A message from Nigel Richardson: Director of Children’s Services in Leeds, UK
Hello to everyone in Canberra from all of us in Leeds! We’re delighted to have an opportunity to play some part in your restorative journey. I would have loved to have been with you in person, but sadly the budget wouldn’t quite stretch to a 48 hour round the world trip!
I was asked to write you a few words to highlight that, in taking your restorative steps, Canberra is becoming part of a much wider international community of people, places and organisations who feel there is a better, different way of doing things. And it’s true: across the world, restorative practices are about emphasising the importance of family, community and mutual respect to create stronger, more compassionate places to live and work. And there are many, many of us, across the continents, committed to making that happen.
Leeds is the third largest city in the UK with a population approaching 800,000. We began our own restorative journey around five years ago when we set out a bold ambition to become the best city for our citizens and in particular the best city for our children and young people to grow up in - a child-friendly city, where everyone can play their part in making a difference. We asked ourselves what that would look and feel like, and how the relationship between the state and our citizens – our ‘social contract’ – needed to change to realise those ambitions. Restorative practice was identified as a big part of our response to that question, we believe that people, families and communities become happier, more resilient and more sustainable if professionals work with them to solve problems, rather than doing things to them, for them or doing nothing at all.
So we set on a path to make Leeds a restorative city. We began by identifying best practice from around the country and the world – just as you are doing today – to help us train first a few key leaders and then, over time, thousands of our staff, in the philosophy and techniques of restorative practice. We’ve focused on those working with the most vulnerable families, like our social workers. We identified where pockets of restorative practice were already taking place, and built on it. Most significantly this has meant a huge expansion of our family group conferencing service, so that a safe and appropriate family-centred solution becomes the first point consideration when we are working with people to find solutions to their problems. We have committed to using restorative language and techniques, such as circle meetings, across our professional practice and our leadership messages. The leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Judith Blake has made a public commitment that:
The default behaviour of children’s services in Leeds in all its dealings with local citizens,
Partners and organisations will be a restorative one – high support with high challenge.
We believe the results have been significant. In financial terms we have saved millions of pounds because we now find more, safe and appropriate, family-centred alternatives to taking children in to care – we work with the wider family to find a supportive solution. The positive reputation of Leeds is growing, more than 40 other towns and cities came to visit us last week to learn more about our approach, after Her Majesty’s inspectors came earlier this year and found that the way change is being led in the city is ‘outstanding’. But most importantly, our culture is changing, professionals think and work differently, more positively and confidently and this translates into better services for, and feedback from the families we are working with.
That’s our story, so far. Not finished by any means and not always easy, with many challenges along the way, but worth it to create the sort of city that we all want to live in and the sort of culture in which children, young people and families can thrive. Good luck as you embark on your own restorative adventure, we look forward to working with you, learning from you and hearing all about the progress being made in Canberra.