- Written by Laura Mirsky
This is part two in a series about family group conferencing (FGC), a restorative process that empowers families to make decisions, usually made for them by outside officials, concerning the care and support of their children. Part one of this series mainly emphasized FGC in child welfare and contained a brief explanation and history of FGC. In addition to other child welfare FGC programs, parts two and three will address FGCs in adult mental health, youth justice, domestic violence and school applications, as well as FGC theory and philosophy.
Private family time is essential in taking the decision-making process out of the hands of professionals and governments, and putting it back in the hands of those people who are directly affected.
FGC began in New Zealand and has spread throughout the world. The key features of the New Zealand FGC model, where it is built into child welfare law, are preparation, information giving, private family time, agreeing on the plan and monitoring and review. The critical criterion for including an FGC program in this series is the use of private family time. Private family time indicates a crucial paradigm shift fully in tune with the International Institute for Restorative Practices's (IIRP's) definition of restorative practices and its goal of building a global alliance for family empowerment. During private family time, after hearing information about the case, the family is left alone to arrive at its own plan to address the concerns at hand. This component of FGC is essential in taking the decision-making process out of the hands of professionals and governments, and putting it back in the hands of those people who are directly affected.
FGC programs are in progress in the Nordic nations of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The Nordic FGC Project, coordinated by Tarja Heino, of STAKES (National Research and Development Center for Welfare and Health), Finland has helped implement and conduct evaluations of FGC in those countries, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers. To view the STAKES website about FGC in the Nordic countries go to: www.stakes.fi/hyvinvointi/NFRS/english/english.htm [link broken]
Each Nordic country has approached FGC in a slightly different manner, but in each one the state has been active in importing, developing, exploring and implementing the practice. This series covers programs in Finland and Sweden. Information in this article about the Finnish program is drawn from Heino's paper: The Focus on Children in Family Group Conferences: Results from the Finnish project on the FGC method, 1997-2000, which she presented at the Family Rights Group Conference, in Manchester, UK, October, 2002, as well as from a conversation with STAKES FGC researcher and coordinator Sarianna Reinikainen.
A meeting at a Finland FGC seminar: (from left to right) Project Coordinator Tarja Heino from STAKES, Eeva-Liisa Tamski, Sirkku Mehtola and Maija Pietiläinen (all three from a local project in Mikkeli), Monika Possauner, Juha-Pekka Vuorio and Liisa Korhonen (all three from a local project in Helsinki)
The Finnish FGC pilot ran from 1997 through 2000, funded and implemented by STAKES, with help from 26 participating municipalities and five local NGOs. The project developed a Finnish FGC model, a handbook and other training materials. FGCs continue, sponsored by STAKES, in 50 out of 448 municipalities in Finland. FGC is used chiefly in the most difficult child protection situations, where a decision must be made about a child's living arrangements.
The Finnish FGC model is exceptionally child-centered. In child protection cases, the FGC process begins when the social worker holds a meeting to introduce the possibility of an FGC to the client, which is defined as the entire family, including children, even small children. Said Heino: "We know from … studies among children who have experienced family violence that the children know about the violence between parents and it has an impact on them—and that being well informed helps them to overcome these experiences."
If the family agrees to hold an FGC, each member, children included, signs a written agreement. If a child of 15 or older does not agree to the FGC, it does not occur. The coordinator asks professionals involved in the case to write their views of the situation, instructing them to focus on the children's issues. The family receives the reports before the conference so that there are no surprises at the meeting. The coordinator finds someone from the child's network—preferably not a professional—to be his or her advocate. In Helsinki there is an extensive coordinator bank from which to draw. Two coordinators are used for each FGC—one for the children and one for the adults. Reinikainen said that this is especially effective when trying to reach people important to the child. A child's perspective is different from an adult's, she emphasized. Children's coordinators meet with children, as young as possible without parents present, to obtain their point of view.
“The child is there to help participants remember who is the focus of the process.”
Five to 20 people from the family network attend each FGC. The child is always present at the conference, even if he or she is very young. She may wander in and out or play if she gets bored, eat if she's hungry, sleep if she's tired. "The child is there to help participants remember who is the focus of the process," said Heino. In the first part of the conference, the professionals read their reports about the child (which the family has already seen). The coordinator helps the professionals refrain from discussing the parents and stay focused on the children. The professionals then take questions from the family network. Children, with help from their advocates, are given an equal opportunity to ask questions. Next, the family network has its private meeting. The professionals wait outside, available if needed. If a child has chosen a professional as his or her advocate, the coordinator tries to find someone else to substitute in that function. Families have trouble being honest with professionals around and say things they think the professionals want to hear, said Reinikainen. The family has a concrete set of issues to discuss in their private meeting and, focusing on the child's needs, develops a plan to address those issues. The plan must be clear about who does what and when.
The family network then reconvenes with the professionals, telling them what kind of support they might need to fulfill the plan. The child must be able to understand what has been agreed upon for his or her protection. The professionals need to agree to accept the plan as in the child's best interest. A follow-up meeting is arranged, to be held in three months' time or sooner, to ensure that the family network is upholding the plan.
Reinikainen believes that FGC should be part of basic social work studies, as well as part of Finnish law.
People in Finland are very interested in FGC, said Reinikainen, and the practice has spread to many types of situations. Good results have been obtained with young teens that are acting out and behaving obstinately or skipping school. On Åland Island in West Finland, an FGC project involving parents who couldn't agree on custody and visitation issues worked very well. Still, said Reinikainen, FGC is not in use everywhere, because some social service providers are afraid of giving up responsibility to the family network. Reinikainen believes that FGC should be part of basic social work studies, as well as part of Finnish law. These things have not happened yet, but Reinikainen believes and hopes they will happen in the future. "This [FGC] project is very alive," she said.
FGC began in Sweden in 1995 with several local projects, said Mats Erkers, FGC Project Leader of the Botkyrka Municipality, south of Stockholm. Six months later, he said, the national Swedish FGC project began. The practice got a boost following the legendary 1996 "grandma revolt," when grandmothers took to the streets to protest the state placing their grandchildren in foster care and prohibiting contact. This made for lots of debate, said Erkers, and eventually to a change in laws governing child welfare.
FGC got a boost following the legendary 1996 “grandma revolt,” when grandmothers took to the streets to protest the state placing their grandchildren in foster care and prohibiting contact.
In May 2000, Botkyrka's FGC unit arranged the First Nordic FGC Conference, with about 200 participants from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, which strengthened the network between different Nordic groups of FGC practitioners. The network developed the Nordic FGC project, led by Tarja Heino of STAKES, Finland. Erkers is responsible for the Swedish FGC unit of this project. Eva Nyberg of the Department of Social Work, Stockholm University, is in charge of research and development for this unit.FGC is in practice in 40 out of 240 communities in Sweden. FGCs are voluntary in Sweden, not mandatory, as they are in New Zealand. However, if a child can't stay with his or her parents, social workers are required to investigate whether he or she can be placed with an extended family member or other close person, and the parent does not have the right to prevent such a placement. Parents can choose whether or not to participate in an FGC, but social workers can always involve the extended family, even without the parents' permission.
The FGC project in Botkyrka is separate and distinct from those in the rest of Sweden, said Erkers. "In my area, we made our own project from the beginning and it is now a permanent organization," he said, adding, "We are the most successful area in Scandinavia because we have been working with FGC for many years and have built it into the system. It's not a project anymore, it's ordinary work." In Botkyrka, said Erkers: "We learned from New Zealand and have full-time coordinators who only do FGC." In other parts of Sweden, he said, professional coordinators are not used, only laypersons.
“We are the most successful area in Scandinavia because we have been working with FGC for many years and have built it into the system. It’s not a project anymore, it’s ordinary work.”
In Botkyrka, when a social worker believes a child is at risk or if a child is in a placement situation outside the home, parents may choose an FGC as an alternative way to plan for the child's future. FGCs are also used in other situations, e.g., with children having difficulties in school or adults with drug or alcohol problems. For the most part, however, FGCs are reserved for children at high risk. Time and resources determine priorities: In preparation for FGCs, coordinators in Botkyrka must sometimes travel 1,000 miles to meet with extended family members and funds must also sometimes be provided for these family members to attend.After the family makes the plan, they reconvene with the professionals, who review the plan with respect to safety concerns. Most Botkyrka FGC plans place the child with a family member. Usually, the child stays with a parent and receives support from the extended family. Sometimes the child moves from the mother to the father. There is almost always at least one follow-up meeting to make sure that the plan is working. "It's good to have the opportunity to change things," said Erkers. There is security in knowing that a follow-up meeting will be held, making it possible for a family to take risks.
Erkers believes that FGC has changed the values of child welfare workers in Sweden. FGCs compel social workers to be clear about their own rules—e.g., why a child is at risk—and to translate their expertise to ordinary people, providing clear information about what kinds of services are available. Social workers used to think it was good to place children outside the home. Now they generally believe that such placements cut children off from their roots. "Now all social workers in Sweden know they have to help children and families be together," said Erkers.
The struggle between different social work perspectives continues, however. Some professionals still don't want to give too much power to the extended family because they're afraid the family doesn't know what's best for the child, said Erkers. He believes that private family time is an essential part of transferring power from professionals to families. "Without private family time, it's not FGC," he said. During private family time, families must think for themselves. "Families are used to social workers making suggestions about their lives," he said, "but it's not good for people when they don't have to think about their own future." Said Erkers: "FGC helps family members keep the focus on the child's future, not on the past, and gives families the resources to help them come together in respectful ways."
Essex County, UK is the site of a unique program using FGC in the area of adult mental health. The North Essex Mental Health Partnership Trust (NEMHPT), a combined trust of health and social care, in partnership with Essex County Council Social Services, developed an FGC pilot study for mental health service users (i.e. patients or clients) not restricted to families with children. This is a new and unusual application for FGC. Information in this article is from the NEMHPT and Essex County Council Social Services publication: Supporting People Together: FGC in Mental Health Services, Research Finds and Practice Developments, by Linda Flynn, service manager, mental health, NEMHPT, Chelmsford, N. Essex; Julia Hennessy, service manager, FGC and Family Centres in Essex; Robin Mutter, researcher; and Nuala Judge, researcher, as well from as a conversation with Linda Flynn. The program's website is here.
The adult mental health FGC pilot began in 1998, when it was ascertained that a very high percentage of children in child welfare FGCs came from families with mental health difficulties, said Flynn. Supporting People Together emphasizes that FGC is not family therapy, but a planning process with a "practical emphasis designed to increase support, challenge isolation and combat discrimination against individuals … who have mental health difficulties." FGC is based on the belief that service users and their families are the people who know most about their difficulties and that service users can and have the right to make informed choices about their lives, their difficulties and their treatment. The 16 service users who took part in the pilot had been diagnosed with personality disorder, bipolar disorder/manic depression, schizophrenia, psychosis and Asperger Syndrome.
It was important that the pilot have a multi-disciplinary base, said Flynn, so a steering group of representatives from health, children's and social services; district council; carer and service user groups; voluntary organizations and the local university was enlisted to develop the project. Funding was secured and a methodology for evaluation and analysis was set. Sixteen FGCs were referred between July 2000 and May 2001, and conferences were held between October 2000 and the end of August 2001.
The University of East Anglia (UEA), based in Norwich, Norfolk, UK, gathered the pilot research, independent of statutory services. UEA's David Shemmings was project research consultant. Qualitative and quantitative data were gathered from the first 16 conferences, including questionnaires and interviews with participants and a three-month-plus follow-up with service users. Among pilot participants, 85 percent said they felt empowered by the conference and 90 percent said they were able to obtain the information and resources they needed.
Since the pilot's end, adult mental health FGCs have become a regular part of mental health service in Essex, funded by a joint commission of health and social services. In two-and-a-half years, 74 mental health FGCs have been held (as of March 2003), with extremely good outcomes, said Flynn.
In adult mental health FGCs, the service user has the final say in decisions relating to her life: whether she wishes to be referred to an FGC, who is invited, what plan is made, etc.
Changes were made to the Essex child welfare FGC model to adapt it to adult mental health. The former focuses on planning for the needs of children. The child's wishes and feelings are very important and are taken into account, but if the child is young it is adults who ultimately make the decisions. In adult mental health FGCs, the service user has the final say in decisions relating to her life: whether she wishes to be referred to an FGC, who is invited, what plan is made, etc. An FGC senior practitioner drafts a report outlining the services user's areas of need, which the service user signs, consenting to share information with conference participants, all of whom are given a copy of the report prior to the conference. Children's services FGCs can be held in times of crisis, but adult mental health FGCs are not convened when service users are acutely ill. "You can't empower people if they're psychotic or delusional and believe their family is out to get them," said Flynn, adding that it's better to wait until the service user is stable. Adult mental health FGCs involve two coordinators: a care coordinator (who oversees the service user's care) and an independent FCG coordinator.
When families get together for a mental health FGC, said Flynn, they want to know: what do the diagnoses mean? What are the effects/side effects, etc. of drugs? What are the warning signs of a mental illness emergency? What do you do/whom do you call to forestall a crisis? Through FGCs, service users and family support groups learn how to recognize warning signs of deterioration, such as when an individual stops taking medication, and what to do and whom to contact in such circumstances. FGCs improve the quality of mental health service in terms of care and planning and help service users engage and plan for themselves. Plans generally focus on concrete proposals involving who does what and when.
FGCs help service users achieve what most want: good quality care in their own homes and communities when it's timely and necessary, instead of waiting until the last moment and risking recurrent hospitalization, said Flynn. The more deterioration and crisis can be averted, the greater the likelihood of improvement, she said. Most service users who took part in the pilot had been sectioned (committed) to the hospital pre-conference. None have been sectioned since. In two years, out of the first 50 mental health FGCs in Essex, 20 people had been admitted to the hospital for mental health reasons pre-FGC. Only two had to be readmitted post-FGC.
In two years, out of the first 50 mental health FGCs in Essex, 20 people had been admitted to the hospital for mental health reasons pre-FGC. Only two had to be readmitted post-FGC.
Flynn said that FGCs work particularly well with individuals who have personality disorder, whom she described as people who can be difficult to work with and may exhibit chaotic, anti-social or self-harming behavior. FGCs are good for providing structure and setting boundaries, she said, and people with personality disorder tend to operate better when provided with a rigid structure.
There is a powerful stigma attached to mental health problems in the UK, and individuals with such problems are often considered dangerous, said Flynn. Through FGCs, both families and professionals become much better informed about mental health issues. People can sometimes do embarrassing things when they're unwell, said Flynn. She cited the case of a man with bipolar disorder living with a wife and teenage daughter. He stopped taking his medication and his wife didn't know what to do. The man turned up at his daughter's school and made disturbing gestures, then lost control at a newspaper stand, whereupon the owner called the police. The man was sectioned to the hospital, his condition stabilized. The family couldn't bear the thought of him coming home, said Flynn.
