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Raising Resilient Communities Through Restorative Practices

A resilient community prioritizes prevention.

Key points

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences are the the gateway to dysfunctional behavior.
  • Preventive programs that focus on reducing Adverse Child Experiences are the most effective form of treatment.
  • A resilient community is one that focuses on the prevention of harm and creates opportunities for those to repair the harm they have caused.

Since COVID, the word “resilience'' has been the zeitgeist to describe these trying times. Most have used the word in terms of individual resiliency. Research has demonstrated that there are individual qualities such as optimism and mental agility that make one more apt at demonstrating resilience. In my previous blog post, I have written about how resiliency is a philosophy in which you embrace difficulties by seeing them as opportunities for growth.

How do you judge a community’s resilience? According to Mahatma Gandhi, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

Russian author and professor, Fyodor Dostoevsky, wrote, “A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals.”

Both Gandhi and Dostoevsky were talking about the same population but at different points in time. The more resilient the vulnerable are, the less likely they are to engage in criminal behavior. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as exposure to or witnessing abuse and neglect, have been linked to an increase in the likelihood of future criminal behavior, chronic health problems, and failure to reach one’s true potential.

ACEs have been associated with reduced psychological resilience. Therefore, a resilient community is best measured by how it focuses on the prevention of ACEs. According to the CDC, programs such as preschool enrichment, mentoring programs, and social and emotional learning make a child more resilient by decreasing the ACEs and/or providing the youth with healthy coping mechanisms.

Community Psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner,1 helped establish the Federal Head Start Program, one of the most evidence-based prevention strategies. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory proposed that human development is influenced by the interplay of a set of systems, involving cultural, social, economic, and political elements, not merely psychological ones. How these systems interact can nurture or prevent resiliency.

Policies that promote autonomy, competence, and relatedness are the most likely to be successful in motivating individuals to reach their optimal level of functioning, according to Self-Determination Theory (SDT). Restorative justice recognizes these needs. Restorative justice has biblical and tribal roots. It is much older than our current criminal justice. Restorative justice recognizes that crime is a wound and justice should be about holding the offender accountable for repairing the harm. The needs of the victim and the safety of the community are paramount. It is important to note that restorative justice should not be limited to the criminal justice system but the philosophy should run deep in the veins of school discipline and how we manage our own personal conflicts.

Within the philosophy of restorative justice, there are many different practices. It might not be appropriate in all cases and should not be assumed to be in lieu of incarceration. Restorative justice is often misconstrued as being soft on crime. I would argue that many of the incarcerated would rather hide in jail for eternity than have to face all those within the community they have harmed. A restorative practice is a tool within the criminal justice system that should not be forgotten. Ninety-nine percent of those incarcerated are going to re-enter society. A restorative approach creates an opportunity to hold the person individually accountable and develop the individual's competency and connectedness to the community.

Victim-Offender dialogue is an example of a restorative practice. Others include community re-entry circles, peacemaking circles, and victim impact panels. By participating in a victim-offender dialogue, the wrongdoer is held accountable. He develops competency by gaining a better understanding of the effect his actions had on the community. The victim also benefits by participating in such a dialogue. Research has demonstrated that victims are more satisfied when they participate in a restorative practice as opposed to the traditional criminal justice system.

Restorative justice also creates space for the victim to heal from the trauma they endured and the opportunity to find forgiveness if they choose. This type of healing can best treat the vulnerable and prevent the cycle of violence. A resilient community is one that focuses on the prevention of harm and creates opportunities for those to repair the harm they have caused.


Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Ecological systems theory (1992). In U. Bronfenbrenner (Ed.), Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development (pp. 106–173). Sage Publications Ltd.

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