My journey to becoming a Restorative Justice Project Officer with Le Chéile
2nd August 2022

Simon Keating

Restorative Justice Project Officer, Le Chéile Mentoring

My journey to becoming a Restorative Justice Project Officer with Le Chéile began back in 2012. I was studying a programme in Applied Social Studies in Social Care as a mature student at Limerick Institute of Technology (now Technological University of the Shannon), and I was seeking relevant volunteering opportunities to build my experience in this area.

I contacted Alan Quinn, Le Cheile Mentoring Co-ordinator, who explained the role of a mentor working with a young person referred by the Probation Service. This sounded like a great role and, luckily, they had not yet ended their current recruitment process. I was successful after interview and was provided with excellent training from Le Chéile, and with further training from guest speakers. I really enjoyed the volunteering role and the service I provided for young people. Alan facilitated group supervisions for volunteers, which were always a valuable learning space.

Earlier this year (2022), I took up the post in Le Chéile Mentoring as Restorative Justice Project Officer, replacing Lorna Walsh who moved to become the co-ordinator for our volunteer mentor programme. I now facilitate a range of restorative interventions. The staff have been very friendly and welcoming and have helped make my transition into the new role as seamless as possible. Lorna has been of great assistance, passing on her extensive knowledge and training me into the role.

Le Chéile has also provided considerable and appropriate training for me. For example, I attended a restorative practices training course online with other trainees from around the world, facilitated by Janine Carroll. I also take part in our Restorative Justice Steering Group and in a Restorative Practice Advisory Group. It has been great to make connections with others from civil society and State services with a view to discussing and improving service provision in the future.

So, why am I passionate about restorative justice? When I look at prison systems around the world, it is clear to me that prisons rarely rehabilitate people. I believe there is a better way to deal with people that become involved in the criminal justice, and that is through restorative justice.

Erik Erikson’s fifth stage of psychosocial development (identity vs role confusion) has always resonated with me while working with young people. The lack of a positive role model in a young person’s life can lead them to a psychosocial moratorium, negatively affecting their future. Their placement in the moratorium can lead to young people following negative role models and misusing substances. The application of restorative practices from a positive role model can assist a person in achieving positive change in their life and exiting the psychosocial moratorium. The opportunity to be trauma informed also contributes to this, as it allows for a greater understanding of the young person’s past and current actions.

Le Chéile works with young people who are involved in the criminal justice system, referred by the Probation Service and by An Garda Síochána. The aim is to enable the young person and those affected by the offence to take part in a restorative programme. We seek to repair the harm caused, rebuild relationships and restore communities. An important element of Le Chéile’s work is that participation is voluntary. This contributes to more positive participation, as it is not forced upon any participant.

I am currently working with several young people (or ‘clients’) using our Victim Empathy Programme (VEP). The VEP involves several one-to-one meetings to assist young people to develop their empathy and their understanding of the impact of their actions, and to consider the ways in which they might put things right. The young people can then move onto additional restorative interventions, such as a Reparation Contract, which seeks to address the harm done to the victim through a piece of work. The piece of work they do can include, but is not limited to, making a piece of art, completing voluntary work in the community, or writing a ‘Statement of Regret’.

Le Chéile can also facilitate Victim Offender Mediation, where the victim and young person meet in a safe environment with a facilitator. It allows the victim to speak about how the offence affected them. The young person hears first-hand how their actions affect others. They are not required to meet face-to-face if either is uncomfortable doing so. Victim Impact Panels are where a volunteer mentor speaks about their own previous victimisation to a young person who committed a similar crime. Restorative Conferences are structured meetings that can involve a young person, facilitator and their family and members of the community. The conference allows the victim and other stakeholders to be directly involved in the process. It can educate the young person about the impact their behaviour had on the victim, on their family and on the community of the person who has offended.

Research is showing the positive impact that restorative justice can have on society, and I hope to see a continuation of its growth in the future. It can be an alternative to punitive disciplinary processes by offering another way for young people to be held accountable and take responsibility for their actions. It involves disapproval of negative behaviour, while still retaining an affirmation of the client’s worth. Even better, communities are provided with a voice in the process.

The power of restorative justice to instill positive change is what makes me passionate about my role and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work in this area.

You can read more about Le Chéile’s work on their service profile, website and 2020 annual report. You can also find their 2020-2023 strategic plan here.