An FGC was held with the man, his extended family, neighbors and police. Everyone learned about the symptoms of bipolar disorder—what might happen during a manic episode—and the support group came up with a crisis plan. They would make sure that the man continued to take his medication. If there were any difficulty they would alert his care coordinator. Asked at the conference why he had stopped taking his medication, the man said he had a problem with side effects, but that no one would ever listen to him about it. In the conference, the professionals listened and the man's medication was changed, making a big difference to him. And because his family, friends and neighbors now understood that his illness had a biological basis—that the man was not a "nut " or a "raving mad-man," he was no longer stigmatized. His daughters' friends, who had been afraid to come to her house, began to visit regularly. Since the FGC, the man hasn't had a manic episode, said Flynn.
The most disturbed people tend not to engage, so "we can't reach them," said Flynn. FGCs give disturbed individuals a way to engage on their own terms. There is often much secrecy concerning mental illness, along with a reluctance to obtain help by both service users and their families because of fear, guilt and/or shame. FGCs help service users break through these feelings, which can prevent them from asking for help from family members. Post-FGC, one service user said: "It certainly allowed me to open up more and admit that I needed their support, whereas before I was tending to hide my feelings." FGCs are particularly effective in combating social isolation. Participants contacted up to after 12 months post-FGC reported that the enhanced regular contact initiated by families' plans produced qualitative improvement in service users' relationships with family and friends.
FGCs significantly increase the effectiveness of the support network both by decreasing feelings of fear and shame and by coordinating and integrating how networks, service users and professionals work together. FGCs effectively draw family and friends into the support network and add new members to the network. The collective nature of meeting as a group dispels misunderstandings. After an FGC, one family member said: "Since [service user] has become ill it's been me liaising with them [other family and friends]. … The story can get a bit distorted from what it actually is. … [But] with everyone in the room, nobody could go away not understanding what was going on."
“The beauty of FGC is that it’s so simple. It’s all about treating people the way you would want to be treated yourself.”
FGCs are empowering, putting service-users and support groups in a position of influence over the process. A family member expressed how families sometimes feel excluded from the treatment process: "Officials don't like family getting involved. I think we mess things up for them; and all their good work goes to pot when we go in and say, 'No, that's not right … ' I'm sure the hospital didn't like us, 'cause there was always one of us on the phone saying, 'What's going on? … We don't think this is right.' … And a lot of them are quite patronizing, you know … It's, 'Sorry, but you're not professional, you don't understand.' … When you live with [service user], you do understand what [service user]'s going through, but suddenly you are being told, 'No, I'm sorry, you don't understand.'" FGC redresses the problem of alienation between family members and professionals by drawing the two groups together in a coordinated complementary support system.
The toughest barrier to break down was the medical model, said Flynn—the one that says, "We'll tell you what's wrong and what to do about it." But now, she said, there are a lot more people on-board with FGCs, and mental health legislation in the UK is all pointing to involving families, along the themes of empowerment and inclusion. Said Flynn: "The beauty of FGC is that it's so simple. It's all about treating people the way you would want to be treated yourself." She said that everyone she talks to tells the same story: "Somewhere in my family is a significant mental health issue." National statistics in the UK indicate that one person in four has a mental health problem at some point in their lives. But, Flynn concluded, "If we carry on with stigmatizing, we'll never get anywhere."
An FGC child welfare program is thriving in San Diego County, California, USA. Elizabeth Quinnett, Acting Chief in Children's Services, Health and Human Services Agency, County of San Diego, and training consultant on FGC with the Academy for Professional Excellence, San Diego, helped to develop the program. In San Diego, FGC is known as Family Unity Meeting (FUM). More than 800 FUMs have been held in San Diego County since 1999. For the last two years, cases of children under age six where the parents are involved with drugs and alcohol have, by Children's Services mandate, been referred to FUMs. When the FUM program started, the area's presiding judge, the Honorable James Milliken, went to New Zealand and "came back sold on the idea of family conferencing," said Quinnett. Milliken's advocacy and high level of understanding of the process have helped the program's success. All judges in the area are aware of the practice, and others in the judicial system understand it. When they see an FUM plan attached to a child welfare report, they know what they're looking at, said Quinnett.
Family Unity Meeting staff, County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, Children’s Services: (bottom row) Dave Roob, Rebecca Slade; (middle row) Bob Kuchta, Joaquin Zavala; (top row) Liz Quinnett, Amy Markin, Mary Sorgdrager
San Diego FUM is a hybrid of Oregon FUM and New Zealand FGC. The term FUM is used in San Diego because Quinnett and her staff were originally trained in the Oregon FUM model. At first, as in Oregon FUMs, San Diego didn't use private family time. (In San Diego it's called family alone time.) However, once they tried it they liked it so much that they've used it ever since. The name FUM was retained because it was well-known in the community.
In San Diego FUM, exploration of "strengths and concerns" in meetings is very important. Many perpetrators have a very clear idea of what's wrong with them, said Quinnett, and it's very empowering for them to hear their strengths. "A person's whole affect changes," said Quinnett, adding, "It's a powerful tool to build on and keeps the meeting focused." A break follows the strengths portion, during which participants share food together. This is very important, said Quinnett, because it further breaks down the hierarchy in the room between family and professionals and emphasizes that everyone is there out of concern for the children. Afterwards, people bring up painful history and current concerns. (In San Diego FUMs, the term "problem" is deliberately avoided because of its negative implication, replaced by "concern".)
Co-facilitators are used in San Diego FUMs. "When your buttons get pushed you can back each other up, and it helps with the flow. One person writes on the flip chart, the other facilitates," said Quinnett. There is a large bank of workers in the agency to help co-facilitate. Quinnett would like to see an FUM unit in each of the six regional offices in her area. She would also like to see FUMs in the receiving home where children who have been taken into custody are held, "when the family is in crisis—at the front end."
FUM throws the safety net a lot farther around the child than conventional child welfare practice, because it brings in so many more people, makes much better connections to resources in the community and strengthens connections within the family, said Quinnett. FUM also dramatically improves attitudes toward agency workers, because families feel respected. "We're not saying, 'I am the almighty social worker and you are the lowly bad person.' We're giving responsibility back where it belongs," she said. FUM increases placements within the family—a beneficial outcome, because "the system doesn't make a good parent," said Quinnett. She tells her staff to remember that they're just temporary in people's lives—there to get the family network set up so that when they leave the network is in place.
FUM increases placements within the family—a beneficial outcome, because “the system doesn’t make a good parent.”
Now, however, the $35 billion California budget deficit threatens the existence of San Diego FUM. A federal audit found that many areas needed improvement, but praised FUM, said Quinnett. But she's afraid that as workloads become heavier for social workers, they'll have to cut back to mandated services like investigating child abuse, and programs like FUM will be the first suspended. When the program began they were able to pay facilitators overtime to work evenings and weekends—the most convenient time for families to attend FUMs. Now she is afraid overtime will be cut. Quinnett hopes that FUMs can be part of every child welfare system some day. "I never fail to be amazed at what families can come up with," she said, adding, "Child abuse is not the end. Like any crisis, it's also an opportunity."
A child welfare FGC program is ongoing in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, under the auspices of the NGO, UnitingCare Burnside and the NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS). Information in this article is drawn from a conversation with the Patricia Kiely, clinical psychologist and manager of Burnside's family work program, and her paper: A Longitudinal Evaluation of Family Group Conferencing, delivered at the Association of Children's Welfare Agencies conference in Bondi Beach, Australia, 2002.
Kiely said that their Family Decision Making project began in 1996 when Burnside invited a New Zealand FGC practitioner to speak in Australia. Burnside negotiated with DoCS, which refers cases to Burnside, to obtain funding for an FGC project. DoCS liked the model because they saw it as a way to place children whose parents had problems with drugs, alcohol or violence within a wider family network, said Kiely. Ultimately, DoCS and Burnside each provided half of the funding for the project. Burnside's website is: www.burnside.org.au/
Outcomes of the 1996–1998 NSW FGC pilot, evaluated by Dr. Judy Cashmore, were very positive, said Kiely. A longitudinal research project that followed up with families for five years has now been completed. The project sample group, drawn from the Cumberland/Prospect area in Sydney, NSW, included a random selection of 30 of the 40 original families referred to the project: 15 who completed FGCs and 15 who were referred to the project, didn't proceed to FGCs and were referred to traditional case planning processes.
The most common risk factors in both groups were domestic violence, drug and alcohol issues and criminal activity. The most striking finding of the study, she said, was the increased percentage of extended family placements provided in the FGC group for their vulnerable children—both respite and foster care. The increased placements coincided with a decrease in smaller types of kinship supports, such as taking a child to a doctor's appointment or providing monetary aid. Giving a child a place to live is a comprehensive type of support and negates the need to provide as much other kinds of support, said Kiely.
“The professionals didn’t believe that families should make decisions, kids would be safe or families would keep their promises. But everything changed after family group conferencing was introduced.”
Children under age 12 were more likely to receive kinship placement than were older children. Kinship placement in the older group was more difficult to find because of these children's challenging behavior, said Kiely. Still, FGCs enabled older children to gain knowledge of what was available and retain contact with the family group. In the traditional process group, children did not want to stay with their placements and tended to lose contact with their families.
There were reductions in temporary care orders, reports to statutory services and home visits post-FGC, suggesting a reduced need because children were now living in safe conditions. An increase in longer-term wardship orders was found in the FGC group. Wardship is not always a negative, Kiely explained, citing the case of a mother with a long history of drug and alcohol problems who had been in and out of jail. At the woman's FGC, the family plan stipulated that her child be assigned a court-ordered wardship with a maternal aunt. For the length of the wardship, the family wanted to be able to build a relationship with the mother that did not focus on getting her fit for motherhood right away. A wardship can also provide security for children: Sometimes families want the statutory authority "to be the big stick," said Kiely. A family might opt for a wardship order with an aunt so that she can legally prevent parents from suddenly showing up drunk or drugged and taking their children away.
Kiely emphasized, "FGC is not welfare on the cheap," adding, "The expectation that increased family support would reduce the need for community support was not confirmed." There was an increase in services provided to families who took part in FGCs. Families who have been in the welfare system a long time often receive no services, said Kiely, whereas FGCs facilitate better assessments and targeting of services. Kiely cited the case of a physically abused four-year-old from a family with a history of severe mental illness. The child had never been assessed until preparations were made for an FGC. But due to those preparations, representatives from various resources were brought to the conference and the family could choose between them. "When representatives of services are invited to FGCs, it's surprising how quickly services are provided," said Kiely. There is normally a seven-year waiting list for public housing in Sydney. But at an FGC where the family group decided that a family member needed a house in order to care for a child, a housing department liaison made a house available. Such stories abound involving FGCs and the availability of speech pathologists, pre-school placements, etc., because at FGCs service liaisons get to know the family, see everyone working together and want to work with them.
"FGCs changed the way the department worked with families," said Kiely, adding, "It used to be a hostile environment. The professionals didn't believe that families should make decisions, kids would be safe or families would keep their promises. But everything changed after family group conferencing was introduced."
In 2000, legislation in NSW put FGC in place as an alternative dispute resolution model. Burnside will continue to provide FGCs, said Kiely. In addition, she said, Australian Aboriginal FGC practitioners affiliated with DoCS are employing a model with the same philosophical base as New Zealand FGC that fits well with the Aboriginal approach to decision-making.
Another successful FGC pilot program was launched in Hennepin County, Minnesota (which includes the city of Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs), in July 1999. Kathleen Holland, Supervisor of Hennepin County Department of Children, Family and Adult Services (CFASD) said that the program was built on a solid foundation with support from judges, public defenders, county attorneys and child welfare administrators. A dialogue occurred between all these parties to determine how they were going to give families a voice while meeting safety and protection needs. Without those "tough discussions," said Holland, the pilot would not have been successful. Holland especially noted the contributions of CFASD head Dr. David Sanders and Hennepin County Judges Robert Blaeser (a member of the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe), and Herbert Lefler, in supporting FGC initiatives in Hennepin County.
“Whenever life’s crises come up, we need to be able to go to family—to take care of the kids, for transportation, school and health issues."
The Native American council system's commitment to raising children is a good fit with FCG, as is the old-fashioned American small-town notion of a community coming together to care for its children, said Holland. The FGC pilot program aimed to reestablish connections to those traditions, both of which can be found in Hennepin County. With the integral support of the court, child welfare services and the legal system, CFASD has been able to hold more than 250 conferences in about three years and is working toward making FCG an integrative practice considered in every child welfare case. "If a case opens in our department," said Holland, "we're willing to talk to the family about the [FGC] process."
Funds for Hennepin County's FGC pilot became available through a federal Department of Human Services court improvement grant as part of a push toward family reunification. Aims of the pilot were somewhat determined by Minnesota's six-month permanence time limit for children under age eight who are in foster care, and 12-month limit for older children, said Holland. The state liked the idea of FGC as a mechanism to encourage reunification. FGCs shorten the timeline in many child welfare cases by eliminating the trial process, which Holland called: "emotionally damaging and expensive." In contrast, FGCs are respectful, improve communication between family members and create a circle of support among families and between families and professionals.
The success rate of plans devised in FGCs is high, said Holland. All plans are reviewed by social service workers, and, if appropriate, by a tribal council, according to the terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. If the plan doesn't meet safety and child welfare standards, specific recommendations are made so that the family can address the matter again. The social service worker who refers a case to FGC continues with the case and sees to the implementation of the plan.
Holland named the elements she considers essential to FGC. They must be voluntary. "People must come with the desire to sit down together and solve the problem, not blame each other," she said. Facilitation must be neutral; "People must know that the facilitator has no investment in the outcome." There must be "enough of a support system to redefine the sphere of support." Holland cited the example of a woman who wouldn't let the department involve any family members in her FGC, but invited 26 service providers. "That's not a family," said Holland, adding, "Whenever life's crises come up, we need to be able to go to family—to take care of the kids, for transportation, school and health issues." Holland said that CFASD has been very effective in bringing fathers into the mix. Often, she said, there are multiple fathers in a family, and all attend the conference. Also, in an FGC, it is important to consider not just the family's problems, but it's strengths. In addition, it is essential to focus exclusively on the needs of the child—to suspend adult issues for the time being and think through the eyes of the child. "This is about kids staying connected to their families," said Holland. By extension, it's about creating a more solid base for our society.
FGC is adaptable to many cultures. Families are asked to share their values and rituals at conferences said Holland. Hennepin County has a diverse pool of community providers to co-facilitate FGCs for non-English speaking families and those of varied ethnic backgrounds. Conferences are held at community sites to provide a neutral setting and encourage community involvement.
One struggle involves determining how to run FGCs effectively when domestic violence is a factor, said Holland. CFASD is partnering with domestic abuse agencies and relying on their expertise. CFASD is also working with 14 community agencies to resolve other types of problems. A new FGC project, "Youth in Transition," has been launched to help children move from the child welfare and foster care system to independence, and another project is in development to help youth in the juvenile justice system transition back into the community. Holland hopes that FCG will someday be used to resolve all sorts of community processes, including helping seniors plan for future needs. The Hennepin County FGC website is: www.co.hennepin.mn.us/cfasd/family_group_conferencing/fgc.htm
“Families need to be listened to … The safety net is in the wider family. They’ve got the expertise and knowledge that we’ll never have."
