The Restorative Approach

About This Program

Target Population: Youth-serving professionals working with groups of youth exposed to trauma in the mental health, juvenile justice, and education fields

For organizations that serve children ages: 5 – 18

Program Overview

The Restorative Approach™ is a trauma-informed alternative to traditional “point and level” systems for child congregate care. Based on brain science, attachment theory, and restorative justice, it answers the question, “Now that I understand how trauma affects children, what should I do on Monday?” The Restorative Approach translates knowledge about trauma, the brain, and healing into suggestions for all program treatment providers within an organization. It includes a system for responding when children hurt others, using restorative tasks to teach children skills and to make amends. It includes taking care of the staff that do this difficult work.

The Restorative Approach includes strategies for:

  • Using the relationship to build hope
  • Interacting in an attuned manner
  • Using modern brain science to direct the milieu and individual interactions
  • Using and understanding the adaptive role of behavior to create change
  • Designing unit structure and programming to promote healing relationships
  • Individually responding to problem behaviors based on this understanding
  • Applying principles of restorative justice to treatment settings

Program Goals

The goals of The Restorative Approach are:

  • Agencies will utilize a trauma-informed lens when reacting to problem behaviors.
  • Staff will understand the basics of modern brain science which will guide their interactions and help them to not take the child's behavior personally.
  • Before reacting to a behavior, agency staff will ask why is the child doing this, what problem are they solving, how is this adaptive for the child?
  • In a crisis staff will be flexible, patient, and collaborative, and will focus on helping the child to calm down.
  • Responses to problem behaviors will be flexible, collaborative, and based on building skills and restoring relationships.
  • Staff will be given time off the floor for supervision and team meetings.
  • Attention to vicarious traumatization will be embedded in the agency and staff will have ample opportunity to examine and discuss the way that the work is affecting them.
  • Staff will demonstrate self-awareness of their own reactions to various children and families.
  • Administration will pay attention to staff development and personal transformation.

Logic Model

The program representative did not provide information about a Logic Model for The Restorative Approach.

Essential Components

The essential components of The Restorative Approach include:

  • The Restorative Approach is often implemented as part of a whole system change such as Risking Connection
  • Providers will train all staff in understanding trauma, how it affects current behavior, how children can heal, and how to take care of one’s’ self and each other in order to remain hopeful while doing this difficult work, using a curriculum such as Risking Connection.
  • The Administration must commit to utilizing a relationship-based model; eliminating points, levels, and time-based punishments; and allocating sufficient resources to implement this.
  • All staff must attend a training in The Restorative Approach which examines their theory of change and provides specific strategies for implementing a relationship-based approach.
  • Agency structure, hiring, staff schedules, programming, and expectations must support the development of healing relationships.
  • When the child hurts others, the response will include skill building and making amends, and will teach hope and that relationships can be mended.
  • Responses to children and families will be individualized based on their characteristics and needs.
  • Clients will be actively taught skills.
  • Treatment planning will reflect the central role of trauma in the child and family’s life and will specify methods to develop skills.
  • Supervision will be provided to all workers.
  • Attention to the vicarious traumatization of staff will be embedded into many aspects of the programs, with opportunities to share on an ongoing basis how the work is affecting the staff (not just when there is a crisis).
  • Attention will be paid to developing positive transformation of workers.
  • The parents of children in the milieu receive an explanation of The Restorative Approach and are taught how to implement it in their homes. Parents and other supportive people receive psychoeducation about trauma, how it relates to present behavior, and how children can heal. This often gives them an understanding of their own past trauma as well as helps them to understand their child.

Program Delivery

Recommended Intensity:

This program is not a specific treatment protocol. Instead, it is a method used in a milieu-based treatment setting to assure that all aspects of the program and all staff provide the most powerful and effective healing. This is accomplished through therapeutic relationships and through applying the teachings of brain science, attachment theory, and restorative justice to the day-to-day interactions with the clients.

Recommended Duration:

Permanently in place once implemented. It usually takes a program 1-2 years to transform themselves into a trauma-informed agency. Becoming a trauma-informed agency requires attention to the SAMSHA Trauma-Informed Care principles and domains. It usually involves a whole system change process.

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Hospital
  • Group or Residential Care
  • Justice Setting (Juvenile Detention, Jail, Prison, Courtroom, etc.)
  • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)


This program does not include a homework component.

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

The agency needs sufficient staff to offer supervision and support to all and to allow for some meeting and thinking time away from clients. They need a commitment to trauma-informed care from the administration.

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Staffing includes persons with Master’s Degrees in mental health; provider who is committed to trauma-informed care.

Manual Information

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training Type/Location:

Training is often provided on site for agencies; open training is held in the community at regular intervals. The training is conducted in groups up to 50.

Number of days/hours:

1 day for 8 hours; the program also offers a second training day which includes implementation strategies, techniques for administration and clinicians, hiring and personnel management, and more emphasis on agency methods for lessening of vicarious traumatization.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Currently, there are no published, peer-reviewed research studies for The Restorative Approach.

Additional References

Child Welfare League of America. (May/June 2008). A Restorative Approach to residential treatment. Children’s Voice

Wilcox, P. D. (2012). Trauma informed treatment: The Restorative Approach. Available from NEARI Press at

Contact Information

Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW
Agency/Affiliation: Klingberg Family Centers
Phone: (860) 832-5507
Fax: (860) 832-8221

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: December 2015

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: December 2018

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: October 2012