An introduction to social discipline, restorative and relational-based practice
Mark Finnis discusses the power of working with children and the importance of creating a challenging and supportive environment
Restorative practice is a term used to describe a way of being – an underpinning ethos which enables us to build and maintain healthy relationships, resolve difficulties and repair harm when relationships breakdown. It embodies a set of core beliefs, principles and a way of being with people that proactively promotes building a sense of community and developing social capital. It creates a common language and approach for fostering a sense of social responsibility and shared accountability.
The following model is the cornerstone to underpin relational practice for me. It is based on a model originally created by Malcolm Glaser, but more recently adapted by Ted Wachtel and Paul McCold. It’s called the ‘Social Discipline Window’ and it’s the basis for a restorative practice model built on high challenge and high support.
What does high challenge, high support look like? Well, let’s define terms: when we say ‘challenge’ we mean things like setting limits, outlining boundaries, defining expectations, and explaining professional concerns.
Challenging behaviours aim to provide motivation, accountability and the energy to act, as well as asking tough questions and giving honest feedback. When we say ‘support’, we mean things like nurture, compassion, empathy, listening and care.
Supportive behaviours aim to encourage and build self-belief, self-value and confidence. They include showing an interest, making time to listen, and asking reflective questions. You can see clearly in the ‘Social Discipline Window’ diagram that the bottom left-hand box is the domain that is built not only low on challenge but also low on support.
We call this the ‘NOT’ box and the original version of this model has the word 'neglectful' as a way of summarising this way of doing things. The top left-hand box is when you engage in high challenge, low support practices. It describes when you are doing things to young people. In a primarily ‘to’ way of working, children and families are held to high standards, but without the support necessary to reach them.
Such a response can be alienating and stigmatising. It can also fail to effect any real change in behaviour. It’s high on compliance, but low on ownership. The bottom right-hand box is the domain that is built on low challenge but high support. We call this the ‘for’ box. In a primarily ‘FOR’ environment, children and families may find the support they need but without being held to account for their actions.
The power of ‘with’ The top right-hand box is the domain that is built both on high challenge and also high support. We call this the ‘with’ box and the original version of this model uses the terms ‘restorative’ and ‘authoritative’ to describe this winning approach. This box is where strong relationships are built.
In my experience this box also creates collaboration, partnership and getting alongside children and families – to motivate themselves, to take responsibility for and, importantly, control of their own behaviours. It involves viewing families as experts on their own problems and more importantly their own solutions. Restorative practice is about practising in the top right box of the window – holding students, colleagues and families to high standards of behaviour while at the same time providing the support and encouragement necessary for them to meet these expectations.
It’s not just about the children and families, but everyone as part of our teams and across our organisations. In this way, it is being authoritative, rather than authoritarian. Restorative practice places no less importance on authority; but it’s how you exercise that authority in way that does things with people rather than to or for them.
If you reflect on your own practise, which box do you spend most of your time in? And, when things aren’t going your way, which box do you default to? When managing risk or need, which box best describes your practice? After all, when we are reactive, our behaviour is often emotional and not thought through.
When we take the time to think about our actions and are responsive we can be more effective, behaving in a way that is more purposeful, intentional and professional. It’s about being explicit rather than implicit, practising by design rather than default.
Every child is different and they all have the right to expect from you the conditions necessary for growth if they are to feel safe, well-connected and have a true sense of belonging. In this environment they are able to take risks, ask quality questions, free to make mistakes and explore new ideas. However, this cannot be achieved when practice is led by an over-controlling, authoritarian system based on blame and control.
By asking more and better questions, rather than always handing down answers, we encourage a climate of possibility, of choice, of growth; one where children, families and important others can gain trust, take risks, grow in confidence. It is in this climate – one of safe, respectful, boundaried conversations – that we can start to give children and families back their power and help them find their authentic voice.
This article was originally published in COMPASS, the annual guide to social work and social care.