A new Children Act passed in the Republic of Ireland in 2001. "Based on the premise that detention should be used only as a last resort and should only be considered after a range of community-based measures have been exhausted, the Act provides for family group conferences and other new provisions to deal with unruly children or those children with special needs," reads a web-page by Ireland's North Western Health Board (NWHB). NWHB Family Group Conference Manager Joe Cullen, who has worked in the foster care field for 22 years, said he thinks that the new law was a long time coming. In 1995, he proposed an FGC pilot, but was unable to raise funding or arouse interest in the idea. Then Frank Fahey, a junior government minister for children, went on a fact-finding mission to New Zealand, met Mike Doolan, and learned about FGC. Impressed with the way the FGC handed decision-making to families and with the number of Maori children it had discharged from state care, Fahey initiated an FGC pilot with the East Coast Area Health Board and John O’Riordan in the greater Dublin area in 1999. The pilot involved families in decision-making and asked how to prevent children from coming into the care system, said Cullen.
Since January 2001, the NWHB has held 25-plus New Zealand model FGCs in the Donegal area in northwest Ireland, which have had "some wonderful outcomes," said Cullen, adding, "This is the model that works." Via FGCs, 14 children were discharged from the care system to the extended family network and six children were prevented from being received into care. "All the situations held," said Cullen. The families came together and were handed the authority to make their own plans, which were presented to the health boards. The boards were delighted with the outcomes.
However, Cullen said he was worried about the health boards' ability to work with plans that families devise. There is a financial crisis with the health boards in Ireland, which don't have a system of payment for extended families. "The preventative stuff always gets cut," he said. Yet, said Cullen: "We can do [FGCs] at very little cost financially." He said they've "been looking at money for kinship placement, doing it informally," adding, "Social workers have to be creative in trying to put things in place."
Unfortunately, a panel recommended that the same stringent standards apply to relative foster care as apply to stranger foster care. This is "the straw that breaks the camel's back," said Cullen. He cited cases where FGCs placed children with relatives; an assessment of those relatives took place months later, after the children had bonded; the relatives failed the assessment and the children were taken away. Different standards should be available for relative foster-carers, said Cullen.
Pressure on social workers is unbelievable now, said Cullen. New statutory requirements make it increasingly difficult for them to do their work; all they can do is respond to crisis after crisis. Social workers signed up to do FGCs to work in partnership with families, he said, but when social workers are pulled from the partnerships by statutory requirements, it becomes difficult for families to hold up their end. But with the social workers that are committed to FGCs, the results are absolutely wonderful. "This keeps us all plugging away," said Cullen.
Complicating matters further, a new model—Family Welfare Conferencing (FWC)—was introduced with the Children Act 2001, which is far from Fahey's initial vision, as it incorporates significant changes from the New Zealand FGC model, said Cullen. FWCs are not about intervention. Their purpose is to bring families together to consider special care orders. FWCs can be triggered by the health board applying for a special care order for a non-offending, out-of-control child who is a risk to him or herself or others, or when a child needs to be detained. The child must be deemed unlikely to receive care or detention unless a court makes the order, and the health board must convene an FWC before making the order. In the future, if a child is charged with an offense before the court, a judge will be able to order an FWC if there are concerns about the child's care and protection because of lack of parental supervision. This part of the law hasn't been enacted yet, said Cullen. In any case, the boards don't have the resources and people aren't yet trained for it, he said. "The board will be inundated with inappropriate referrals," said Cullen, adding, "These are interesting times."
Cullen was concerned that orders for FWCs "come so far down the line in the child's life, when special care orders are required, that these children have burned all their bridges." He is also worried that "we'll get pulled into the statutory piece and won't be allowed to do FGCs" and that resources will be pulled away from FGC by FWC. Other services and projects are developing and calling themselves FWCs, not FGCs, and a national FWC health board committee has been established. Cullen is on the committee, feeding back to the board to get the message across about "what the likely outcomes will be if we go down this road," he said.
The FGC structure, with private family time and families having decision-making power, has not been written into the law pertaining to FWCs, but Cullen is lobbying for that to happen. He believes that legislators need to be educated that the initial vision was for family group conferencing and that the FGC model should be in the center of FWC. "Families need to be listened to," said Cullen, adding, "The safety net is in the wider family. They've got the expertise and knowledge that we'll never have."
FGC continues to be implemented in many nations as its uses expand to include myriad applications. This is true despite the fact that in numerous locations FGC practice is threatened by cuts in government spending. The next piece in this series, appearing soon on the Restorative Practices eForum, will explore additional locations where FGC is in use, as well as other diverse applications.
- Written by Laura Mirsky
Gena Gerard is program manager of the Central City Neighborhoods Partnership, Restorative Justice Program (CCNP), Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A. This conferencing program is designed to address livability issues and crimes that affect the quality of life in this urban community. In operation for more than five years, the program has enabled community members to resolve 361 cases out of court. Over 300 community members have been involved as facilitators and conference participants. Gerard was interviewed by journalist Laura Mirsky in August 2002 at IIRP's Third International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices.
We create the space for the offender and the community members to come together.
— Gena Gerard
Q: How did community conferencing come to be used in your area?
A: The neighborhoods of central Minneapolis, which include Downtown, Loring Park, Elliot Park and Stevens Square, are members of the neighborhood partnership, the CCNP. They face chronic problems with street crimes such as prostitution and prostitution-related activity, drug dealing and possession, people buying drugs on street corners, people drinking in public, panhandling and those kinds of things. It deteriorates the neighborhoods and makes people feel unsafe. It gives the neighborhoods a bad image.
These are vital, vibrant, strong communities and people are proud of their neighborhoods. Restorative justice gives them a way to tackle some of these problems and to do it in a personal way in conjunction with the criminal justice system, which really doesn't have the resources to address these kinds of matters. They are lower level crimes and the formal justice system does not deal with them in a very effective, constructive or meaningful way.
In 1996, CCNP, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, conducted a series of studies. A couple of studies showed that there were flaws in the criminal justice system when it came to addressing livability crimes. A real backlog and scarcity of resources meant that a lot of these crimes weren't handled very effectively and in most cases resulted in dismissal, a small fine or a warning.
When I came along as a student for the third part of that research, I was asked to look at restorative justice. It was a new concept at that time and people didn't really know much about it. They said, "There's something out there called 'restorative justice' and we want you to investigate it." I did the research. I looked at various models around the country and around the world. One of those models was conferencing. We felt that conferencing at that time looked to be most promising as a process that would allow us to address community concerns, to recognize the community as victim and to give the community members a seat at the table and a voice in the process. We decided at the end of a year, after having looked at various options and having had discussions with the criminal justice system, that we would begin a pilot program in September 1997.
Q: How does community conferencing work?
A: In partnership with the criminal justice system, we have arranged referral systems that are actually pretty basic. They allow adult offenders who do not have a serious violent history to consider community conferencing as an option for resolving their crime. Usually, it's a diversion option and the person will be able to have a case dismissed from their record if they're successful in the program. In some cases, the person may be on probation for a drug offense and community conferencing is a condition of probation.
We create the space for the offender and the community members to come together, sit down and talk about the impact that their behavior is having on real people, neighborhoods, businesses, churches, children, students—you name it. This educates the person about what their behavior is doing to this neighborhood and gives those people affected a chance to do something more than just calling 911 or participating in a block patrol. They have a more proactive and personal role in the process, meeting face-to-face with offenders to talk about the impact.
CCNP Restorative Justice Program volunteers and staff who presented at IIRP’s third international conference, from left, Gena Gerard (program manager), Dee Cotten, Mike Rollin (community organizer), Mari Johnson (program assistant), Mary Turner, Rebecca Miller and Mike Stewart.
The conference process involves repairing the harm. Through consensus, community members meet with a screened offender who's willing to acknowledge what they've done and is willing to talk about how they can make amends to the community. That's a pretty creative process. From start to finish, it's guided by a team of trained facilitators. Ultimately, they come up with a plan that's documented, signed and monitored.
In most cases, community members prefer to have offenders come back to the neighborhood where they offended—even though they may not be from that neighborhood. They may be from a suburban area, they may be from a small town or maybe even further away. We have had people participate who are from other states. Interestingly enough, most of the time they choose to come back. The community members work out ways for those offenders to participate in community activities like serving the needy through programs that are located in their neighborhoods, helping out with community events and offering their skills and services to contribute something positive to the neighborhood. Sometimes those agreements also include apologies, donations or what we call personal development or enrichment—something that the participant will do for himself or herself that they feel is needed, such as counseling, GED classes, ESL classes and that kind of thing.
Q: Are there some stories you could share about community conferences?
A: One of our first participants had been caught in a sting operation for soliciting prostitution. He participated somewhat reluctantly at first. However, he told us later that when he went to court he chose the conferencing option because he wanted to talk to someone. He wanted to be heard. He wanted an opportunity to tell his story and no one in court seemed to care or have the time to hear what he had to say. When he came to the program and we conducted a pre-meeting orientation with him, as in most cases, he became more comfortable as he learned about what was involved in the process, the ground rules and that this would be respectful.
He chose the conferencing option because he wanted to talk to someone. He wanted to be heard. He wanted an opportunity to tell his story and no one in court seemed to care or have the time to hear what he had to say.
In that case, we arranged for an advocate for him. We encourage all the participants to bring a supporter or more than one person, someone that they would like to have with them to participate in the discussion, help work out the agreement and offer them moral support. He didn't feel like he had anyone he could bring, so we arranged for a community supporter or advocate to be there. That worked out well. She helped him prepare, and they attended the conference together. The conference went fairly smoothly. I think it was an eye-opening experience for him. That's typically the case. Offenders come to the program not really understanding much about what they've done, and often to the question, "Who have you affected?" will respond either, "I don't know" or "Me. I'm the one who was caught. I'm the one who went to court."
In that case, it was a real awakening for him. He was a cab driver in Minneapolis. He knew that what he was doing was having a negative effect on the community and he felt badly about that. He heard from community members about the reputation of their neighborhood, about women being approached on the street, women who felt fearful and uncomfortable walking to and from their apartments. He heard about the associated noise, traffic, litter and just the general kinds of fears and irritations people have associated with the problem of prostitution.
Afterward, as part of his agreement, he agreed to help out with a program that serves people who are living with HIV and are homebound. He was able to deliver meals. He took grocery bags with him. I think he used his cab. He was able to deliver those meals in the area where he had been caught for this offense. That was very meaningful, I'm sure, to the people who received the help. It's a tremendous volunteer program that's very strong and positive. I think it also helped him a lot because he said afterward that he had gotten so much out of it that he had decided to continue volunteering, which he did. He also served meals to the homeless at a local church in the neighborhood. He wrote a letter of apology that was then shared with community members who had participated.
Another story is about a couple of guys who were visiting the bars downtown. After leaving the bars, they were tagged for disorderly conduct because instead of using a restroom they decided to use the alley. In that case, one of the young men happened to be a barber. It was noted in the community conference that close to the intersection where this occurred is a public housing high-rise where there are people of low income who could really use some free haircuts. It was looked into and arranged that he would provide the haircuts and his friend would provide childcare during that time. It worked out really well.
It's funny because I ended up running into both of them downtown not too long after [the conference]. There was a street-fair going on. When I saw them, they recognized me and we talked briefly. They were joking that they both had a beer in their hand—and this was an open-air festival so that was OK—but they made a point of telling me they knew where the restrooms were. They pointed to the little "Biffies" [portable toilets] down the street and said, "You don't have to worry about us, we know what to do." I was amused by that.
The satisfaction rate is 99%. Whether you’re looking at responses of community members, offenders or supporters, it’s a very high rate.
It makes an impact. Even for minor crimes of that nature, when there are so many people and the problem is so entrenched, the community members that live and work in those neighborhoods face it day in and day out. So in a conference, even these young men who at first thought, "What's the big deal?" learned that this is a big deal to people who live here who don't want to see that, have their kids see that or have to clean it up.
There are other examples of community service. One man adopted a bus shelter and kept it clean. Another man offered his services as a carpenter to construct flower boxes at an intersection where he had been arrested. It was a creative solution and it beautified the area. That particular spot had been a favorite spot for drug dealers. People would loiter on that corner or sit on that little ledge. Since the flower boxes were constructed and placed on that ledge, it's deterred people from hanging out and sitting there. It was a real contribution that he made.
Q: What is the role of the community in this project?
A: Input from the community is, I think, critical to our program. Not just input but also leadership. I think the hallmark of our program is the community-directed and community-based structure of the program. The neighborhoods where we operate appoint people to serve on a board or steering committee that oversees the program and makes decisions about how the program is operated, what kinds of cases we will conference, how we run conferences and what the guidelines will be. They make policy decisions.
They also interact with the criminal justice system. So it's not necessarily staff meeting with judges and attorneys on their own, especially when problems come up or snags need to be worked out. Community members themselves come forward and are able to address the issues that affect them directly as citizens.
In community conferences, we have a primary role for the community member. Their input is direct and real in every conference that we do. They are asked by facilitators, "How are you personally affected by this type of offense? How do you feel your neighborhood is affected? How does that make you feel, and what would you like to see as an outcome?"
That's significant. More than 300 people in our neighborhoods have taken the opportunity to participate in a conference, meet face-to-face with someone, tell them exactly what the impact [of their behavior] is and then to have input as to the outcome. The offender has input too. Everyone has a say, but I think it's important that community members feel empowered to be able to take that real tangible step and directly influence the outcome of a given offense that happened in their neighborhood.
I think it testifies to the effectiveness of the program, that it’s able to accomplish something that the system simply isn’t able to accomplish on it’s own, but can in collaboration with the community.
Facilitators are community members. Some people feel called to serve their neighborhood or to be active in addressing crime by taking on that role. Maybe they feel that their way of having input is to help others come together and have this kind of discussion and resolution. There are other roles for the community as well.
Q: What are some of those roles?
A: Other community roles include offender supporters or advocates who volunteer their time to support people who would like to have some support in the conference but don't feel that they have someone in their life that they can call upon for that role. We also have some people assisting with outreach. One of our staff members is specifically responsible for conducting outreach and recruiting community members to be involved in the program. He's out there educating the public, informing local business groups, resident groups, block clubs and church groups about restorative justice and this program in particular, giving them opportunities to be involved.
The best method for involving community members we have found is by word of mouth. When community members are able to step forward, help us get the word out and speak to their friends or business partners about what a positive experience this has been for them, that's when we find the greatest success in involving additional community members. Our goal is to continually build community participation.
Community members help organize events, including the annual recognition dinner. They participate in various committees — the action committee or the policy committee. Action is oriented towards system change and policy is oriented towards the program design.
Some of them also choose to be court liaisons, a new role that we've developed to secure cases in a way that helps offenders in court understand the choice they are making. We weren't in court previously. It was up to judges and attorneys in court to explain restorative justice [options]. Although that was somewhat successful, we've actually found more success having volunteers in court on a daily basis, volunteering their time to be available to answer questions that offenders, attorneys, judges or anyone else might have. That has not only more than doubled the referral volume to the program, it's given community members another point of contact with the criminal justice system and vice versa. Now the professionals in court recognize every day that there's a legitimate place for the community, not just in the process, but physically to be in court and to have an engaged, interactive role with professionals and with the court-referred participants.
