|This research traces the development and trial of the Youth Development Circle (YDC) process in a low decile secondary school in a rural community in Aotearoa New Zealand. Youth Development Circles are an intervention based on restorative justice principles initially proposed by Braithwaite (2004). They were originally suggested as a strategy for use in an alternative education centre or “activity centre”. Increasing use of restorative approaches has enabled many schools to make significant progress in reducing suspensions, but there remains a concern for students whose behaviour is at the more serious end of the spectrum - who are at risk of suspension, or exclusion, after multiple stand-downs from school. The possibilities for the use of YDC were proposed to the school by the researcher, who is a Deputy Principal responsible for behaviour management and pastoral care. This proposal was supported fully by the school’s staff and Board of Trustees. The YDC process documented in this study was developed by the researcher, informed by a range of sources including Youth Development Circles, Judge McElrea’s proposed School Community Conference (1996), and Hui Whakatika, developed at the University of Waikato (2003). Participation in the circles was a condition for the student to remain at the school. The school is a state school, with a roll of approximately 800. The ethnic breakdown of the students is 56% Māori and 39% NZ European with 5% of Pasifika, Asian and other.
The YDC is a deliberate and careful process which aims to bring increased focus on the individual student and their educational outcomes, through engaging a community of care in supporting them. There were many anticipated benefits of the YDC for the student. Such benefits included an opportunity to establish and maintain healthy relationships of trust (within which negative experiences can be learned from), a re-establishment of trust, improved self-confidence and improved educational outcomes. The circles included members of the student’s whānau/family, a kaumātua/elder who cared about them, and representatives from local Police, Social Welfare, and the school. The circles were studied over a period of one year. Circles met regularly throughout this time, at increasing intervals.
A mixed method case study approach was used for this research which includes the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. The study evaluated the effectiveness of the YDCs by analysing student behaviour, attendance and achievement KAMAR data, minutes of each circle meeting, and interviews with circle participants.
Three student case studies are presented. The stories have had details altered and pseudonyms used to protect the persons involved. All the students completed the academic year without receiving a further stand down or suspension. The data showed an improvement in student attendance, achievement and engagement in all three case studies. Other outcomes include reflections on the process used, strategies for implementation in the school, and factors that either hindered or supported student, family or community involvement in YDCs.
This exploratory study suggests that the Youth Development Circle could offer a unique possibility for inter-sectorial collaboration in the field of restorative justice.