In October 2017, Kids First launched a Youth Peace Project (YPP) that it is piloting in selected middle schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. YPP uses restorative practices to resolve conflict that arises between students or between students and teachers.

The Need

In recent years, the Cedar Rapids community has seen a surge in violence among youth, with sometimes lethal results. Conflicts that occur in school have spilled over and led to greater violence in the community-at-large. Further, these in-school conflicts have led to disciplinary referrals, suspensions and expulsions. When students are suspended, the underlying conflict often remains and resurfaces when they return to school. And expelled or suspended students are at-risk to drop out of school, engage in violence, and commit crimes (in what is termed the school-to-prison pipeline). For example, a Texas study showed that a suspended student was 2.85 times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system.

The Solution: Restorative Justice

Restorative justice focuses on restoring relationships when harm has occurred. All interested parties are invited to a dialogue together in conferences or circles. Each person tells their own story—what happened and how that has affected them. These narratives can lead to emotional responses, mutual understanding and empathy, and even healing. The participants then identify a resolution that addresses the harm and creates a path forward. This cooperative process increases people’s ability to see each other as persons, to respect each other, to identify with the experiences of the other, and to arrive at an agreement—which are the building blocks of reconciliation. YPP promotes civility by encouraging respectful interactions.

Why Kids First?

Kids First’s mission is to give children a voice in divorce, custody, and other conflicts. Kids engaged in conflict often come from split families where conflict-resolution has not been modeled well. At the center of Kids First’s work is a focus on conflict-resolution and changing patterns of behavior to create more positive relationships for kids.

Kids First excels in understanding situations from kids’ perspectives and in mediating disputes. The Kids First approach distinguishes itself by considering problems first form the child’s point of view. The Kids First team also has extensive training and more than a decade’s experience meeting with hostile parties and helping them find common ground. Combining these strengths positions Kids First singularly to offer restorative justice for kids in the school setting.

Program Design

Kids First’s attorney facilitator is piloting the project in select middle schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District with in-kind support from that school’s leadership and teaching staff. Kids First will offer restorative circles to build relationships with kids, foster community, and increase students’ social-emotional skills. When conflicts arise, those affected will be referred to Kids First’s facilitator. The facilitator will lead circles with affected parties, which may include students and teachers. This process will result in amicable agreements and reduced conflict. Restorative justice interrupts youth cycles of violence.

Funding

Year one of this pilot project requires $60,000. Kids First seeks investors who share the concern about youth violence and want to partner with Kids First to take preventative action. Like Kids First’s other programs, this project is innovative and follows best practices successfully implemented around the country. This project has the power to transform a school’s culture and can be replicated with broad application to benefit an entire community.