Some of those community members just love this learning opportunity. They're excited to have this kind of experience and to be directly involved. Some are law students who are getting practical, hands-on experience in the process.
Q: Has the CCNP Restorative Justice Program been successful?
A: I think the program has had a very positive effect in these neighborhoods. I'm not just saying that as the program manager. I'm saying that backed up by the facts and by the statistics that bear this out. After each conference, we conduct surveys. We ask people if they are satisfied, whether or not they feel justice has been served and whether they prefer this process to the court process and would recommend it to a friend in a similar situation. The satisfaction rate is 99%. That's consistent across roles. Whether you’re looking at responses of community members, offenders or supporters, it’s a very high rate.
The Restorative Justice Advisory Team, comprised of representatives of the seven CCNP neighborhood associations, meets regularly to discuss program direction, policy and recent developments.
More important though, I think, is that the program is able to accomplish what it set out to accomplish and to fill a need. In 1996 when we were doing the research and in 1997 when we got started, we recognized that there is a gap in accountability for these low-level offenses. The community stepped forward and said, "Let's take some of the responsibility for resolving these kinds of issues. Instead of having offenders appear in court and have their charges dismissed, pay a fine or receive a warning, let's have some real accountability. Let's make it a positive thing for everybody." I feel in every conference we conduct, we are able to make that happen. Now, the criminal justice system recognizes and appreciates that. They would like us to continue and to expand. I think that it testifies to the effectiveness of the program, that it's able to accomplish something that the system simply isn't able to accomplish on it's own, but can in collaboration with the community.
Each year offenders complete on average more than 1,000 hours of service in the neighborhoods that they've harmed. That's a real gift to these neighborhoods. They wouldn't otherwise have all of these hours of volunteer time if someone just went in and out of court. Plus, you add on the donations, apologies and the effects that you can't measure. What does it mean when some group, some hotel, some establishment or some person receives this letter saying, "I'm sorry for what I did"? Even for a small offense, or what's perceived to be a small offense, it means a lot to people. We can't exactly put our finger on the full effect.
A final benefit that we didn't expect to see, which was documented through an independent evaluation, was community-building and a sense of personal efficacy where people were finding that through this process they were meeting other people in their community, getting to know their neighbors and feeling more connected. One of the questions on our survey now is, "Do you feel more connected to your community, to this particular neighborhood?" Almost always people say, "Yes," and often comment that they appreciated the chance to get to know this businessperson, this neighbor or this church-member.
Some people have reported that, after attending a community conference, they felt it was OK to speak up when they saw crimes occurring in their neighborhood. Not just OK, it was their responsibility.
In addition, our findings show a sense of empowerment that encourages people to take action in other ways to make their communities safe. Some people have reported that, after attending a community conference, they felt it was OK to speak up when they saw crimes occurring in their neighborhood. Not just OK, it was their responsibility. If they took action, they weren't alone but supported by this system or at least by this system and community working together so that they could be part of the response to crime and really make a difference.
Also, people have reported that they decided to join their neighborhood organization, to join a block patrol in their neighborhood. One person said that even though she chose not to join a block patrol, she identified a problem area in an alley behind her building where there was a lot of suspicious activity going on. She felt motivated or inspired to contact the block patrol, who put it on their route, kept it clean and kept an eye on it. The crime went away. A final example is a couple of business owners who, although they worked across the street from each other, had never met. The conference brought them together, and afterward they decided to conduct a clean-up activity together to beautify their space as a crime prevention measure.
Q: What's your dream for the future of this program?
A: My dream for the program for restorative justice at the local level would be for the neighborhoods that are affected by crime and for the criminal justice system to continue to work in partnership with each another and to recognize the value of this alternative to the traditional system, recognize that offenders can and should be accountable. That doesn't mean harsh, punitive measures, it doesn't mean more jail space, it doesn't mean fining people and releasing them. It can mean real, positive interaction with other people and real, constructive outcomes for everybody involved. Whether the program we operate continues at a small local level or expands, I'm not sure what is in store, but I'd like to see the professional community involved in the criminal justice system continue to recognize the value of this and continue to allow these kinds of measures. Whether it's our program or other initiatives, I'd like these programs to be legitimately involved in the criminal justice system and to be integrated with the system's everyday way of doing business.
For more information about the CCNP Restorative Justice Program, including an in-depth program evaluation, visit their website at: www.rjca-inc.org
- Written by Laura Mirsky
This is the first article in a series about family group conferencing (FGC), a restorative approach to problem-solving that involves the children, young persons and adults in families in making their own decisions. Originally developed in New Zealand, the family group conferencing process has taken root worldwide and is now known by several different names, including family group decision making and family unity meetings, among others. Family group conferencing began in the field of child welfare and youth justice, but is now used in mental health, education, domestic violence and other applications.
Families are more likely than professionals to find solutions which actively involve other family members, thus keeping the child within the care of the family, rather than transferring care of the child to the state.
Family group conferencing has acquired varied characteristics in the different locations where it is practiced, but certain common elements are evident, as well. In general, the philosophy underlying family group conferencing holds that families, when provided with the necessary pertinent information, are better able to devise plans to protect their own welfare than are professionals, because families know themselves — their problems, strengths and resources — better than professionals do. Young people need the sense of community, identity and stability that only the family, in its various forms, can provide, and families are more likely than professionals to find solutions which actively involve other family members, thus keeping the child within the care of the family, rather than transferring care of the child to the state. Also, when families are empowered to fix their own problems, the very process of empowerment facilitates healing.
The key features of the New Zealand FGC model are preparation, information giving, private family time, agreeing on the plan and monitoring and review. In an FGC, the family is the primary decision-maker. A wide definition of family applies, including extended family and close, concerned friends and neighbors. An independent coordinator facilitates the conference and refrains from offering preconceived ideas of the outcome. During private family time, the family, after hearing information about the case, is left alone to arrive at their own plan for the future of the child, youth or adult. The plan is evaluated by professionals with respect to safety and legal issues, and resources may be procured to help implement the plan. Professionals and family members monitor the plan's progress and often follow-up meetings are held.
A critical threshold for a family group conferencing program's inclusion in this article is the use of private family time. By taking the decision-making process out of the hands of professionals and governments and putting it back in the hands of those people who are directly affected, private family time indicates a crucial paradigm shift; one that is fully in tune with the International Institute for Restorative Practices's (IIRP's) definition of restorative practices and its goal of building a global alliance for family empowerment.
Mike Doolan, former chief social worker for the Department of Child, Youth and Family in New Zealand, helped develop FGC in New Zealand and has assisted FGC initiatives in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Israel. Doolan's report, "The Family Group Conference, 10 Years On," can be read at: www.iirp.edu/article_detail.php?article_id=NDg1
"The capacity of families to take control continues to astound us."
— Mike Doolan
New Zealand was formerly a "cosseted welfare state, too costly to maintain," where professional decision making dominated, said Doolan. New Zealand was also institutionally biased against the Maori people. A disproportionately high number of Maori children were in the care of the state, over-represented in social workers' caseloads and almost always placed with families of European descent. "The FGC process emerged because we were desperate to find alternatives to panels and courts staffed with people who seemed wealthy and racist in comparison to the people who appeared before them," said Doolan. At about the same as time as the welfare state began to break down, the Maori underwent a renaissance and wanted to take matters into their own hands.
In the Maori tradition, the community is responsible for its children and people face the community in cases of wrongdoing. Also, the smallest Maori social unit includes a person's every living relative. According to Doolan, the FGC concept of extended family derives from that tradition. In New Zealand, the law states that every member of an extended family is entitled to attend an FGC.
The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act passed in New Zealand in November 1989. Said Doolan: "The act emphasizes that court proceedings, both civil and criminal, are a last resort, and encourages community-based solutions whereby families — take prime responsibility for their own children and young persons." Under the act, no court can make a decision on the disposition of a case unless an FGC has been held. More than 10 years later, the act has seen "outstanding results," said Doolan, adding, "The capacity of families to take control continues to astound us; families can make safe decisions for young people and are experts about themselves."
Doolan stressed the importance of mandated support for FGC. In New Zealand, he said, "we have a huge advantage," because FGC is the law, "not subject to policy-makers or practitioners." In other places, he said, "social work is having difficulty coming to terms with the notion of family led decision making. In the face of a growing body of knowledge — about the effectiveness of the family group conference partnership approach to problem resolution in child welfare, it still faces official and professional opposition where there is no legal mandate for the process."
Child welfare professionals across the world are grappling with this issue as Doolan has expressed it. Lisa Merkel-Holguin is director of the National Center on Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) within Children's Services at the American Humane Association. The center "provides training and technical assistance with FGDM all over the country and functions as a catalyst for good practice," said Merkel-Holguin. The center networks people with each other through conferences, its website http://www.fgdm.org and its online FGDM discussion group, and disseminates information about FGDM through videos and publications, including the AHA journal, Protecting Children. Two FGDM pilots are planned for 2004, with respect to adoption and pre-childbirth issues, to "expand the marketability of FGDM within child welfare," said Merkel-Holguin.
The center also creates mechanisms to research the effectiveness of FGDM to "standardize practices that are typically marginalized in this country," said Merkel-Holguin. The February 2003 issue of Protecting Children includes an extensive collection of family group conferencing research evaluations, a majority of which suggest a high level of satisfaction with family group conferencing by conference participants, both social service workers and families. A descriptive study on the center's website, co-sponsored by the center and spearheaded by Paul Nixon in the UK and Gale Burford in the U.S, asked anyone involved in with family group conferencing practice, research or administration to complete a simple, web-based survey.
"What started as an experiment in five communities in 1995 is now a widely recognized practice embraced by over 150 communities across the nation."
— Lisa Merkel-Holguin
Family group conferencing "has grown exponentially throughout the world," said Merkel-Holguin. In the United States, she said, "What started as an experiment in five communities in 1995 is now a widely recognized practice embraced by over 150 communities across the nation." England and Wales, she said, had only four pilot projects in 1994, but by 2002 had 97 family group conferencing initiatives running or under consideration by local authorities or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). But, she said, there is a difference between FGC in New Zealand, where it is a right, in the UK, where it is described as "good practice," and in the USA, where, "all too often, it's described as a 'tool' or a 'technique.' " She explained, "When practitioners view family group conferencing as a tool to be used on families and not as a process in which to engage them — they overlook the key preparation and follow-up steps that are critical to building community partnerships and increasing family involvement."
FGDM has three essential elements, said Merkel-Holguin. Quality preparation before the conference is fundamental, so that families, social workers and others invited have a clear understanding of their roles and what they're being asked to do. Private family time is key, because it turns decision making over to the family and allows them a sense of control. It is also imperative that the FGDM facilitator does not prescribe the outcome of the conference. Preparation, which takes 20–25 hours on average, is "the toughest sell," said, Merkel-Holguin, not because people don't believe it's important, but due to "a down-turned economy with already stretched budgets." Private family time, she said, "speaks not just to family empowerment but to family leadership." About the third element, Merkel-Holguin said, "Too often, we're seeing that conferences are not being used for decision making. Families are being asked to rubber-stamp an official outcome."
If these three elements are omitted, one negates the democracy-building potential of family group conferencing, said Merkel-Holguin, adding, "The work of Braithwaite [John Braithwaite, Crime, Shame and Reintegration, 1989] is helping us to think about FGDM within the context of the democratic process. It will be interesting to see if child welfare embraces FGDM as a democratic experiment."
Robert Tapsfield is chief executive of Family Rights Group (FRG), a registered charity established in the UK in 1974 to provide advice and support for families whose children are involved with social services. FRG was instrumental in developing FGC in England and Wales. In 1990, FRG invited a group of New Zealand FGC practitioners to the UK to speak about their experiences. FRG then implemented FGC child welfare pilots with six local authorities in England and Wales. All six cooperated with a landmark research project, Family Group Conferences in Child Welfare, by Peter Marsh and Gill Crow, Oxford University Press, 1998.
Today, FRG encourages and supports authorities and volunteer organizations in developing FGC initiatives in the UK, provides practice guidance, print and video resources and a website (http://www.frg.org.uk), runs trainings and conferences, and lobbies nationally for greater use of family-based decision making in situations of family conflict. The FRG runs the Family Group Conference Network, which provides members with access to FGC information, training and consultation, clarifies core principles, disseminates good practice, develops models for project evaluation and publishes a tri-annual newsletter. Network membership fees support FRG's activities.
The UK Children's Act was passed in 1989. Tapsfield called it, "a unifying piece of legislation that brought together other bits of legislation for children in need" and provided that decisions be made according to a core set of principles, mandating that the state work in partnership with families. But, he said, "although the principles are sound, [the act] doesn't prescribe a mechanism that provides for the principles to be implemented." Since there is no legal mandate regarding practice, he said, professionals dominate the mechanisms and it's up to them to decide what to do.
"Given the lack of a legal mandate and financial difficulties for local authorities," said Tapsfield, FGC in the UK has been "an extremely wonderful achievement. Over 50 percent of communities in the UK are either using FGCs or considering doing so." On the other hand, he said, the decision to use FGCs is almost entirely at the discretion of local authorities. Families still do not have the right to ask for an FGC and FGCs "could disappear" in the UK. FGC survives, said Tapsfield, because of commitment in a range of voluntary and statutory organizations.
Private family time is "symbolic of the heart of FGC … it says that families are the leaders."
— Robert Tapsfield
Tapsfield said that the response of many UK social service providers to FGC has been very positive. They welcome it because it makes sense and gives them a way to use their expertise to be restorative. Providers in another group, however, have been reluctant to give up their traditional roles and their power. "Some people — on all levels — will be opposed; it doesn't matter what you do," he said. A third group of people may not understand — or may have chosen not to understand — FGC. They claim to be implementing the practice already — talking to relatives, etc. — without ever really learning about it. Researcher Peter Marsh invented the acronym "DATA" ("doing all this already") to describe them. Because most social welfare professionals have heard of FGC, they think they know what it is, and that can be dangerous, said Tapsfield. But, he said, "They don't understand that the mechanism is different from the way they're making decisions." The key element of FGC, said Tapsfield, is private family time, "not just because it works, but because it's symbolic of the heart of FGC … it says that families are the leaders."
There is increased interest in UK courts in FGC and the government has announced the publication of a "Green Paper" — a policy intention — on how to respond to children at risk of abuse or offending, which covers both child welfare and youth justice areas, said Tapsfield. FRG is lobbying the government about the Green Paper to commit to FGC as practice, because it works and because it strengthens communities and families. Tapsfield hopes for a government mandate ensuring families the right to access FGCs in situations where there are serious decisions to be made, and obliging the state to convene an FGC when it would otherwise act to permanently separate a child from its birth parents.
Joan Glode is executive director of Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services of Nova Scotia, Canada. The agency is using FGC with children in the two First Nation (Aboriginal) tribes of Nova Scotia: the Mi'kmaw and the Maliseet. Glode, a member of the Mi'kmaw tribe, teaches an Aboriginal perspectives course at the Maritime School of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Its curriculum concerns "building the past into the future." Said Glode: "We're doing the same thing with our agency."
