The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) is embarking on an unprecedented initiative to improve the lives of children and families in Detroit, Michigan, USA. By mobilizing a “whole-neighborhood” approach, individuals will be active stewards of their community. The goal of the program, “Toward a Restorative City: Focus on Schools and Sustainability for the City of Detroit,” is to embed restorative practices in neighborhoods, schools and systems.
The project is committed to improving the lives of children growing up in Detroit neighborhoods. Previously, the major focus was around restorative work in schools, and what’s exciting and different about this project is its aim to bring alignment between systems.
While schools will still constitute an integral piece, the program intends to embed restorative practices in communities at the residential level and in systems that impact children and families. These include, for example, the Department of Human Services, police, and the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems.
By focusing on youth, efforts will certainly impact lives by building social capital and changing the narratives for generations to come. Recognizing that relationships are the backbone of community, strengthening relationships and learning how to effectively manage conflict are critical component skillsets in fostering restorative mindsets.
Most important, to encourage sustainable changes, restorative practices have to become part of the culture. There is evidence that culture change has begun, due to several years of foundational work in the city of Detroit. Their entire police force employs the practices on their neighborhood beats. Community block clubs and young people who have received restorative practices training are using it on a regular basis. In the long-term, it will be imperative to engage universities, both to research effectiveness and to make the practices a central part of the education of social workers, police, justice workers and teachers.
Teamwork is necessary to collaborate, provide the leadership and community engagement that is key to achieving the goals of sustaining a robust climate and culture in our schools, and in creating, designing, and sustaining pathways toward a restorative mindset in Detroit and elsewhere.
All of us, despite geographic location can leverage resources, talent and time in targeted neighborhoods to focus on school and neighborhood climate change. We’ve tried all else. Let’s forge a different path to effect positive changes, build social capital, and empower entire neighborhoods, by fostering a safe and healthy climate framed by meaningful relationships. A “village” approach makes it an imperative that our perspectives complement and align with real and ‘perceived’ needs and mutually established goals. Working towards change based solely upon our assumed concerns, is minimally effective unless we are informed by input from the stakeholders themselves.
- People want to be included in decisions that affect them directly; they want to be spoken with, and not spoken for, at or about concerning the changes they wish to see.
- Be prepared to listen with an open mind and open heart, and what’s unknown or unfamiliar, ask questions-open-ended questions.
- Don’t leave anyone out of the conversation. That means families, social service agencies and concrete services providers, schools, CBO’s, community based businesses, local law enforcement… all stakeholders should have their voices heard, especially the youth populations.
Designing more restorative policies, programs and practices should be the goal of this nation; from coast-to-coast- an inclusive, collaborative, respectful and …..A Restorative USA!
Change does not take place overnight; it takes fidelity to the stated goals. We can start today to employ restorative practices, from where we are, and still effect positive changes in the lives of families and youth, one village/one family/one child at a time! We must be the changes we seek. We must lead it, and model it, and commit to endeavor as change agents and change makers. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?