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Face to Face
Mária Herczog

Posted 2007-11-07

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Paper from "Improving Citizenship & Restoring Community," the 10th International Institute for Restorative Practices World Conference, November 7-9, 2007, Budapest, Hungary.

Mária Herczog

I have been working in the field of child welfare and protection as a researcher, university lecturer, and president of a nonprofit organization, and I became well known in the mass media as someone who speaks her mind. Public care, the prevention of children getting into it and helping them out, the alternative forms of family-based care, were highlights of my interest, while the roles, opportunities for families, the reasons and ways of handling crisis also interested me. With the help of Rob van Pagée and Eileen Pasztor, the foster parent programme named FIKSZ (originally PRIDE) got to Hungary and is still in practice. There was a yawning gap between its approach and the Hungarian professional and cultural context, because it was not based on analysing the parents’, the children’s, and the foster parents’ faults and bad behaviour and then giving them discipline and grief, but instead it is based on supporting the needs of the children and the surrounding adults. There was an introductory training with a lot of elements of those techniques that focus on problems and life stages, developing communication abilities, working with feelings, and not being judgemental. It is no coincidence that after Rob von Pagée encountered Ted Wachtel and the Real Justice method, some years later in 1998, he assisted me in learning restorative practices. In 1994 in New Zealand I encountered the technique of family group conference that deeply impressed me. I invited a New Zealand colleague to Hungary who presented this method to the professionals in child protection but I sensed a kind of resistance. Obviously the situation here was not ready for it then. Many years later, in 2006, I found a better opportunity to introduce this technique again, and it seemed to find its way.

I was very glad to participate in the Real Justice training in Burlington, Vermont, USA, with the support of Rob and Ted, and after that to take part in the restorative conference facilitator training, which was very impressive and furnished me with a special insight and knowledge. I also learned the leading names: Ted Wachtel, Susan Wachtel, Paul McCold, Beth Rodman, Terry O’Connell, and lots of other representatives of this method and view. I gained a new enthusiasm and I started to promote its adoption among Hungarian colleagues. It could provide fantastic opportunities for another kind of approach to particularly insoluble problems. I also assumed that passing the new 1997 Childcare Act would favour the practical realization of the new opportunity.

Ted and Susan warmly welcomed the idea and came to Budapest very soon to arrange the first orientation and training. We invited all those people who we thought might be interested, and we were going to persuade them of the usefulness of this matter. The professionals in child welfare and protection, teachers, educators, patrons, policemen, leaders, colleagues from the remedial boarding schools, workers at the child and youthcare department of the ministry and country methodology institutions, university lecturers, and researchers all got invitations, so quite a nice crowd of people came together in 1999 in the National Family and Childcare Institute. In that year a book was published about family mediation, written by me and Zsuzsa Lovas.That was the first professional book on this issue. By this time we had sensed a growing but cautious interest in alternative conflict methods, and trainings were run by several organizations. We were also mediating, and even our association’s Legal Service was renamed Mediation and Legal Aid.

During Ted and Susan’s visit to Budapest, several plans came up. Soon Paul McCold and Beth Rodman carried out a successful training for the professionals in Budapest. Naturally, the question of the possible form of the Hungarian adaptation was raised, and Ted had the idea of setting up a new civil organization; however, I would have been glad if our six-year association could have brought it into effect as an independent branch of the Family, Child and Youth organization. To support the Hungarian implementation, besides Ted’s mentoring, it seemed to be advisable to train some Hungarian specialists in the schools using the method, who then as trainers and practical specialists could fully spread this method. Consequently, I chose jurist Éva Gyorfi and psychologist Vidia Negrea, who were invited to Community Service Foundation in Pennsylvania for a year. Éva had to return in some months for a family-related reason.

After a year Vidia established the Hungarian organization with Ted and his colleagues, which has been operating since that time. They will give you details about their work. But before they left Hungary I had had the opportunity to visit Pennsylvania, where Ted showed me around the schools, and we participated in another conference, in Toronto. This time we realized the necessity of having a reference book to teach the method, which introduces the Real Justice method and all that must be taught for those willing to use this restorative technique. With the help of the Community Service Foundation and Ted’s financial support, a book titled Reconciliation and Restoration was published. It mainly aimed to introduce the background history, main point and usage of restorative justice for professionals and university students. Gáspár Károly, as a leader of the child and youthcare department of the ministry, played an important part in supporting the programme; however, unfortunately he tragically passed away last year.