When the agency was founded in 1985, there weren't enough First Nation social workers to staff it. "There were only two in the province of Nova Scotia," said Glode. The agency got a full mandate for its program in May 1990, along with a large group of First Nation social workers. At that point, said Glode, "we knew we should be looking at customary care [using traditional tribal methods]."
The agency's FGC initiative began, said Glode, partly as a result of her participation on a panel of the Law Commission of Canada, which examined government response to Aboriginal abuse in institutions. The panel found that the sole purpose of Canadian schools and orphanages regarding Aboriginal children had been to remove them from their culture, language and institutions. The schools had violated Aboriginal laws, by, for example, preventing mothers from passing down tribal traditions and knowledge to their daughters. For Glode, the panel's findings were an epiphany.
Glode attended the IIRP's international conference, in Toronto, Canada, August 2000. She received training in restorative practices and heard a plenary speech: "Aboriginal People and Justice Issues," by an Aboriginal judge, the Honorable Murray Sinclair, Associate Chief Judge, Manitoba. The talk traced the centuries-long, systematic destruction of Aboriginal resources, power and traditions by the Canadian government and stressed the importance of finding culturally appropriate approaches to the problems these policies had engendered.
FGC "fits with First Nation worldviews of respect, sharing resources, mutuality and interdependence, a family coming together and seeking its own solutions — the primary values in Aboriginal society."
— Joan Glode
On her return to Nova Scotia, Glode used the valuable information she had learned at the conference. A tribal chief was angry with the way Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services had handled a child welfare case, said Glode, so the agency held its first FGC, with the family, agency workers and the chief attending. The meeting took five hours. By the end, the group had come up with a work plan for the child. Some weeks later, a second meeting was held and everything on the plan had been accomplished. After a third meeting, "that was the end of it," said Glode, "It's been going fine ever since … The family needed to be heard."
The FGC project was then in the pre-pilot stage. "We knew we needed to formalize what we were doing," said Glode. With help from D'Uma Young, a young lawyer with a degree in tribal justice, the agency began to adapt FGC and circles to child welfare and First Nation standards. Glode said that her agency uses the New Zealand FGC model. Private family time is used "if the people want it," she said, "When we finish up the formal piece, we come up with a plan. Sometimes we do it together; it depends on the level of anxiety or pain."
FGC is "so validating for us," said Glode, adding, "It fits with First Nation worldviews of respect, sharing resources, mutuality and interdependence, a family coming together and seeking its own solutions — the primary values in Aboriginal society." In times of stress, said Glode, the first language for many Mi'kmaw people is Mi'kmaw. "Translating into English is painful," she said, "FGC allows them to speak in whatever way they wish. If you give people permission to talk, they will. Things extraneous to the matter will come up — things the family needs to talk about but never has. It's important to make sure that people don't get shut out."
Glode's agency received one of five CND $25,000 grants from the Centers of Excellence in Child Welfare of Health Canada to implement an 18-month project to formalize FGC. The project, said Glode, will follow 30 child welfare scenarios over time, half using FGC, half using the "regular" approach. Glode's agency is also talking to the government of Nova Scotia about including FGC in child welfare standards. In under a year, she said, the agency will present their case to the province, which so far seems open to supporting FGC. Glode hopes that the province will amend legislation so that FGC and circles can be substituted for appearances before a family court justice. Currently, the law allows for mediation as a substitute, but, said Glode, "that doesn't work."
Rob van Pagee is CEO of Eigen-Kracht Centrale, the Netherlands, and is active in implementing FGC in that country. FGC is operating in five out of 12 provinces in the Netherlands. Van Pagee published a book, in Dutch, Eigen-Kracht FGC in the Netherlands: From Model to Implementation, the first book on FGC in the Netherlands. Eigen-Kracht recently received 22,500-euro award for Most Innovative Program in the Netherlands from the Union of Directors of Child Protection. Eigen-Kracht Centrale's website is: http://www.eigen-kracht.nl
We need to send a different message to society … "It’s not us who can help you, it’s you that can help you."
— Rob van Pagee
The results of traditional child welfare work are "not great," said van Pagee. Studies in the Netherlands showed that one third of child welfare cases were helped by the system, one third remained the same and one third were made worse. "If you did nothing, you'd have the same result," he said. In conventional child welfare work "you report child abuse anonymously and the case is put away in a secret file. This is the opposite of what you should do," he said, because, in perpetuating secrecy, you also perpetuate the problem.
The success of FGC in the Netherlands has been a revelation for child welfare workers, who were cynical about families and thought that it was going to be hard to get families to come to FGCs, said van Pagee. The reality, he said, is that the child welfare system has been a bigger problem for FGC than the families. "Many social workers feel they need to control safety issues," said van Pagee. When he taught FGC to second year students in social work school he faced a great deal of opposition. The problem lies in the way that society sees social workers — the image that social work sells to society. Social workers are regarded as saviors, so people become social workers to save people. We need to send a different message to society, said van Pagee: "It's not us who can help you, it's you that can help you." The beauty of the FGC model, said van Pagee, is that "I finally can do what I'm good at — facilitating, not making decisions for somebody else's life; that's not good for them or me."
FGC, said van Pagee, gives respect back where it belongs — to the families — who are willing and able to take responsibility for their problems. "It gives people energy to have a vehicle to deal with their problems," he said, adding, "It's really rare for people who are exposed to FGC not to like it." And, said van Pagee, people come in big numbers. The average number of people attending an FGC in the Netherlands is 16.7. They come, bring their children, make plans, bring their own resources, support their plans, and most of the plans they devise are accepted by referral workers as safe.
Eigen-Kracht has 60 trained FGC coordinators, drawn from the community — "citizens who like to do it" — not social workers, said van Pagee. Their task is to make sure the conference is organized the way the family wants it in terms of time and place, attendees, traditions (beginning the conference with a prayer, etc.), even type of food. The coordinator may also facilitate a person in the family — a natural leader, often an elder — to help with FGC arrangements. The coordinators should not have an interest in the conference's outcome, said van Pagee.
"The model is in place, we know it's working, now we can play with it," said van Pagee. The approach of restorative practices and FGC are so similar, he said, that he doesn't understand why people need to differentiate them. "It's just the organizations' need to define themselves and has nothing to do with the needs of individuals," he said. Conferencing turns the system upside down and puts the needs of individuals first. "If you understand that, then models aren't important anymore," he said, adding, "You can combine models and change them according to the needs of the family."
Van Pagee cited two cases where FGC and Real Justice scripted conference models were combined. In one, a 17-year-old boy had committed a crime and his family was set to have a Real Justice conference, but the victim wanted no part of it. So they had an FGC, in which 17 extended family members came up with a plan to prevent the boy from embarking on a life of crime. In another case, a father had murdered the mother of two young children and was in prison. The extended family was scheduled for an FGC to address the needs of the children, who had, in effect, lost both their parents. The two sides of the family, however, were not emotionally ready work together on the problem. Instead, a Real Justice conference was held, focusing on the feelings and thoughts around the murder, using scripted Real Justice questions. Proceeding around the circle, everybody had a chance to have his or her say. The family took a break for lunch, then came back and did an FGC about the needs of the children, which was very successful. The hard feelings the two families had for each other had been softened by the Real Justice conference, so that the FGC could work, said van Pagee.
Conferencing turns the system upside down and puts the needs of individuals first. "If you understand that, then models aren’t important anymore … You can combine models and change them according to the needs of the family."
— Rob van Pagee
Van Pagee hopes that FGC will become law in the Netherlands, where discussion about the possibility is already "on a pretty high level." He would like to see a law like New Zealand's, where citizens have the right to a conference before anybody else comes into the family. "We get the most complicated cases referred to us — the ones the social workers can't handle," he said, but "conferencing needs to be accessible to all. Why should the social workers decide which cases get referred? The same is true with Real Justice conferences. Why should police or prosecutors decide? Why shouldn't citizens have the right to decide?" These principles should apply in all situations in society where decisions need to be made, said van Pagee: elderly adults going into rest homes, in health care, domestic violence, cases of mental and physical handicaps. The key element is that the family has the first chance to deal with the problem. "That's the paradigm shift," said van Pagee. But you need vehicles to re-establish lost communities. That, he said, is why FGC and restorative conferences are important.
Karin Gunderson is a teaching associate at the Northwest Institute for Children and Families at the University of Washington School of Social Work, Seattle, Washington, USA. She manages grants, raises funds and oversees FGC studies in her state, where over 700 FGCs have been held. Gunderson collaborated on the largest long-term follow-up study of FGC published to date: "Long Term and Immediate Outcomes of Family Group Conferencing in Washington State (June 2001)." Seventy FGCs addressed the well-being of 138 children that had been in the child welfare system for over 90 days. Children who had an FGC experienced high rates of reunification or kinship placement and low rates of re-referral to Child Protective Services. These findings generally remained stable as long as two years post-conference. The paper may be read at: http://www.iirp.edu/article_detail.php?article_id=NDU2
Gunderson is involved in another New Zealand model-based FGC study with young people ages 11–18 in high-cost residential group care. Family members are attending conferences for all the youths, "even kids who'd burned all their bridges" with inappropriate behavior, said Gunderson. An average of six to eight family members attends the FGCs, two to three from the father's side. This is the average number of family members attending FGCs in every study done in the US, with the same distribution of members from the mother's and father's side, said Gunderson. The study will examine data 6 and 12 months after discharge from care. Interviews will be done with social workers, family members and youths to find out what worked and why. Preliminary findings suggest that, after FGCs, "the trajectory of the kids is changed," said Gunderson. Although they haven't necessarily been placed with family members, they have gone to "less restrictive placements, as opposed to juvenile justice facilities or the streets."
FGC provides resources, support, connections and improved relationships between families and professionals. Local family members may have antagonism for a child who has caused problems, but expanding the circle brings in other perspectives and knowledge about the child, for the benefit of both professionals and family members. As a result of FGCs, fewer kids are referred back into care. But, said Gunderson, FGC is not just a matter of family placement: "It's about reinvigorating family connections. Knowing who you are and where you belong are important ingredients in adult resilience."
There are only a few situations where FGCs aren't appropriate, said Gunderson, adding, "Sometimes there really is no family." FGCs are also not used in sexual abuse cases in the early stages of prosecution, because prosecutors fear that if everyone gets together in an FGC, the offender will manipulate the victim into withdrawing the charges. "Prosecutors don't want us to do to FGCs in any sex abuse cases," said Gunderson, "but we don't agree. The bottom line is, the child is the customer and we're going to do what's in the best interest of the child." If safety is a worry, the conference might be held in a firehouse or police station.
Many FGCs come about when social workers are faced with impossible dilemmas, said Gunderson, adding, "The older the child is, the more you see an impossible mess." And, she said, "every social worker has 30 of these cases." FGCs, said Gunderson, provide social workers with new thinking and new resources. For example, one family member can take the children on weekends; another can take them weekday afternoons. And, she said, relatives can ask for things that social workers can't.
FGC must "come in from the margins and be put into the hardwiring of child welfare."
— Karin Gunderson
"When a neutral person does preparation and families get together and start talking, so many unnecessary barriers become visible," said Gunderson. For example, FGC uncovered a gender bias in the system. Traditional practice understanding holds that fathers don't participate in child welfare. In FGC, however, not only do fathers come, but their fathers come, and their mothers, too. "Did we not invite the men," asked Gunderson, "or did fathers assume the process was going to make them feel worthless and so send the woman to take care of the problem?" Also, there's a widespread belief in child welfare that children in care "have no families, or that their families are dysfunctional, in jail or disgusted with their kids and won't get involved." The system reinforces this thinking and provides no help in finding relatives. But, said Gunderson, "If you think the aunt and grandmother are the child's only relatives, you've got another thing coming."
A critical problem in child welfare policy, said Gunderson, is that children placed with family members tend not to get the same level of support or resources as those placed in care outside the family. Funding streams are earmarked for foster parents, rather than kinship care. A foster family will get US $800 for three children; a relative, US $300. When a child goes to live with his grandmother, she is often single, older and poor, and she ends up having to give him up. The child then ends up back in care and stays there.
However, said Gunderson, there is now a large demographic of people reaching grandparent age in the US. Formerly, children who lived with their grandparents were mainly the poor and/or people of color and their needs were discounted, said Gunderson. Now, she said, many middle class white people are becoming caregivers to their grandchildren and demanding financial help to raise the children. But, said Gunderson, due to deeply entrenched values, the state won't give money to family caregivers, simply because the children are their relatives, even if the alternative costs much more money.
FGC must "come in from the margins and be put into the hardwiring of child welfare," and social workers must be required to name, search for and engage extended family, said Gunderson. She is working on a project to train social workers and lawyers in FGC together, so both can help clients participate in the FGC process. She also hopes to train judges in the value of FGC and to help remove legislative barriers to the involvement of extended families in child welfare. If you have supports in many places in the system, you have a much greater chance for success, she said.
Tight budgets are a concern now, however. The primary mandate in child welfare is to intervene to stop abuse and neglect, and Gunderson is afraid that will mean fewer FGC facilitators. Washington state's child welfare agency has been praised around the country for FGC, and every study recommends FGC, "yet we're losing funds for facilitators," she said. Still, child neglect cases are increasing across the country, especially chronic neglect due to substance abuse, and, as the economy declines, neglect cases increase. FGC is very effective in neglect cases, said Gunderson, especially substance abuse cases, because an extended family member can take a child while a parent gets help for substance abuse problems, but this rarely happens in foster care or adoption situations. The current US presidential administration has launched a big adoption drive, said Gunderson. But, she said, if you look for placement among relatives, it's much more organic.
Julia Hennessy is social work service manager for the Essex County Council, UK, which delivers FGCs in three areas of service: care and protection of children, young people who offend and adult mental health care planning. The Essex County Council Family Group Conference Project website is here.
The 1996 Essex Family Group Conference Project, a one year child welfare conferencing pilot program for children who were in state care, was so successful that "it is now mainstream policy," said Hennessy, adding, "The FGC process is embedded in Children's Services Practice and Policy across the county of Essex. As part of case planning in partnership with children, young people and their families, social workers consider and make a decision on using the process for family support, child protection and looked-after children, as well as prior to care proceedings applications." CPS has developed partnerships with the health and police departments. "The outcome of the partnerships has been exceptional," said Hennessy.
The New Zealand FGC model is employed. Good preparation is essential. The conference is held at a time and place convenient to as many family members and other close interested parties as possible. An independent coordinator facilitates. Private family time is used. Professionals agree to the family's plan, unless it places the child or youth at risk of significant harm. Various agencies and professionals negotiate resources. The plan is monitored and reviewed over time and review FGCs are built into the process, with dates arranged at the original FGC.
The real question professionals must ask themselves is: "Do you believe children should be with their families? And should people have a say in their own lives?"
— Julia Hennessy
FGC works because "it's about families being given good information to make decisions, children having the opportunity to have input," said Hennessy. In the past, she said, children were being put up for adoption because there was no opportunity to make other plans for them. Now, she said, families and communities are taking personal responsibility for their children. Involving the extended family in the conferences maintains a child's network, she said, and preserves its essential racial, community and family identity. Adopted children commonly become disconnected from these identities. Kinship care, a typical outcome of an FGC plan, preserves these identities.
