is welcome, then, that today’s review recognises the benefits of restorative practice in working with young people in care. Care homes should get on with adopting a restorative approach without delay. But the real gains are to be made when local services work together to embed restorative approaches across their work with young people. This will prevent all young people from coming into contact with the justice system in the first place, while teaching them to deal with conflict positively and constructively in the future. And – more importantly regarding the findings of the review – create a fully restorative environment for children in the care system. 

The Laming report refers specifically to the need for ‘Good parenting by the state’, which we fully endorse. These are some of the most vulnerable young people in society, and - as we would with our own children - we need to do all we can to ensure that they are given the best possible chance of succeeding in life. Restorative practice is an effective way of supporting that aim. Now, we need to work together to make sure that it’s embedded across every aspect of work with children in the care system.