Learning about conflict work: Implementing restorative approaches to conflict in ECEC institutions (preschools) in Southern Norway
Ingrid Kristine Hasund
Senior researcher, Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ABUP), Sørlandet Hospital Health Enterprise, Kristiansand, Norway
The research and development project Mot i brystet ("Brave at Heart"), henceforth MiB, is an ongoing project about restorative approaches to conflict in ECEC institutions (preschools) in Southern Norway. The project aims to 1) implement the principles of Restorative Justice in conflict work with children from an early age, and 2) investigate which sociocultural factors contribute to promoting or impeding the implementation. In contrast to Criminal Justice, Restorative Justice (henceforth RJ) aims to bring people in conflict into communication with each other, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward (cf Restorative Justice Council homepage). The Norwegian Government is now increasingly pursuing RJ in crime prevention work among adolescents because it is shown to be both low-cost and effective (cf The Norwegian National Crime Prevention Council (KRÅD) homepage). The development towards an increased use of RJ in crime prevention work is supported by research both nationally and internationally (eg Eide & Giertsen 2009, Foss & Hydle 2006, Hasund & Hydle 2007, Sherman & Strang 2007).
MiB springs from the research project “Konfliktregimer” ("Conflict regimes", financed by the Research Council’s Program for culture research (KULFO) 2003-2006), which was a linguistic-anthropological study of Restorative Justice and mediation in violence cases among adults (Hasund & Hydle 2007). The study showed that the cases mediated all achieved the intended effect of restoring the harm done, reducing anxiety and empowering both parties and communities. However, very few cases were actually mediated, primarily due to a widespread scepticism towards RJ. The study further showed that RJ faces the same challenges in Norway as in other countries: it is generally regarded as colliding with mainstream cultural values and is marginal compared to its ‘big brother’ Criminal Justice. On the basis of these findings, a central hypothesis in MiB is that it is crucial to start with restorative approaches from a very early age, not just as a specific early intervention measure for crime prevention, but in order to build a culture for restorative approaches to conflict more generally.
MiB was established in Kristiansand municipality 2010-2011 as a collaboration between the Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health at Sørlandet Hospital, Praxis Sør at The University of Agder, the Childhood Administration in Kristiansand municipality, a group of artists and eight ECEC institutions in Kristiansand (Hasund 2010). During one year, members of the staff were trained to implement restorative practices with children, parents and teachers/assistants, through a systematic use of dialogue circles. Dialogue circles - a common RJ tool - are used to deal with problems and conflicts in a group, and to seek common solutions. A circle is led by a facilitator (here the teacher), who makes sure everyone is given the opportunity to talk, to be seen and heard by the others. In addition to using circles to deal with conflict (‘conflict circles’), the teachers were also trained to use circles regularly in non-conflict situations (‘routine circles’) in order to practice this particular form of communication.
Preliminary results show that most children easily appropriate restorative approaches to conflict when they practice from an early age (starting with the 1- and 2-year-olds), practicing both in the routine circles as well as in actual conflict situations. In addition to preparing the children for conflict circle work, the routine circles have an additional effect of creating stronger networks, contributing to increased safety, openness, empowerment and language skills. The main obstacle to the implementation is – not surprisingly - the resistance, unwillingness and fear and found among the adults (both teachers/assistants and parents). The key to success seems to be a combined bottom-up and top-down approach: Bottom-up by inspiring and allowing brave and confident ECEC teachers to facilitate the circles, and to provide them with continuous and firm support; top-down by anchoring the work among the heads of the ECEC institutions, as well as in ECEC teacher education. In addition, working with circles among the staff and parents also (in addition to the children) contributes to a better result. More research is needed to explore the mechanisms that impede the implementation of RJ in the ECEC institutions, and to continually develop new methods of implementation in this particular type of community.
Research on the measure is carried out in two separate parts:
1) External evaluation by a group of sociologists from Agder Research, who have not been involved in the work in the kindergartens (to be completed Nov 2011).
Data and participants: Interviews with the project leader, kindergarten teachers, and focus groups with parents (collected summer/autumn 2011)
Aim: To evaluate the perceived usefulness of the measure for those who participate and to identify which factors that contribute to promoting or restraining the implementation of circles (to be completed November 2011).
Method: Semi-structured individual interviews and focus groups
2) Internal evaluation by the project leader, responsible for developing and implementing the circle measure in the kindergartens. (to be completed spring 2012)
Data and participants: a) field notes from the work in the kindergartens, b) audio recordings and transcriptions of semi-structured interviews with the kindergarten teachers. (data collected 2010-2011)
Aim: To investigate what the teachers' reflections about circles tell about the mechanisms of the posited culture of secrecy, and about the possibilities for changing it.
Method: Qualitative, discourse analytical study of transcripts of interviews, using critical discourse analysis.
Eide, A.K & Gjertsen, H. (2009) Med! Eller? Virkninger av, og utfordringer ved, gjenopprettende rett som alternativ eller supplement til straff. NF-rapport nr. 14. Bodø: Nordlandsforskning.
Foss, Espen M. & Ida Hydle. 2006. ”Young people in liminal situations: between criminal and psychiatric justices. Social capital, verbal and visual skills”. I: M. Rantalaiho & K. H. Teige (red.): Social capital among young citizens: report on knowledge and prospective research. Trondheim: NTNU, s. 183.
Hasund, I.K. (2010) Mot i brystet! Prosjektrapport 2010. Kristiansand: Avdeling for barn og unges psykiske helse, Sørlandet sykehus HF. Available online (project blog) www.motibrystet.blogspot.com
Hasund, I.K. (Forthcoming) Implementing restorative approaches to conflict in ECEC institutions in Southern Norway.
Hasund, I.K. & Hydle, I. (2007) Ansikt til ansikt. Konfliktrådsmegling mellom gjerningsperson og offer i voldssaker. Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk Forlag.
Sherman, L & Strang, H. (2007) Restorative Justice: The Evidence. London: The Smith Institute.
Restorative Justice Council homepage. http://www.restorativejustice.org.uk/what_is_restorative_justice/
The Norwegian National Crime Prevention Council (KRÅD) homepage http://www.krad.no/forebygging/barnogungdom/konfliktlosning.