Some health care professionals really like FGCs, said Hennessy, while some do not. "Individual power values are the hardest thing to overcome," she said, adding, "People are afraid of losing their power." But she said, the real question professionals must ask themselves is: "Do you believe children should be with their families? And should people have a say in their own lives?"
Essex County Council Child Protection Services (CPS) has seven senior practitioners and 20 independent coordinators and managers who deliver an average of 120 child welfare conferences per year in Essex County, said Hennessy. If a child is subject to care proceedings (i.e., a ward of the state), a lawyer asks for an FGC, but the case must go to court first. In the UK, said Hennessy, information on a child subject to care proceedings can't be disclosed without the court's permission.
An FGC can be accomplished in Essex County in two ways, said Hennessy. It can be voluntary when the parents retain full responsibility for the child. When an FGC is offered as an option the family must be in agreement and explanation must be given about the process. If the risk to the child is high, i.e., in cases of serious injury, sexual abuse, fractures or shaken baby, the court makes the initial care order and the local authority is the lead decision maker. These cases usually involve younger children where there's a strong possibility for adoption, said Hennessy, and the court can mandate that an FGC be held, even if the parents do not agree.
Hennessy cited the case of a family with two young children, both of whose parents had severe alcohol problems. The court determined that the children could not live with the parents and the referral came to CPS. The parents refused to attend the FGC, but the court mandated one anyway. The parents didn't attend the conference, but the rest of the family came together. "We knew there was an extended family out there," said Hennessy. The father had been married before and had older children whose information was important. In the end, both children were placed with a maternal aunt. This never would have happened without a court mandated FGC, said Hennessy.
Charles Clark is deputy chief constable of Essex County Police. He has been a police officer for 35 years and one of the lead chief police officers on youth justice issues in the UK for over 10 years. He has worked with the British Home Office on a range of policy development in relation to young people and was closely involved with the development of the Essex Family Group Conference Service.
The UK Crime and Disorder Act 1998 brought a statutory rigor to youth justice, expressing a clear and explicit aim toward prevention for the first time, said Clark. The introduction of Youth Offending Teams galvanized key players in the main statutory agencies — social services, probation, police, education and health — to work together on the prevention agenda. The Youth Justice Board of England and Wales was created to set national standards and targets and monitor performance.
The Essex police became interested in using FGC in youth justice because the model had proved successful in the child welfare arena. It was important that youth justice FGCs not be about punishment, but about changing people's behavior, said Clark. FGCs should not merely hold people to account, he said, but "set them up for a decent life in the future." However, Clark added, "When we asked for funding for the model, we not only wanted something that would feel good, but something that would give us hard-nosed results. The government held us accountable to reduce crime, too." The message, he said, is that FGCs "are not a soft option, but the toughest and most effective means of dealing with young people." It's much more difficult for youth to face up to what they've done than to simply be handed punishment, he said.
The Essex police, in conjunction with the Youth Justice Board, funded The Essex Family Group Conference, Young People Who Offend Project. The University of East Anglia provided a two-year independent evaluation of the project. Data was gathered from a small sample of 30 youth justice FGCs; the youth involved had offended at least three or four times and were at highest risk — on the verge of custodial sentences. The project's results were "spectacular," showing a "massive" reduction in reoffending rates, said Clark. Conventional youth justice approaches produce a thirty to sixty percent reoffending rate, while the project saw a reoffending rate of seven percent after two years.
FGCs "are not a soft option, but the toughest and most effective means of dealing with young people."
— Charles Clark
"I was skeptical when I first heard about the FGC process, but I was reassured and taken aback by the strength of the process," said Clark. He cited the case of a troubled young man who had burglarized residences of several elderly people. In foster care, the boy felt alienated and unloved and had fallen in with a bad crowd. Six months after the FGC, he was "very much on track," living with his aunt and uncle, attending school full time and speaking at FGC promotional events.
Private family time is an important part of the youth justice FGC model. The big issue, said Clark, is "What is the family going to do to help young people come through?" After the family comes up with a plan, it is regularly monitored to ensure that it is being followed. Families find solutions that are lasting and effective in an environment where facilitators are trained to bring people together, said Clark. Facilitators are drawn mainly from professional agencies and can include social workers, probation officers, police officers and others. The main qualification for a facilitator is his or her value system, said Clark: a genuine belief that the family is the best decision-maker.
In the youth justice FGC model, victims and their supporters attend conferences, along with youth offenders and their supporters. Of victims who participated in the project, 90 percent expressed satisfaction with the process and said they thought that FGCs should be offered to everyone in a similar situation. Clark said he was fascinated to see the interaction between victims and offenders. He expected a good deal of anger on the part of the victims, but found, instead, that most victims were very sympathetic toward the young offenders. Victims didn't condone the offenders' actions, he said, but were glad to be allowed to chastise them and tell how the offense had affected them.
It is important, said Clark, that the FGC process be marketed effectively. One way is by stressing that FGCs are much more cost-effective than conventional measures. Also, stringent evaluation is essential. The outstanding evaluation obtained from the Essex youth justice FGC project has been an effective marketing tool with government agencies. Clark said that there is now interest in youth justice FGCs within the British Home Office and the House of Lords, and among senior cabinet officials, coinciding with the government's interest in restorative justice.
Another article in this series about family group conferencing will be appearing soon on the Restorative Practices eForum.
Karin Gunderson, featured above, will be a plenary speaker at the IIRP conference, Building a Global Alliance for Restorative Practices and Family Empowerment, in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, in August 2003. For more information, go to: https://www.iirp.edu/world-conferences.php
- Written by Laura Mirsky
This article is a follow-up to a presentation from “Dreaming of a New Reality,” the IIRP's Third International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, August 2002. In that presentation Vidia Negrea, director of CSF Hungary, discussed her experience learning restorative practices in the USA and her plans to open a school in her country. The text of Negrea's presentation is available here.
|Vidia Negrea (second from left), director of CSF Hungary, poses with staff members Laszlo Gupcsi (far left) and Erika Bognar (far right), and two students.|
A new Community Service Foundation (CSF) school has just been launched in Hungary — its goal: to implement restorative practices with delinquent and at-risk youth in that country. The school, which opened January 6, 2003 in Budapest, is funded by grants from CSF and the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) in the United States and the Hungarian Ministry of Children, Youth and Sports. The Hungarian Ministries of Justice and of Social and Family Affairs are also supporting the school as “a model for institutions to work with children with problems or at risk,” said Vidia Negrea, the school’s director.The CSF school represents an important turning point for Hungary. As a matter of course, delinquent youth in that country have been removed from their home environment and housed in reformatories or other special institutions, put on probation or jailed. Negrea explained: “There is no law in Hungary supporting day treatment.” She hopes that the school will give troubled youth a better chance to reintegrate into society by providing an alternative approach in their own community. A new law will take effect in June acknowledging the need for services provided by NGOs (non-government organizations), in effect encouraging entities like CSF Hungary.
Working as a psychologist at the largest, oldest boys’ reformatory in Europe, in Aszod, Hungary, Negrea saw that the methods in use there weren’t working. Research data on 500 boys showed that six months after leaving the reformatory, 75 percent had reoffended. Data analysis revealed that the boys who had most closely followed reformatory rules had reoffended sooner and more often than others.
Boys at the reformatory told Negrea that they were scared to go home, afraid of being labeled for life as “bad” and terrified of meeting the victims of their crimes and their families. To address this fear, she asked 100 students in her care to write an imaginary letter to their victims. Their heartfelt, remorseful letters had Negrea and her colleagues in tears. Some boys wrote real letters to their victims, apologizing for the harm they had done to them and their families and offering any help they might provide. This was the first time Negrea felt she came close to fulfilling people’s needs, both victims and offenders, instead of just administering punishment.
My friends and colleagues at home deserve a place where they are happy to come to work, even with the most difficult students.
- Vidia Negrea
Negrea received her first training in restorative practices when Beth Rodman and Paul McCold of the IIRP came to Hungary. She was thrilled to finally find a framework for dealing with troubled youth similar to her experience with the letter-writing project at the reformatory. She later spent a year doing hands-on training in restorative practices at CSF schools in Pennsylvania and was determined to bring the fruits of her training back to Eastern Europe.
She also appreciated the restorative work environment created for the staff, where mutual support was a workplace priority. Said Negrea: “My friends and colleagues at home deserve a place where they are happy to come to work, even with the most difficult students. Here at CSF, I realized it was possible.”
At first, Negrea wasn’t confident that she could lead such an effort. Near the end of her stay in the United States, CSF/IIRP president Ted Wachtel suggested that Negrea try being a supervisor. When she served as a substitute supervisor at two CSF schools, she gained confidence working in new settings. “It was a great opportunity to see what I had learned and how my learning would apply elsewhere,” she noted.
The key to the work, Negrea discovered, “was not about being knowledgeable about everything happening in each particular school and having all the answers, but about using the same way of working with people and being responsible and respectful with people. The structure and philosophy were the same.” Negrea realized that her work in Hungary would be based on implementing the same structure and philosophy.
When she went home to Hungary in 2001, Negrea quit her two jobs: as a psychologist at the boys’ reformatory, and at the National Institute for Family and Children, and began to try to introduce restorative practices. Some of Negrea’s colleagues told her that Hungary wasn’t ready for those methods. “It’s not America,” they said. But Negrea understood that restorative practices were “not based on American culture, but on relationships between people.”
Negrea drew on her existing relationships with people in social services — students, probation officers, teachers, administrators, police — and “made a lot of noise” about why restorative practices are important. She was then asked to do trainings for government institutions that wanted to make changes. “I used to be sent in as an expert to say why things weren’t going well,” said Negrea, adding, “They expected me to report on how to change or close the institutions.”
Instead, Negrea did two-day Introduction to Restorative Practices trainings with all the employees at several institutions, “not just teachers and counselors, but the gatekeeper, the cook, the director.” Negrea told them: “If you really want to change, you have to think about how you can work together, otherwise, they’re going to close you down.”
Negrea was struck by how quickly people understood the practices she introduced. “Very simple people can understand in hours that it’s their responsibility to change the institution,” she said. The institutions stayed open and are now using restorative circles. In one big group home, a semi-secure unit “where children are sent because nobody else can deal with them,” the staff is using circles for themselves and with the children. At first it was strange for the staff to discuss their problems with each other. They were accustomed to blaming each other and relying on a hierarchy. But now they are expressing their issues openly and the children are developing their own group “norms” — standards for behavior.
Negrea also did restorative practices presentations for prosecutors, judges, lawyers, probation officers, schoolteachers and administrators — people who will refer children to her CSF school. She used IIRP training videos and overhead projections, which had been translated into Hungarian, as well as interactive exercises.
To elucidate the social discipline window, which illustrates the concepts of TO, FOR, NOT, and WITH, she tried an exercise at one of her presentations that was originally developed in a CSF Professional Learning Group. Dividing the participants into four groups, she gave each group the same simple task to perform (drawing a flower). She then did NOT do anything and completely neglected one group (little support or control); did the entire task FOR another (high support, little control); dictated TO another group exactly what to do (high control, little support); and gave the WITH group the help they needed, but let them perform the task themselves.
By the end of the exercise, the participants had obtained a thorough, visceral understanding of the restorative paradigm. People in the neglected group felt hurt because they were being ignored. Those in the FOR group sat there and did nothing, upset that they had no input. The TO group members were angry and resentful at being told what to do. The people in the WITH group were happy and productive, having been treated restoratively: that is, with both high support and high control.
In all, the restorative practices presentations went extremely well. “I was amazed,” said Negrea, adding: “Nobody wanted to break for lunch; they wanted to keep going.” Instruction in Hungary is traditionally very intellectual and theoretical, said Negrea. The restorative practices trainings, in contrast, were dynamic and interactive, based on real practice and understanding through action and reflection.
The trainings were a revelation. One teacher said that, deep inside, she had always known about the concepts Negrea had shared, but had never had the words for them, never known how simple and obvious they could be. Said Negrea: “I wanted the authorities to realize that they needed the program.”
Negrea’s strategy has been working. At her last presentation for police, some of them realized that they had been talking on the phone about the same students for a long time without ever meeting each other. They talked about their need to start working with each other, and not just in a formal way. “Like a small but good virus, it’s spreading,” said Negrea. The idea is to disseminate restorative practices everywhere. “Children at the new school will take what they learn home with them and it will affect their families,” said Negrea.
Negrea hired Erika Bognar, a young Hungarian woman, as her first CSF staff member. Bognar had six weeks of training at the CSF school in Bethlehem. Despite initial language difficulties, she felt that she learned a great deal about restorative practices to bring back to her country, and was able to work with Negrea on plans for the opening of CSF Hungary. A third staff member, Laszlo Gupcsi, was hired more recently as a counselor and math, science and art teacher, and there are plans to hire more staff as the school expands.
It's all working. Kids are confronting each other and taking responsibility for themselves and each other.
- Vidia Negrea
The school now has four students, with more on the way. The four are ages 13 – 16, all children at risk who were expelled from school: two who had used drugs, one with a criminal record and one with truancy problems. All are doing very well at CSF Hungary. These are kids who never wanted to come to school, but now they come on time every day, even during heavy snowstorms. They help each other get up in the morning by calling each other on the phone. “It’s a tough group,” said Negrea, but she feels that the kids and the staff are making great progress together.
“We’re doing exactly the same things we did at the CSF school in Bethlehem,” said Negrea: “The same schedule, the same group structure, the same questions, the same ‘feelings poster.’ ” And it’s all working. Kids are confronting each other and taking responsibility for themselves and each other. “I thought it would be more difficult,” said Negrea. But, she said, “the tough kids feel respected, so they have no reason to be disrespectful to the staff or to each other.”
Feedback from parents has been extremely positive. Negrea delighted parents by inviting them to attend intake interviews, along with the students and caseworkers. One parent exclaimed: “You mean we are going to be in the same room with our children and their social workers?” Said Negrea: “From the beginning, they have seen restorative practices and have been part of the program. Everybody had the chance to speak up.” It’s also a new thing for parents to be called with positive news from their children’s school, a “good surprise” for them, said Negrea. One mother said that she never thought that her boy would go to school — that he never went before without being pushed.
Feedback from caseworkers has been positive, as well. Most caseworkers didn’t believe students would come to the program. Now, said Negrea, “every day we are being viewed more and more seriously.” Students are being referred to the school from group homes all over Budapest. Soon, they will have from 12 to 15 kids. Negrea wants to keep the maximum at 15 for now.
Negrea is hopeful that restorative practices will be good for Hungary. “Like every other country that was under the socialists for so many years,” she said, “somebody always decided FOR you what you had to do, or told you what TO do.” For that reason, she thinks, the notion of doing things WITH people will be especially beneficial for Hungary. (Socialism is not a bad thing in and of itself, Negrea believes, but it became an unsound system because people abused power.) “Restorative practices will be a good tool to help people develop fair relationships between people,” she said. “Hungary needs that,” she said, “and not just Hungary!”
|A "feedback group," shown here, is a structured opportunity for community members to tell one another how their behavior affects them.|
“Some people are waiting for a miracle,” said Negrea, “but I need to remember that it’s not all me, it’s up to them, too. The referral sources — everyone.” In the candid spirit of restorative practices, “We’ll be open for everybody,” she said, adding, “The Ministry of Justice is already planning to visit.” Ultimately, sustained by the knowledge that she has the full support of CSF and the IIRP behind her, Negrea declared: “I’m sure it’s going to work.”
