Managing discipline is a daily challenge for schools. When things go wrong and a child like Callum is seriously harmed can a restorative approach repair the damage and prevent such incidents in the future? Callum's mum, the police officer, and his school vice-principal share their experiences.
Lynne Massey, Callum's mum:
"That morning, one of the school’s regular cover supervisor team members was taking the class, and things were a bit unsettled. My son Callum has Asperger's Syndrome, so he finds changes to his routine quite difficult. When one of the other lads came up to Callum and tried to take his pen, Callum shrugged him off, and the other lad punched him square in the face. Callum got really upset, and started to have a fit.
"The teacher put him in the recovery position, and someone called 999, but by then he was turning blue. Luckily, the school’s site manager had just been on a first aid course, and knew immediately that Callum needed CPR. If he hadn’t made that decision, Callum wouldn’t be here today.
"Me and my husband were in the car on our way back from the supermarket when we got the call saying that Callum had been in an accident. We weren’t told much, but we knew that the police were involved, and my first thought was that Callum had been stabbed. When we arrived at the school, all I remember was screaming 'Where’s Callum?' Then we saw him lying on a stretcher, but we didn’t know what was wrong with him.
"I just wanted the lad to see what he'd done with one punch."
"It felt like an eternity in the hospital while they tried to work out what was wrong with Callum. He was unconscious for four days – it was a very emotional time. He finally woke up on the Sunday evening, and he had to be re-sedated because he didn’t know where he was and became frantic. While we were at the hospital, the police told us that he had been hit by another lad. I remember walking out of intensive care, where Callum was, and kicking the wall – I was so angry I was shaking. I just wanted the lad who’d hit Callum to see what he’d done with one punch. We found out later that Callum has Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS), so that punch could have killed him.
"When Callum finally came home and we’d all calmed down, I started to realise how lucky we were to have him back. I also started to think about what had happened – it was just two 14 year olds having a disagreement, and one misplaced punch. I didn’t want Callum to have to go through court and re-live that, so when restorative justice was mentioned, it seemed like a good idea.
"While Callum was in intensive care, we took photos and kept a diary so that he’d be able to look back later and fill in the gaps about what had happened. Because of his autism, he was completely against having a face to face meeting with the boy who’d hurt him. That was when I came up with the idea of showing the boy the photographs from the hospital. I thought it would have a much bigger impact than a slap on the wrist from the police – really make him look at what he’d done.
"Sergeant Debbie Barton-Moran, who was facilitating the restorative justice, showed the photos to the lad, and she told me that he and his mum were both in tears when they saw them. It was a total shock to them to see what state Callum had been in. The boy wrote a letter to us – he drafted it four times before he was happy to send it. I thought it was very brave of him to write it, and it made me feel a lot better. Callum finally went back to school a couple of months later. It took a while, but he’s settled back in now and he’s doing well.
"Showing what they've done has much more impact than being locked in a cell or taken to court."
"In cases like this, I think restorative justice really works. Just showing someone what they’ve done has much more impact than being locked in a cell or taken to court. I hope many more schools start using restorative approaches."
Deborah Barton-Moran, police officer and restorative justice facilitator:
"I have a dual role within Nottinghamshire Police – youth issues and restorative justice development. Because Callum was so unwell, this case was treated by the police in the same way as a murder or other really serious offence. I was approached by the CID officers to see what could be done to meet the needs of both boy' families and the demands of the criminal justice system. As I have run many successful restorative approaches over the years it was natural to me that a restorative justice conference would be a good way forward.
"When I met the young man who had punched Callum and his family they were very supportive of taking part in anything to try to put things right. Callum’s family wanted the young man to understand how dangerous just one punch could be. The photos they asked me to show him were very harrowing, and showed Callum wired up to life support machines. A great deal of sensitive mediation took place before we all agreed that the photos could – and should – be shown.
"I also went to the school to meet a team of teachers who had been very affected by the trauma of the incident. This was not a formal healing circle but I managed it in a similar way, giving people at least some opportunity to tell their story.
"On the day that Callum returned to school arrangements had been made for me to run a healing circle with the youngsters who had been present on the day along with some of the teachers I’d already met. Callum came into the session; he didn’t say a lot but was definitely involved in the process and did answer some of the questions asked.
"We worked through how people felt about what they had seen and how it had affected them. The group decided at the end of the circle that the school needed to work on the message 'Just one punch can kill'. When asked how they felt about what had been said in the circle, they all said they felt it was better now that they had spoken about it.
"The school has started the journey to developing restorative approaches, and I recently had the pleasure of training 16 of the students in peer mediation.
"Restorative practice will address behaviour, help people learn about each other, and build a cohesive, supportive environment."
"I believe that schools should embed restorative approaches as a philosophy, not just a tool for tackling behavioural issues, because it is in this way that the best results are achieved. Most schools will have aspects of their working environment and processes that are restorative.
"However, to really embrace restorative approaches, schools need to have the courage to really look at what they do day to day and adapt and develop existing practices and try new ones. Restorative practices, properly embedded, will meet people’s needs, address behaviour, help them learn about each other and build a cohesive, supportive, environment."
Dorothy Martin, vice-principal:
"The incident affected the whole community in different ways. We had to deal with unreliable gossip at one end of the scale and the feelings of those who had been directly affected at the other. Communication was very important. We had to judge who needed to know what at each stage, considering Callum's family as a priority and what they were going through, as well as the other boy and his family.
"It was really about identifying different groups and matching the support to them, as well as responding to the individual needs of both staff and pupils. Two members of staff who needed particular consideration were the site manager, whose first aid skills undoubtedly saved Callum's life, and the member of staff in charge of the lesson at the time.
"Debbie mainly worked with the teaching group which Callum was in when the incident occurred, as this was the group of pupils who had been most directly affected by what happened. It helped them to understand what happened and why. It also helped them to reflect on pupils' interactions in general and how a relatively minor incident in this case unfortunately resulted in a potentially life threatening situation.
"We now have an established group of peer mediators who run advice sessions at lunchtime."
"We had already done some early work on restorative practice, and Debbie's involvement led to further investigation into how it can be used right across the school. She also went on to be involved in training a group of Key Stage 4 pupils (Years 10 and 11) to become peer mediators. We now have an established group of peer mediators who run advice sessions at lunchtime to respond to pupils' concerns. Using restorative practice is now an established part of responding to some of the more challenging behaviour concerns we deal with on a day to day basis."
The RJC would like to thank Callum, Lynne, Deborah and Dorothy for sharing their story with us.
© Restorative Justice Council 2015 – do not reproduce without permission.
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