Earlier this week, I visited Kapiti Youth Support (KYS) in Paraparaumu, about an hour north of Wellington. Kapiti Youth Support is what New Zealand calls a “One Stop Shop” for youth ages 10-24 in the community. Their services include a medical clinic with doctors and nurses, counselors and psychologists, addiction support, mentoring, family support services, youth development, education resources, and therapeutic groups. To top it all off, one of their programs called Stepping Stones, which is a program for youth showing signs of problematic behavior, has begun using restorative practices.
All of this is under one roof and provided for free for all youth in the community!
KYS employees emphasize the importance building relationship with the young people they serve and offering a holistic model of care that sees all of the areas of a person’s life as connected. It is important for the support providers to be fully integrated and working together in order to provide the best quality care. Their physical proximity assists in this goal. The KYS space is beautiful with big sunny windows and a courtyard with a garden. The walls are decorated with cool art and the kitchen is full of colorful mugs. In the clinic area, there was a table with a basket of free scones and pieces of fruit.
I visited KYS because I met Christina, the director of Stepping Stones, at a meeting for people in the Wellington area who are working to integrate the restorative circle practice (sometimes called a Connection Circle or a Peacemaking Circle) into their various professional contexts. Christina is Canadian, so we were excited to hear each other’s North American accents and started talking after the meeting. She explained the transformation they have seen in Stepping Stones since beginning to use the circle process last year. Each meeting of a Stepping Stones group has a theme (such as beliefs, anger management, identity and belonging, or family) and the circle is used as a way to get the participants to start talking about their experiences and relating to each other. Christina said that with the circle practice, they are now getting to the depth of sharing and understanding during the first session that they normally would have gotten to in the third or even fifth session.
During the first group meeting, the facilitator guides the participants in establishing shared values and ground rules for the circle process. After that, the group is able to settle into the circle easily and trust that it is a safe space to share.
All of this has gotten Christina really excited about the idea of offering restorative justice services for youth that do get in trouble in the community. KYS has a good relationship with local police who already occasionally offer attending Stepping Stones as an alternative to charging youth, so there would be good support for this extended service. Because the circle process and the skills that accompany it (deep listening, open and honest sharing, equal voice, reflection) are already in place at KYS, it would be a smooth transition into using this model and philosophy to address harms from wrong-doings as well.
To my knowledge, nothing like KYS exists in the United States. As I toured the different areas and saw all of the services being provided, I reflected on one of the foundational beliefs of Restorative Justice, which is that all behaviors communicate needs. When a person is exhibiting a problematic behavior, if you can have a conversation with the person and identify the need at the root of the behavior, you can help find a more pro-social way for that need to be met. While working for a restorative justice non-profit in Colorado, I would occasionally receive cases where the offender or victim’s needs included support that our small program could not supply. We were sometimes able to route the case through diversion so that a diversion officer could require that the offender see a counselor or a doctor or participate in classes or drug tests. The diversion officer would continue to meet with the offender, which was helpful, but the officer still always had to refer the young person out to different services. There was minimal communication between the various service providers and it was up to the youth to find his or her way to another area of town and engage with a stranger to get it done.
How helpful it would be to have all of these services under one roof working together! Not only would it save resources, it would improve the quality of care through increased communication between service providers and increase the likelihood that the youth will follow-through on getting the support needed. After all, the counselor would be just across the hall!
This is a model we need to be replicating in the United States.
KYS also has a very impressive evaluation system (The Outcomes Measurement Model- TOMM) for the youth they work with that allows staff to track individuals’ progress in a wide range of areas from peer relationships to alcohol use to mental health to hope and values. It offers a holistic picture of the young person and the areas he/she is growing or struggling. Improvement can also be tracked over time and the system allows KYS to pull reports looking at specific demographics in the community as well. In a grant culture that is currently obsessed with evidence-based practice, this reporting system is a powerful tool. It allows KYS to turn that deeper transformation they see occurring in their clients into data points on a graph that can support grant applications and progress reports submitted to the Ministry of Social Development. Non-profits restorative justice providers in the US tend to report on statistics including decreased recidivism, decreased cost, victim and offender satisfaction with the process, and numbers of cases completed. However, these number leave out something big, the deeper transformation that occurs in people through the process. We have tried to cover that ground through providing case studies and quotes and encouraging people to participate in a process to see the work in action. Still, there is a desire to see that good work communicated through numbers and graphs, and that is what KYS has found a way to do!
If you’re interested in learning more about KYS, check out their website.