The IIRP’s Benjamin Wachtel is traveling to Hungary from Pennsylvania this month to help set up the school’s computer network, train the staff and kids to use it, and instruct them in digital video and photography. He’s looking forward to the experience, even though he doesn’t speak Hungarian and the kids don’t speak much English. Negrea and her staff are teaching the kids English, a little at a time, and Wachtel will no doubt provide assistance with that, as well.
The kids at CSF Hungary are proud to be the first ones in a new program, and to finally really belong somewhere. Said Negrea: “We have kids with a lot of new dreams.” We at the IIRP have great hopes for Negrea and CSF Hungary, and we’ll keep you informed of their progress.
- Written by Laura Mirsky
Nancy Riestenberg is a prevention specialist with the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning (CFL), which oversees funding and programming for public schools in that state. She works with violence prevention education, restorative schools, safe and drug-free schools and coordinated school health programs. She was interviewed by journalist Laura Mirsky at IIRP's Third International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices in August 2002.
Q: How are restorative practices being implemented in public schools in Minnesota?
A: The whole range of restorative practices is happening in the schools: Family Group Conferencing, Restorative Group Conferencing, Circles to Repair Harm, Circles of Understanding, Victim Offender Dialogue. All of those practices are being tried to varying degrees in schools. The activity is at a relatively high level.
It's hard to keep track of it because people go to trainings and then they may do things that are difficult to see or to track. For instance, a teacher may go to a training and that may influence the way they conduct their classroom, or an administrator may go to a training and then handle discipline differently than what he or she did before. In some instances, school districts have taken a more holistic approach or a sort of institutional approach—they've actually changed some policy and decided to proactively train people. Activity is happening at all levels: at a kind of grass roots level, at a building level and in some instances at a district level.
Q: How have restorative practices changed the schools where they're being used?
A: It's hard to quantify that. I would say that they've changed the way people do their job and their attitudes toward their jobs. It's not uncommon for me to hear administrators say, "I like my job more," "I feel more confident that I'm really getting to the root of the problem," "I feel as though by doing this I make better connections between students and teachers," "I feel as though I have more connections with the students that I work with." The atmosphere in the building might feel better, more comfortable, more respectful. Others feel that their teaching has improved, that they're making connections with children, seeing children being empowered. It's always fun when a kid can ask for a talking piece and hold a circle in the corner of the playground with his friends and feel as though they have taken care of their problems themselves. When kids learn a problem-solving process and they practice it, it becomes their own; they figure out how they can do it themselves.
Sixth-grade students in a circle at Kaposia Elementary School, South St. Paul, Minn.
Q: What appeals to you about restorative practices?
A: I have always worked in the fields of prevention and education. I have dealt with social issues. One of the issues that intrigued me was bullying. There has always been a question in my mind about the school's response to this and how they might do it differently. If we suspend bullies or make them sit out from recess, how does that help them or make them change their behavior? How can you help people figure out another way of behaving so they don't hurt other people? I think a good restorative process attempts to get at that and gives people some ideas. It is also a place where people can begin to reflect on what they're doing and why they do it.
The other thing that appealed to me about restorative practices involves empathy. I spent a lot of time working in the area of child sexual abuse prevention education. One of the things that struck me is that one of the reasons why offenders do what they do – this most horrific act – is because they either don't know how to or have decided not to empathize with someone. If they were to stop for a moment and think about what this would be like, they just could not go down that road. I know that the skills of empathy can be taught. The parts of empathy can be taken apart, explored and looked at, but you can't make someone empathize with someone else. With restorative practices, you create a safe place, people are prepared, they're supported, they're there with their friends or their family and they know that they can express their feelings. Everybody is part of figuring out how to solve a problem. I think it creates an environment where empathy can happen. So you can lead them to the water and hope that they will drink in the process. In terms of prevention, that is such a key element. If we can get people to be able to empathize with each other, they're so much less likely to hurt one another. It's a place where you can both teach it and hold out the possibility of people being able to actually practice it.
Q: You did a three-year evaluation of the restorative practices in your school districts. Could you tell us about it?
A: We had money from the legislature to evaluate the implementation and results of using restorative practices in four different school districts. We had an urban kindergarten through eighth grade building, a suburban school district with three buildings, and a consolidated rural district that had three buildings and a rural high school. This was an evaluation. It was not research, so we didn't have control groups and all those sorts of things. This was really about gathering information, about telling the story of how they went about doing this and what kind of preliminary outcomes they saw. There were a number of things that emerged from this evaluation. I think one of the most important, and for some people reassuring, things that we found out is that to make change happen in a school you need to have at least two to three years. Just because somebody gets money in July they're not going to be able to implement immediately in September and then start testing it in January. Nothing happens that fast in a school. That's a very important thing for people to remember if they are going to sustain any kind of energy in trying to create change in a building or among people. It takes time. Even with people who have the heart, soul, energy, resources and desire, it still takes time.
Passing the "talking piece" at Kaposia
Another thing that we found is that it's easy to gather information about offenders, about what kind of an impact a restorative process might have had on them and whether or not they reoffended. It's a little bit harder to gather information about the impact on the person who was hurt or on the community. It doesn't show up as numbers, so you don't have it on the discipline track. "We had five victims last month and this month we only have two" –nobody keeps numbers like that. How would you define them anyway? That's kind of hard. That has to be defined by the person. Therefore, you have to use other ways of figuring out how to evaluate. You have to ask people questions and you have to go with their perceptions and feelings. That gives you a richer piece of information, but it's more qualitative than quantitative. The other thing I think we learned from this it that you really need to put the two together. You have to have numbers and you have to have the stories. You need to have both of those things together to get a clear understanding about what happened and to figure out what you can learn from that.
In one building in particular there were very strong quantitative results. It appears that with the institution of Circles to Repair Harm, along with circles used in the classroom for building community, they went from about seven incidents of violence a day to around one a day in the course of three-and-a-half years. That was a significant drop. There was also a significant drop over three years in terms of overall behavior referrals to the office. They went from somewhere in the thousands to 450, like 1600 to 450 over the course of three years. That drop was an all school effort. It was not the effort of just one person. It was the administrative team making decisions to do things differently, as well as quite a number of staff people deciding that they were going to include this community-building activity in their classroom.
That was another key thing we learned from the evaluation. If you just have a restorative intervention, that will get you someplace. If you just have classroom management skills that are cognitively based and are about problem solving rather than using power and control over kids, you will get someplace. If you get the two of them together, you will go so much farther in a quicker period of time because the whole school then becomes congruent. There are lots of classroom management approaches that are cognitively based. They're about problem solving. They're about helping individual children learn how to make amends, use conflict resolution, etc. That's been around for a long time and there's been good research on it indicating that it's very helpful, useful and that it makes the classroom a better place. But when you have the inevitable fight, which is going to happen no matter what, then what do you do? Are you going to be able to continue to carry the philosophy that you built up so nicely in the classroom into the principal's office or are you going to have to go back to suspensions and expulsions? So restorative interventions help to complete a kind of circle of support, if you will, for children within the school. The message is: we recognize that people are going to make mistakes, but that doesn't mean that you have to leave the community. We have this other way to hold you accountable and help you fix the problem that you made. That was a very interesting observation—when you put the two together, you just got further faster.
Q: Do you have any particular stories that you would like to share?
A: There's one story that I like to tell about four third-grade boys: three African-American boys and one European-American boy. This was in a suburban district, so the African-American boys were very much in the minority, about 10% of that school were kids of color. The white boy called the other three boys a racial slur. In this district that was considered a bottom-line behavior, which meant it was racial harassment and he could have been suspended for probably two or three days.
The boys were familiar with the circle process and the administrators were willing to consider a restorative response to the offense. The boys all agreed that they wanted to sit in a circle and talk about what had happened. The restorative justice planner in that school facilitated the circle. The significant thing that came out of the circle was that the three African-American boys had an opportunity to tell the boy what that slur meant. For one boy, it was the word that a white man used when he shot his uncle in the head. The second boy said, "it's the word those men in the white sheets use in the movies when they go to burn down my people's houses." The third boy said when he hears that word, "it just hurts my heart so much I just have to leave; I have to get away." I think the offending boy knew it was a powerful word, but I kind of want to believe that in third grade he didn't know just how powerful it was. He does now. He certainly knows now.
I thought the boy received a gift from those other boys. They had the courage to share that with him. What they wanted from this kid, to make amends for what he had done, was for them to be friends. So for the rest of that year, they played together on the playground. Three years later, the woman who ran that group said that they still played together. They were still friends. That's one of my favorite stories.
In another school incident, a fight broke out among about four or five boys. This fight happened, of course, in a context. It happened a couple of weeks after a boy in that school died in a tragic car accident. One boy made some disparaging remarks about the deceased–that what happened was probably his fault. Maybe he wasn't wearing his seat belt, or he was driving too fast, or he was impaired in some way. He was blaming the person who had died, in a way. Some of the friends of the boy who had died heard this and were incensed. It was very recent. Grief was still very high in everybody's mind and they jumped him. They all got into a fight.
The boys would normally have been suspended for at least three days for a fight. But, in this particular instance, they all agreed to go to the restorative justice planner in the school. They wanted to have a circle to talk about what happened. As they talked about how their behavior had affected themselves and other people, they all came to the conclusion that the person they had harmed the most was the boy who had died. To make amends for this, they all got into the restorative justice planner's car and they went to the graveyard and apologized to the gravestone. It's that kind of creativity that is so compelling for me, where you can have a connection between the true harm and the consequence. That is profound. Not only is it profound, I'm sure that it was also therapeutic for these boys. I bet it was probably healing for them. I think that it helped them to appreciate more what they had lost. That's the kind of connection we need as human beings. That's what being a human being is about. It's not about the recipe of the student conduct book. Those are some of my favorite stories.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to bring restorative practices into their school?
A: I guess the first thing that I would advise people is that if they are in a position to do it and they believe in it, they should just do it. There's a lot of autonomy amongst the adults in a school, and wherever you can find it, even if it is just with the low-level stuff, it is a good way to operate. In doing that, you can do that grassroots kind of building where people hear about things and they become intrigued. They come because of their own interest to try to find out about something. If you are a person who does have a position of power, then maybe what you want to do is try to go at the top end. I think that you just need to decide what your sphere of influence is and start there.
Another piece of advice is part of the restorative philosophy: This is a process that should be voluntary. Just let go of the idea that everybody in a school is supposed to do this and that every incident needs to be handled this way and everybody needs to be a believer and everybody needs to participate. That's a road to exhaustion. Look for people who are friends. Look for people who are compatible. Look for people who would be advocates with you. Go where the strengths are. Do that in a respectful way. That's what the philosophy calls people to do.
I think the other thing that is important in trying to do something in a school is that if you get to a position where you can do training, involve kids in the training. It makes a big difference. It gives people a different perspective on kids to see them in a different setting. They offer an enormous amount of wisdom and perspective.
Q: What do you see, hope, dream is the future of restorative practices in schools?
A: I hope that this is not a fad like a lot of other things. I'm concerned that people don't co-opt the term just to appease people, that they don't just call certain things restorative when they're not. I think a good example of that is community service. Community service is a wonderful thing. It can be an extraordinary way for kids to learn. It's a great way to teach people. It can be part of a restorative agreement where you use community service as a means to make amends. But when you tell somebody to do community service, just because it's community service doesn't mean it's restorative. You're missing those steps of coming together, talking about who was affected and then deciding together what would be some ways to repair this harm. If one of the things that they figure out is, "Oh, it would be cool if you did community service. You took time away from education, so why don't you tutor in the classroom? You're good at math." That's very different than saying, you took time away in the hallway, so now I want you to go to community service.
A celebratory moment
I hope I come to a point where I will be able to ask school people if they have policies attending to the needs of victims in their school and they will be able to answer yes. They will be able to articulate what those are. There will be things offered to kids when they have been harmed, harassed, bullied, or part of a fight–the opportunity to talk to someone, to get education, to be able to ask for a restorative process. I would hope that we could come to a time when the school is not just focused on the person who did the harm, but is equally focused on the person who was harmed. Pairing punishment with restorative processes is perhaps problematic. People do it because it satisfies both sides. Certainly, even if you suspend the child, doing the restorative process pays attention to the victim, but I hope that we would get to a place where we would not have to do the two of them together, that people would be satisfied with restorative consequence.
I hope that people make the connection between restorative interventions and the way the staff is trained to talk to kids, to manage their classroom and to try to help the kids with their behavior. I would like to see them make the connection between restorative interventions and the health curriculum they teach about problem solving and decision making. I would hope for school people to have enough time somewhere in their lives where they can stop and breathe and see the larger picture.
A video of this interview can be found here.
- Written by Laura Mirsky
Len Wildman and Tom Dwyer work for the Rochester Police Department in Rochester, New York, U.S.A. Len is the manager of the Family and Victims Services section. Tom is the coordinator of that section’s Juvenile Accountability Conferencing (JAC) program. They were interviewed by reporter Laura Mirsky at IIRP’s Third International Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices in August 2002.
|Len Wildman is manager of the Family and Victims Services section, Rochester Police Department, Rochester, N.Y.|
Tom Dwyer is coordinator of Juvenile Accountability Conferencing, a program of the Rochester Police Department’s Family and Victims Services section.
Q: How did you get involved in integrating conferencing into the police department?
A (Len): Before Tom came to the police department to coordinate the project, we had heard about conferencing within our department, the juvenile section. We were interested in focusing on juveniles and developing a diversion program. We knew we needed more and better diversion programs. We just didn’t know in which direction we should go. We had eliminated a few programs because our research was telling us that they weren’t effective. One of our commanding officers had heard about something called restorative practices. She really didn’t know much about it and she asked me to pursue it. I called a number of people.
One of them directed me to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I met the folks at Real Justice [an IIRP program] on the phone. After a number of conversations and some faxed material, I sat down with my supervisor and told her what I thought the program was about. It was a unique idea and I thought it would work for police officers in our department. She was convinced that it was a good thing to try. She found some money for us. We hired Real Justice to come and train 20 of our police officers and about 10 of our civilians in my section to be conference facilitators. As an experiment, we chose a junior high school. All of our junior and senior high schools have school police officers. We picked a few officers and began the process. We did about 40 conferences in a year. We thought it was very successful. We wrote a grant, won the award and were able to hire Tom to coordinate the program. This was the official beginning of our program which has now operated for three years.
Q: Do you feel that the program has worked well?
