When a young person is referred to a Youth Offending Service (YOS), either through the triage system, or following a court hearing, they come essentially for support in a boundaried environment. The responsibility of the YOS team is to create opportunities for the young person to face up to the harm caused through their actions, give him or her an opportunity to repair this harm in various ways, and provide the support they need in order to be willing, ready and able to do things differently in the future.
By the time a young person arrives at the reception of a Youth Offending Service they will have been through a sequence of experiences that are unlikely to have left them feeling great, whatever external show of bravado some of them may be able to muster. From the moment they first meet a member of the YOS team, until the moment they have finished their order, how they are treated will impact hugely on how well they respond to what is on offer.
Restorative Justice is often thought of simply in terms of conferences or referral orders, but in fact the entire experience a young person has with the YOS is meant to be restorative. What is being restored? Firstly, the young person’s sense of self-worth (possibly something that has been eroded over many years). Secondly, that persons’ connections with those in the community who have been harmed by what has been done (again such connections may have worn thin in recent times). Thirdly, there may be some form of restoration in the form of practical reparation – but this comes a poor third compared to the first two. Reparation by itself does not restore in the ways described above.
For some people restoring a sense of self-worth takes a long time, as does their sense of connectedness. We all need to feel that we belong – connectedness is a key factor in our sense of well being. We care about those we feel connected to and we value their appreciation and respect for us. These social bonds build community and safety. Many of the young people who pass through the doors of the Youth Offending Service have not experienced this sense of belonging and connectedness, nor do they feel appreciated or cared for. Whatever these young people have done, they can still have a positive experience as they are supported by Youth Offending Service staff to address the harm they have caused, both to themselves and to others.