Introducing restorative approaches in children’s homes in order to reduce criminal convictions young people in local authority care.

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Vulnerable (Looked After) Children
  • Youth
  • General resources

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Children and Young People’s Services’ Looked after Children team and the Leicestershire Youth Offending Service (YOS).

Local authority/local area:


The context and rationale

Restorative Approaches was introduced to eight pilot homes across Leicestershire from 2007-2010. A Restorative Project Officer (RPO) was appointed to train and support staff in restorative models. The overall aim of the pilot was to reduce and minimise criminalisation of looked after children who enter residential settings because it had been observed that looked after young people were over-represented in the criminal justice system compared to the wider young offender population. Restorative work with young people more generally in youth justice, schools and a few residential settings, had achieved many successes. Leicestershire YOS (also endorsed by other agencies) secured funds from the Treasury to implement restorative techniques and models to assist residential staff in their practice and care of young residents.

The Restorative Approaches pilot began in October 2007 with the appointment of the Restorative Project Officer (RPO from here) to act as a champion for the approach, to train staff in all children’s homes in Leicestershire (3 local authority and 5 contracted homes from 2 private providers) in restorative approaches (RA from here), and to develop inter-agency protocols. The project has a major part in the target of reducing the offending of children in care from 13.8 per cent to 8 per cent. 

The overall aims of the project are:

• reduction in offending by young people resident in homes
• reduction in first time entrants to the youth justice system
• reduction in call outs of police by children’s home staff
• improved life chances and better opportunities for young people in children’s homes
• to address the factors behind challenging behaviour
• to improve approaches to challenging behaviour

The impetus and drive to introduce RA across Leicestershire residential homes for looked-after children came at a time of acute concerns about the over-representation of these children in the criminal justice system. The YOS and Children and Young People’s Services (CYPS) in Leicestershire noted that looked after children were entering the criminal justice system at higher rates than the general population. In addition, the rate at which looked after children were moving through the sentencing options at court was a concern, with some young people receiving custodial sentences relatively early. Findings from research and policy frameworks identified that prevention and harm minimisation was necessary (Knight, V. et al 2011). 

The practice

A steering group was established with the aim of exploring the issues relating to children in care and their over-representation in the criminal justice system. The steering group comprises representation from the Social Care Placements team, police, and Youth Service, YOS and Connexions and a data analyst. The steering group made a bid to the Treasury Department’s Invest to Save budget, with contributions in kind being made by the Police, YOS and CYPS. The project was successful in its bid and a Restorative Worker was recruited.

The Restorative Worker set up a training package which was written especially for the staff in a children’s home, recognising and accommodating other training they had experienced and the particular issues facing staff in the homes. This was a comprehensive three-day training programme, exploring communication skills and restorative principles and practice, including experiential learning. This was followed up with regular meetings with staff at the homes with ongoing practical support in introducing restorative conversations and meetings.

At the same time, work started with the police on their call out policy. This clearly laid out which offences the staff at the home could manage and which would be reported to the police. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) were also included in these discussions and so they had an understanding of restorative approaches and could refer things back to the home to manage restoratively if that was appropriate.

The project was launched with a formal event, which was attended by all relevant parties, including Magistrates and young people.

Those involved: 

Staff at the homes
Social Workers

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

The project has been independently evaluated by DeMontfort University, and the full evaluation is available upon request to the C4EO team at the NFER.

Evidence collected so far from this evaluation: Evidence so far is positive with a reduction in assaults on police and in criminal damage offences. 

Data has been provided and analysed for 82 young people who have been resident in Leicestershire children’s homes between 1st October 2007 and 30th September 2010.

