Message from John Langley
I am writing this from our site office in New Plymouth. As I look out the window to blue sky and relative calm, it comes as a relief after several days of lashing wind and rain. While such weather is miserable in one sense you have to admit it is dramatic.
On Tuesday, Paul Nixon and I attended the Advisory Group for Restorative Practices Whanganui. I’ve talked about this before but will do so again as there has been much progress.
In many ways Whanganui is New Zealand’s first experiment with restorative practice on a city-wide scale. Other cities where this has occurred are Halifax in Canada, Hull in the UK and Leeds the Child Friendly City in the UK. In all of those cases it has produced very positive results in termsof things such as school attendance, reduction in school suspensions, better relations in the workplace and reductions in family violence to name but some.
The Whanganui Restorative Practices Trust (WRPT) was established in 2012 to promote and implement the vision of Whanganui towards a restorative city. David Alexander, one of our supervisors in Whanganui, is a Trust Board member. The mantra is “Together, through respectful relationships, creating the environment for all Whanganui people to thrive and succeed”. Fine words indeed, but all indications are that the city is doing just that.
I must admit that when Paul Nixon, who had been involved in this process in Hull, first talked to me about Whanganui I was a little sceptical. I had heard of restorative justice and restorative practice but was largely unaware of the details surrounding it. After two years of involvement as the initial chair of the Advisory Committee and now as a Committee member having handed the role of chair on to Chester Borrows the local MP, I am a committed convert. This is not just because of the nature of the process, which seems to me to be far more people-centred and humane than much of the stuff we normally go in for in our institutions and organisations, but also because the results speak for themselves. At the meeting on Tuesday the report from the Ministry of Education Senior Advisor, Mark Corrigan, said in his report, “The suspended secondary student (in Whanganui) is becoming an endangered species”. This in a city where stand-downs and suspensions were high and rising. In some places that have dropped by 80 per cent.
Think of what this means – this one thing alone. What we know if that if kids are in school and functioning well there, they are less likely to suffer abuse, more likely to achieve to age normal levels, more likely to maintain age appropriate relationships with peers, less likely to offend and more likely to maintain better health. Not bad, I would have thought.
Think about this as well. Each year in our workplaces relationship conflict cost New Zealand something around $250 million. Should that not tell us there is something radically wrong with the way we approach and manage this stuff? Here again, restorative practice, which seeks to restore the relationships between people rather than just drive them through some process or other plays a major role in reducing such conflict and stop it reoccurring.
In Whanganui, the aim is to adopt a restorative approach in at least the following areas – education, courts, workplaces, family and community services and neighbourhoods. The trick then is to join the dots between all of these areas and that is where the Advisory Group and Trust can play a major role in terms of organisation, training and monitoring. In addition, Victoria University have expressed an interest in undertaking some evaluation work around this initiative. It also helps that that the mayor and local MP are very supportive.
Can I also acknowledge the work of our site manager in Whanganui, Sam Burroughs, for the effort and commitment he is putting into all of this. As with all initiatives, they tend to stand or fall on the back of good leadership and Sam is certainly providing that.
Yesterday and today are in New Plymouth. This is a site I love visiting. The welcome is always friendly, conversations honest and interesting and the interest of colleagues here in what’s happening within the region and wider organisation at a high level. On top of all of that Taranaki held Counties Manakau to a draw last night although goodness knows how they managed to play the game in the dreadful weather that lashed around the place.
So, go forth and have a great weekend with friends and whanau and make the very most of those around you.
Regional Director, Central Child Youth and Family | Ministry of Social Development