In the Family, Child and Youth Association, we established the adaptation of the Hungarian method according to our own perception. We named it in a more Hungarian way, ‘Face to Face’, because the Real Justice name seemed to be too provocative, We also felt we had to adopt a version that we can regard as our own and implement it on the basis of our own experience. The first pilot programme was launched together with Zöld Kakas Liceum (Green Cock Lyceum), where József Braun and Mari Kerényi, principals, encouraged the staff to use this method with high school dropouts, excluded or private students. Despite the hardships and hesitations in its infancy, the programme proved to be viable, and we are pleased that it is still working today. From this experience, numerous publications appeared from Petra Földes, a colleague teaching there, and Bori Fellegi, a university graduate preparing her Ph.D. on this topic.

We had plenty of attempts to apply it in children’s homes and schools. There was an exciting case — and at the same time a shameful failure, but not for us — of young people knocking over a cross, which was a subject of Bori Fellegi’s thesis and her study. It could have been a classic case of ‘restoration’. One night five secondary school students brought down the Regnum Mariánum wooden cross in a city park. The boys were in their last year in a highly-respected grammar school. The story had strong political overtones, but unfortunately nobody noted the great significance of the restorative technique. Therefore the case went to court and achieved an unintelligible end after the appeal of the prosecutor who could not agree with the judge’s sentence of community work. Neither the culprits nor the community learned their lesson, although it could have been a cathartic result.

In 2006 in connection with the issue of how to treat offenders who commit violence in the family, the FGC trainings and cases proved that restorative justice is quite applicable. Thus it seemed there would be certain steps to spread the various techniques of restorative practice.

The AVP model, Marshall Rosenberg’s Cooperative Nonviolent Communication, Giraffe language, and the popular Gordon method all help spread this attitude, because essentially they are based on the same approach, even if they are some way different from the method. More and more researchers deal with this concept, mainly criminologists, which marks the main avenue of Hungarian usage.

In 2002 the Parliament legislated for mediation procedure, which would have meant the legitimacy of mediation in theory and consequently its wide-scale application, but unfortunately for the practical realization, they have failed to develop the regulations and the methodological handbook. Owing to this failure, judges do not have the opportunity to use it, although we have succeeded in using the method more and more in our association.

In 2006 the criminal code built victim-offender mediation into criminal jurisdiction, due to EU regulations, so for young offenders it could have been a brilliant opportunity, but the provisions for its application were so narrowly tailored and specialized — despite professional argument — that putting it into practice was restricted. In case of child offenders, there could be a wider-scale application, but until now it has not been adopted, despite its advantage, as schools and child protection institutions refuse to feel the growing pressure of the doomed failure and helplessness of their practices. In 2005-2006, via the HEFOP project, we managed to introduce this method for 140 workers in a children’s home, which was a big success. That year, through another project, we got an opportunity to shoot a 25-minute film dealing with the prevention and treatment of family violence and school bullies. Hopefully it will be available to many people. Currently we are working on an EU-based AGIS project to raise awareness about restorative practices among policemen, judges, prosecutors, academics, and field workers, by providing them with field trips to the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria, followed by a training and a comprehensive training kit.

The Hungarian experiences — and the international experiences as well — prove that a new idea, a notion, and a programme reforming the acts can find a way and spread slowly, gradually, only with great difficulty, however good it is, especially if it is not a financially profitable business. The kind of environment that is needed is favourable, mature, and open. Such a divine, graceful moment is very rare. It would be human frailty to exaggerate our role, but at the same time we are entitled to feel that our acts are world-changing and revolutionary and that we have contributed to Hungary different methods and practices of restorative jurisdiction that should be introduced and accepted in the near future by those who are dealing with children and youth, and we can count on their participation. It provides opportunity for decent, human communication, respecting others’ views, and for conflict management and problem-solving.