Community Issues

SFU grad helping students through restorative justice

Kim Riddell (centre). Photo by Greg Ehlers.
November 20, 2014
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By Amy Robertson

For students, problems in school can lead to much more devastating issues later in life.

After years working in Canada’s corrections system, Kim Riddell understands this better than most. Today, she is helping stop problems before they begin: The graduate of our online Restorative Justice Certificate has transitioned from volunteer to employee at the Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association (ARJAA), based near Vancouver, B.C.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for me,” she says. “I’ve seen what happens when we don’t help kids earlier."

Riddell is quick to note, though, that restorative justice isn’t just for troubled youth.

“I see this as so much more than addressing problems,” she says. “It really is a golden opportunity to help develop positive relational attributes in our kids. The middle school years are a great opportunity to help children develop communication and conflict resolution skills that they can take forward throughout their lives.”

Riddell is part of a team of trainers who work in local schools to provide restorative responses and interventions to various forms of conflict and wrongdoing. Recently, she sat in on a circle that addressed a bullying situation. Later on, the school principal indicated that the students involved had shown no further problems.

“The process was so powerful and emotional—watching children who seemed very stuck in their positions develop empathy for the individuals harmed and then offer what appeared to be heartfelt apologies to one another,” says Riddell. “Having the opportunity in a safe space to really hear how our actions and words can affect another can create a place for healing and resolution.”

Currently, Riddell is working through a series of circles of dialogue and engagement (called CODEs) with middle-school students. She and the youth discuss issues such as communication skills, values, empathy, emotions, conflict resolution and engagement. Members of the circle establish guidelines so that students can take ownership of the process.

“The kids get it,” she says. “Seeing the light click on is my favourite thing so far.”

Riddell has also loved seeing the community rally around students and families, speaking of one young boy in particular who struggles with anxiety.

“This could have been a child who could fall through the cracks very easily,” she says. ARJAA was able to help arrange counseling for the family and a mentor for the boy.

Riddell applies principles and tools she learned through the Restorative Justice Certificate regularly, including circle tools and much more.

“I look at everything differently since I went through that program,” she says. “It’s not just a process. Restorative justice is a lens. It’s a way of looking at our world.”