9. Build with Families & Neighbors

When we understand restorative justice as a “way of being” that centers relationships and healing, we see its potential to enrich all parts of our lives. Youth, parents, and staff told us that one of the major aims of using restorative justice in schools is for youth to engage restoratively in all contexts: family, friendship, career, and community. Nori explained the thrilling feeling of having students tell her, “‘I called the circle at home today, like my parents are stressing me out or my brother.’ And it’s just like, wow, these skills are… being used outside of our community too, which is eventually the goal, right?” After all, the roots of restorative justice are in Indigenous community and kinship practices that persisted in spite of the U.S. education system, not because of it.


Including students’ families in restorative processes can have cascading effects, strengthening the depth and reach of restorative justice within schools and beyond. Many of the same lessons about Making Rituals & Relationships apply to families, as community-building circles create opportunities to introduce circle practices, build trust between staff and family, strengthen relationships between parents and their children, and give parents an opportunity to engage in storytelling themselves. We heard about other key ways that school staff build trust with caretakers and involve them in their children’s education, keeping in contact outside of school hours with frequent text communication with student advisors, weekly emails about what’s happening in school, and an intergenerational reading group about race and racism, open to staff, students, and parents.

This relationship building lays the groundwork for harder conversations down the line. Staff described how restorative responses to conflict are strengthened by including family members (with student consent), as they can provide additional support and offer different perspectives on the root causes of harm and paths to healing. Goldie spoke about the powerful experience of watching her child grow before her eyes during a restorative response to a conflict her daughter had with a teacher. And importantly, when students and parents engage in restorative practices together in school settings, they do so in existing familial relationships, building tools for strengthening relationships and handling conflict at home.

Yet, there are many challenges to parent participation in schools, from highly practical issues like family work schedules and language barriers, to deeply personal challenges, such as the trying experience of being a BIPoC parent navigating institutional and interpersonal racism in the school system. With restorative justice specifically, lack of information was seen as a major barrier. Two parents described themselves as deeply engaged in their children’s schools that used restorative justice, but still felt that their schools had not described the steps of restorative justice in detail, limiting their capacity to meaningfully engage. These participants expressed a strong desire for parents to have greater access to training on both anti-racism and the philosophy and practice of restorative justice, growing their capacity to participate in specific instances of conflict, and advocate more broadly for their children to have access to rich, restorative justice and healing-centered school cultures.

Finally, family engagement is only one starting point for thinking about the many ways that restorative practices are carried outside of school buildings, and into other community spaces. Morgan shared one vision of what this can look like, describing a restorative justice response to address the harm a local business owner experienced as the result of actions by a student–avoiding the young person being arrested and ultimately forming stronger bonds between this business owner and the school community.

Listen to Community Voices

Hear from students, parents, and educators about why it’s so important to connect with students’ families and the school’s surrounding community, as we build restorative school cultures.

Work through Contradictions

Vent Diagrams help us reflect on the challenges, complexities, and contradictions of doing this work, and figure out how we can keep moving forward. Here is one of the big tensions we heard from participants about building with families & neighbors within school communities.

left half of vent diagram, which is a venn diagram with nothing in the center, showing the tension between the two texts right half of vent diagram

Families & neighbors are a part of school communities

School life & schedules are designed for students and staff

Talk with Your Community

What does this look like for you and the people in your life? Use the prompts below to explore ideas with others in your school and communities about building with families and neighbors, laying the groundwork for community understanding and making change. (Check out the Community Conversations Toolkit for downloadable guides for facilitating discussions about this project.)

Make It Happen

The young people, educators, and parents we spoke with shared incredible examples of how their schools are already building with families and neighbors, as well as visions of the world we must keep fighting for…. This is what restorative justice looks like, when it’s On Our Terms.

Build School Practice.

Here are specific ideas about how school communities can build with families and neighbors.

  • Integrate parents and family members into community building and response-to-harm circles, including time outside of the school day that is accessible to parents. Making this possible requires taking into account family members’ work schedules, the availability of translation services, and the impact of community members coming into contact with and navigating interactions with school safety agents and metal detectors, and the nature of specific students’ relationships with their family members.
  • Integrate restorative practices like community circles within non-disciplinary contexts such as PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences or parent-teacher reading groups, providing opportunities for parents to engage in storytelling and reflection on behalf of their own lived experiences.
  • Offer restorative justice and circle training to parents, and provide opportunities for parents to facilitate circles within the school community, with young people, staff, and other parents as co-facilitators.
  • Co-create resources with students, families, and community leaders documenting community spaces, people and resources within them, and how to access them
  • Incorporate conversations into community building and response to harm circles that involve reflection on relationships outside of the school and how the growth and learning that takes place in circle applies in the community at large

Morgan L (she/her): Each advisor was ‘responsible’ for 12 students so that made the parent-to-staff member ratio really small…. Parents felt like they could connect or reach out to someone right away if there was any big news updates… because you’re building a relationship with that particular family…. As an advisor, I was constantly communicating with the family about what was going on, the good and the bad things… That parent or family felt comfortable reaching out to me, following up with me… So I think that really allowed me to dive deeper with my parents and our school to dive deeper with parent relationships because we were building trust through being consistent with them.

Demand Policy Change.

Here are some key policies needed to better support our schools in building with students’ families and the surrounding community.

  • Provide and fund introductory workshops about restorative justice available to all NYC parents via borough-wide or city-wide workshops at least twice a year, promoted through children’s schools and community networks.
  • Provide and fund restorative justice training for parent leaders in school communities and in citywide positions, including intergenerational training experiences with students and staff.
  • Create citywide resource guides of neighborhood-based support services for youth and families that are not attached to systems of policing, surveillance, or family separation, to be used in support of response to harm circles.