Trauma-Informed Restorative Justice Practices in Schools: An Opportunity for School Social Workers

May 10, 2022

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Restorative justice (RJ) is both a philosophy and a set of practices meant to repair harm and maintain connection in the face of wrongdoing. While RJ is becoming increasingly popular among K–12 educators and in schools, emphasis is typically on its social justice applications, including its use as an alternative to zero-tolerance discipline policies and its role in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

However, RJ can also be understood as a trauma-informed mental health intervention allowing perpetrators, who have frequently been victims of past trauma, to regain a sense of voice and control, and to maintain social connection within their community. Social workers in school settings are in a prime position to explore and advocate for its increased use with vulnerable youth populations.

Through review of relevant literature and use of a composite case example, an article in the a recent issue of the journal Children & Schools:

  • outlines the harmful impacts of punitive and exclusionary discipline;
  • describes the potential benefit of schools utilizing RJ as a mental health intervention; and
  • recommends further research to understand RJ’s effect on self-efficacy, self-regulation, and healthy attachment.

School social workers are in an ideal position to advocate for the use of RJ, particularly for those students who have mental health challenges, and to help implement restorative practices in schools. Although existing research is limited, there is potential for RJ to prevent further negative mental health outcomes for students who may already have experienced trauma and/or have documented emotional or learning disabilities.

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Article author:

  • Dayna Sedillo-Hamann, LMSW, adjunct lecturer, Silver School of Social Work, New York University

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The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & Schools, Health & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. You can find out more about the journals and subscriptions at this link.

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