Key results and data are as follows:

• The number of young people offending during each of the years has reduced: 32 (Year 1) to 16 (Year 3). 
• The number of young people not offending during the years has increased: 8 (Year 1) to 23 (Year 3).
• The number of offences recorded has seen a substantial reduction: 147 offences (Year 1) to 50 offences (Year 3).
• Of the 21 young people who entered pilot homes during the project without a criminal history, six became first time entrants (two in each year of the project) in Leicestershire homes during the restorative project, and 15 (71%) remained crime free during their residence.
• 82 young people have been resident in the Leicestershire homes at some point during the RA pilot. Their stays ranged from a few weeks to several years.
• Most of the young people have a criminal record (82%), and most of these were guilty of one or more offences committed outside of the time and place of the restorative project. Just 18% (15 young people) have not offended at all.
• Over half (54%) of the offenders committed their first offence before they were ‘looked after’, and 46% committed their first offence whilst they were ‘looked after’.
• The number of first time entrants within the pilot project is very small, and has been constant across the life of the project at two young people each year.
• Most (70%) of the young people who have offended continued to offend during the life of the project, and 30% desisted.
• Of the repeat offenders, the largest proportion comes from those offending before the start of the pilot (70%). There are fewer repeat offenders (30%) from those who started their offending during the pilot.
• Year on year the total amount of offences recorded for the young people resident in the project homes has reduced substantially, from 147 in Year 1 to 50 in Year 3 .
• The number of young residents offending during each year has halved during the life of the pilot, both actually, from 32 during Year 1 to 16 during Year 3, and proportionately, from 80% of residents in Year 1 to 41% of residents during Year 3. The number and proportion of residents who did not offend during a year has correspondingly increased.
• The proportion of offences that were committed inside the home has remained much the same, though the actual number of such events has reduced substantially from 42 to 17. All types of crime reduced. The same is true of offences committed outside the homes.
• Stability of placement history is positively correlated with offending. Those who have greater numbers of placements are more likely to offend and to continue offending.

There is some indication that RA may be particularly successful in supporting desistance with those young people who start offending whilst in the care system.

Organisational and/or cultural change: Feedback from the staff at the homes indicates that the staff have valued the training and would now describe themselves as working to a restorative approach in the homes. This has been sustained with the continuation of support meetings and embedding the practice in the homes, with it being a standard item on team and management agendas.

Benefits: The most significant benefit to date has been the significant reduction in the offending of children in care, by as much as 50 per cent for some offences. Other benefits have included increased staff confidence, a decrease in repairs to the homes and positive working relationships between the YOS and staff in the homes.

Sustaining and replicating your practice

Barriers/challenges: Having established the steering group prior to the project being launched, a number of potential barriers were overcome beforehand. It was crucial that the police understood the principles of the project. Coincidentally, the police were also introducing a youth restorative disposal at the same time and, therefore, there was a readiness to respond in a restorative manner by both organisations.

It was recognised from the outset that the staff would need a particular training programme which uniquely recognised the issues and stresses involved in residential work and so the Restorative Worker spent some time in each home before delivering the training to develop a full and thorough understanding of the home. 

Cost: The cost of the project for the duration of the three years was £180,000. Funding has been found from alternative funds to continue the project on a reduced scale for the following two years. This money has come from a reduced YOS caseload, savings on repairs, and other funds 

Potential savings: There are savings associated with this project but it is difficult to establish the exact amount, given that it is savings against a predicted potential cost. A document outlining in detail the potential savings to the project is available from the C4EO team at the NFER.

Learning from experience: Lessons that have been learnt from this project include the importance of a multi-agency steering group with key members from relevant sectors represented. It was also important that the Restorative Worker invested time in building relationships with the staff at the homes to fully understand the issues that they faced, rather than being seen as an outside ‘expert’.

This project has now been mainstreamed into YOS practice.


Knight, V., Hine, J., Patel, K. and Wilson, K. 2011. Evaluation of the Restorative Approaches Project in Children’s Residential Homes across Leicestershire: Final Report 2011. De Montfort University. (This report is available from theC4EO team at the NFER upon request).

The links in this example to C4EO’s golden threads are:

• Promoting resilience
• Culture not structure
• Unite to succeed
• Shape up and keep fit

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