A (Len): We are asked that by our grants people and by our chief. We measure our recidivism rate by noting whether or not the juvenile enters back into the juvenile system. We don’t track them after they become adults and in New York state you become an adult when you are 16. We have had a 93% success rate thus far. Again, by our definition, this means they don’t come back into the system. I think that mirrors some of the research that has been done, so we are glad that we are on target and that helps us define this as successful. I was a little frightened in the beginning because most of the police departments with such programs were small and served communities of less than 50,000 people. And I was a little concerned about how this process would work in a large police department with a more diverse community. I would go around at conferences asking, “How big is your community?” and, “Is there somebody around who is doing this in a community of 250,000 people that is multi-ethnic and has varying backgrounds?” I didn’t meet anybody. There were a few attempts in private agencies, but I didn’t meet anybody within the police community. That is in this country (USA). I think in other countries, it is different. So it was a concern.
I don’t have that concern now. It is a bit bureaucratic. It’s a little bit more difficult because of the largeness of our organization. However, I don’t think that’s the fault of restorative practices, I just think it is the problem of trying to implement a program in a large organization.
Q: What kinds of offenses are you dealing with in this program?
A (Len): Based on the advice of a few people and my own notions about starting new programs, I tried not to make too many hard and fast rules. We said we would target juveniles, 15 and younger. We decided we would look for minor crimes, where children have minimal involvement with the police or none, but that we would not keep ourselves from felonies or other situations outside that definition if we thought they were appropriate. We also decided that we wanted to hold conferences pre-court rather then post-court, again with a few exceptions.
Also, the fire department been having difficulty with arson and juveniles. Aside from a very small percentage of children who set fires who have mental health issues, most kids set them because they are playing with matches. It’s accidental, but it’s very scary, obviously. In New York state, all fires, regardless of who sets them or what the intent is, are felonies. They don’t feel comfortable charging 9-year-olds with felonies. So they were at a loss for several years on what to do and how to manage this. I suggested to Tom to go talk to the arson investigator about using conferencing as an alternative tool. He has, in the last three months, gotten a lot of conferences from that.
Q: Tom, how would you describe your experience with this program?
A (Tom): We’ve had 140 conferences to date and I get goose bumps from the 140th one just like I did from the first one. We see that the process is really working and, in turn, there are some positive outcomes that come from conferences. It’s exciting to be a part of this and it just keeps getting better for me.
Q: Are you personally involved with each conference?
A (Tom): Yes, I go to just about all of the conferences as the coordinator. If I have facilitators that come in, I like to go through the conference afterwards with them, to debrief them and give them some feedback on their facilitating. I also get feedback from the participants. At the end of each conference, we pass out surveys to all the participants and get their feedback. We value their input as well and file each survey.
Q: Can you tell me the kind of feedback you have received?
A (Tom): It’s been exceptionally positive in just about all cases. Victims, offenders and their supporters really like this process. They feel there should be more of it and they wonder why it didn’t happen years ago. They really embrace the process. Everyone needs to sign the conference agreement at the end, so if they’re not satisfied, they need to work that through during the conference. There is a dialog that occurs. Most of our questions come from a script. However, a lot of our conferences, after all of the questions are asked in the script, it’s open to dialogue - people sharing more of their story and more about their experience with each other.
Q: Can you tell me about a particular conference that really had an affect on you or really stood out for you in some way?
A (Tom): There’s been many. There is such a dynamic about each one that is very special. It’s really difficult to find just one. (To Len) Which one should we pick?
A (Len): Tom, I don’t attend very many anymore, but I used to, and I used to facilitate them. One that Tom facilitated, and I’m sure he remembers, was after Columbine and during the school shootings that were occurring around the country. We had a 14-year-old boy who had a replica of a Beretta handgun. It was not a red-handled gun, so it looked very real. He was waving it around in front of the school and pointing it at children and passersby.
The officer that arrested him was very concerned that this kid just didn’t get it. He didn’t get the distress that he had caused all these people. The officer was more concerned about the kid understanding this than he was about the punishment. The officer called Tom and asked, “What can we do about this?” Tom suggested a conference. In the course of the conference, the child heard from teachers, passersby and other students about how his actions affected them, seeing that gun, imagining something terrible was happening in their community like they had seen on TV. Particularly, I remember one man who was on the second floor of a museum across the street who could not hear anything but could see what was happening. He was too frightened to come to the conference - still. But he wrote a letter that he asked to be read. The child began to break down and cry, feeling the impact of what he had done. To me, that was very powerful - and still is.
Q: Was his family there?
A (Tom): His mother was there and the boy’s employer came to the conference. The victim, the police officer and school officials came to express how it affected them.
Q: Has there ever been another problem with this child?
A (Tom): No. He’s done well. He found a lot of support at the conference. He realized that people weren’t out to get him, but just wanted him to know the effect of his actions on other people. That was really important for those that came, that was the most important thing.
Q (Len to Tom): Do you remember the one about the wastepaper basket?
A (Tom): Yes. This incident occurred at a middle school when a boy, on a dare, threw a wastebasket over a railing and hit a girl down below. This could have been a tragic incident.
I first heard about it through the victim’s godfather, who knew about restorative practices and knew about what the police department was doing. The victim’s family was very religious. They were seeking answers as to why this happened to their daughter. These two students had never met each other.
The conference brought all of those people together to share how they were affected by the incident and what they wanted as an outcome. One of the outcomes of the conference was that this boy, as a community service project, would go out to the schools with a police officer to tell other young people about peer pressure, about accepting a dare and the consequences of his actions. Interestingly, the young lady wanted to join him and talk about her feelings and how she was affected. That was completely voluntary and wasn’t planned going into the conference. That was from the stories and people talking about their feelings. Everyone embraced this. In fact, the offender, out of his own personal fund, brought her flowers before the conference even occurred. Those were presented to her before the conference even began. I had no idea that was going to take place. It just showed the profound effect it had on the offender, as well as the victim and their families.
Q: Tom, did you do other police work before you started this sort of facilitating, were you a police officer?
A (Tom): No. Actually, I worked in the finance area, working with police grants. I also did some volunteer work with the victim assistance unit within the Rochester Police Department, so I knew a lot of the personnel in the department. I had a lot of human services experience. The job and the philosophy behind restorative practices, it was something that was a part of who I was. I think it’s part of my belief system: forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, positive communication and people taking responsibility for their actions. I feel that is the most important thing about working in this position: that your belief system is consistent with restorative practices.
Q: Do you both feel that the work you are doing is having an impact on the community at large?
A (Tom): I know it is. I think the people make it possible and the police officers that give us the referrals. You can’t do this work alone. It’s other people identifying with the same issues as I just explained, the same personal issues. I think we have all been victimized at one point or another in our lives and this is how we would want to deal with it in our own personal situations. It’s very helpful that it is out there because most people really don’t want to go to court. I see it as a win-win situation for the police department and the community to have a process that includes all the people that are affected and gives everyone equal ability to express their emotions. It’s the kind of program I see building from the bottom up. No one really embraces the program until you really experience it and see it for yourself. Len and I both do presentations and talk about juvenile accountability, but it’s not until you participate, in some role, in the conference that you see the dynamics and sparks really happening. You see the receptivity of the community and how they rally around it. It’s a growing process. The best way to become educated about it is to take part in the process. We also bring in a lot of community members that just want to observe our conferences and they’re more than welcome to come and see any of our conferences. It’s a very open format.
One of the things that has additionally come out of conferencing and marketing is that the Rochester Police Department has contracted out with many agencies in the Rochester community. These agencies work with offenders when victims have asked that as a consequence for the crime or violation that the offenders give back to the community. So a lot of the victims and their families are asking that there be a community service project for that youth. That’s another way for the community to know more about restorative practices. In fact, we do not enter into a contract with agencies until we spend some time educating them about restorative practices. We want them to know what a conference experience was like for that young person and some of the issues that may have come out of that conference. Additionally, we share the conference agreement with the community service agency, so they know the responsibilities that the young person has in carrying out the conditions that were set up for him or her.
Some of our young offenders are working with painters, painting houses inside and out. They are working with carpenters and learning carpentry skills along with doing their community service project. The offenders really embrace some of the skills they learn along with the projects. They come to know of the resources that agency can offer them. We have an open door mission, so the kids serve food to the homeless and less fortunate. All these kids are supervised in their community service projects. It’s another form of outreach for us where the community gets involved and becomes part of the process.
A (Len): In the beginning, Tom would have to scurry around and find an agency that might do community service. We would have to explain what we were about and what kind of a community service project we wanted the youth to do. We weren’t interested in children picking up papers on the side of the road. We wanted them to get something out of it, an added value, something beyond the actual work. In the second year of our grant, we talked about finding agencies that would work with us. If the agency was in the neighborhood where the child lived, we would go to them and ask, “Can you take this child? What could you do?” For example, in the third year of the grant, Tom came to me and told me about two 7-year-old kids who had broken some windows. Their community service was to work in a voluntary vegetable garden in the community. They apparently enjoyed this because after their service was up, I think it was 10 hours, they asked the volunteer coordinator of that agency if they could stay for the rest of the summer. So the agency called Tom and asked, “Is it OK if these kids stay? They want to learn about gardening and we want to teach them about adult relationships.” Tom said, “Yeah, if they want to!” I think the idea is, “Why not take the next step?” It seems natural. It allows them to connect with the child and bring the child back into the community.
Q: Do you see restorative practices expanding to other departments within the police department? Would you like to see that?
A (Len): Yes, I would like to see that. I have some notions that I’ve been kicking around about how restorative practices can be part of ethical practices and how to integrate that into the way we operate as a police department or, for that matter, any organization. I also see that it could become part of management, the way we manage and supervise each other. I’ve been experimenting a little within my organization, with my own section. Also, there is a group of people who have formed something called the Finger Lakes Restorative Justice Consortium, of which Tom and I are members. They are more interested in promoting restorative justice in its many forms, not just the forms we use. We are a part of that effort. Also, the county of Monroe, which we are in, has about one million people and there are many different governmental agencies—school districts and police departments—who have inquired about what we are doing and how it works. The juvenile detention center, which is county-operated, is asking us how they could use that practice in their detention center. We are very willing to talk about what we do, what we believe in and in keeping with the practice of restorative justice, let them decide what’s best for them.
Q: Has this begun to spread to the schools in your area?
A (Len): In our area, the schools utilize our program. They like it because Tom can be there in a few hours. He can usually set up a conference in less than a week, as opposed to slower court or school processes. They love that Tom gets involved in addressing issues they’re having with the child, when they don’t think the school process will work fast enough or well enough from their perspective. They have all seen what the conferences can do. Something that I thought 3 years ago I think is beginning to happen now. It has snowballed. Now there are times when Tom may conference 5 to 10 a week, as opposed to 5 to 10 a month, to the point that we’ve hired a part-time person to work with Tom to help him with the process. We still want to keep to the belief that face-to-face contact with each of the participants and sitting down with them and talking to them about their roles and expectations of the process is better than phone conversations. We are on the brink of becoming overwhelmed as people the process as an effective tool. I’m very glad for The Finger Lakes Consortium because they can help in directing people. There are so many ways of doing this. It doesn’t have to be our way or a particular model. Our model works for us, but there are other models that may work for other people. Also, I know two districts outside the Rochester City School District have already explored training some people and doing their own conferencing.
A (Tom): Additionally, I want to make mention of one middle school that has endorsed us completely. It is the collaborative effort of many folks. In lieu of short term suspensions, they agree to juvenile accountability conferencing in place of a suspension, which they feel is punitive and doesn’t serve the needs of their students or the families that are involved. We have a school resource officer, two of them actually, in one middle school. The administrators in that school have come to endorse and believe in restorative practices. In that school, the teachers know us. There are many instances of bullying, different low-level assaults and theft at that school. We have a little location within the school. We’re allowed to use some of the equipment in the school to make copies of our agreements, to use the phones and to work with some of the staff in educating them about restorative practices. We go where we’re wanted and where we can be a resource to the community.
Q: What advice would you give to a police department that wants to get into restorative practices?
A (Len): You have to find a few people who really believe in it. We eventually targeted one school and one section of the police department—we have seven—to see if we could create some interest. So it was a slow start. We require, with a few exceptions, that the arresting office be a part of the conference. So we have to arrange for that person to be there at a time that is convenient for everybody. As they saw the process, they thought it was really good. They would go out and tell a couple more police officers. One person who was a supporter held the rank of commander, a high-level management position. She believed in it. And because she believed in the idea, she allowed me to do it and gave me the opportunities to do it. When she was promoted and no longer in my particular bureau, she still supported it. I always felt I had an advocate. Also, it was important to find someone like Tom Dwyer, who is very sincere, very patient and flexible. I hired Tom primarily because when he asked me what the rules were, I told him, “I don’t know.” When he asked me what the parameters of the program would be, I said, “I don’t quite know yet.” He liked that. Most of the other people I interviewed had social work backgrounds. They were very competent and probably, in some ways, more qualified than a person with an academic background in finance and accounting. But they wanted to know what the rules were and what the parameters were. I didn’t want to set those yet because I didn’t know how it would grow. He’s comfortable with that. That is the advice: don’t get too comfortable with the rules. Let this play out. It’s kind of organic. It won’t hurt anybody. I had a professor in college when I was in the master’s program in counseling who said, “No one ever died from counseling, so don’t worry about it.” No one is going to die from this process. We learn from mistakes we make or we learn from the process. People teach us, I think, all the time.
Q: Anything else you would like to say?
A (Tom): I’m just anxious to get back to Rochester to do more conferencing. Someone else in the conference earlier mentioned that she was anxious to get back to do circles. That’s where I really get my satisfaction. That’s what excites me, running the conferences and meeting all these families that have the same concerns that I would with my family.
A (Len): I have been employed with the department for many years as I mentioned. I have done many different projects and I am thinking seriously about retiring in 6 months. So, for me this has been a very satisfactory way to leave my agency. I feel that this is a wonderful piece, to see it grow and live. It certainly will live well beyond my employment in the department. I think when I do retire, between fishing trips and gardening, I might write about my experiences. It feels very satisfying to have been a part of this contribution to the community and see how the community has reacted to it. I think the best way to leave someplace you work is when you feel good about it and I feel good about it.
If you would like to learn more about the Juvenile Accountability Conferencing program or have any questions you may contact Len Wildman or Tom Dwyer at (585) 428-7236.
For more information about the IIRP’s Real Justice program and available trainings go to: http://www.realjustice.org
- Written by Laura Mirsky
I began my day at an 8 a.m. staff meeting, and was warmly welcomed by Mark, the staff coordinator, and the counselors, who seemed like a dedicated and enthusiastic group of (mostly) young people. As the day went on, I would see just how dedicated they were. I then set about to be a fly on the wall. It was to be a rather unusual day for the school, but I had no inkling of that yet.
It was the last two weeks of school and “the natives were restless,” as one counselor put it. Arrangements were discussed for the big school picnic planned for the next day. To complicate matters, half of the staff was to leave for a meeting in the afternoon. There was talk of drug testing: One student had reported using marijuana the week before.
I went with Shaun to the “downstairs community’s” morning circle meeting. (I would later learn that the school was divided into two communities—the downstairs and the upstairs—for a total of about 75 kids, in grades 7 through 12.) The downstairs community was ready for the meeting, sitting in chairs in a circle, when Shaun and I arrived. No staff member had told them to do this. They had taken the initiative upon themselves, apparently as a matter of course. I found this impressive, as I knew these kids had been sent there because they had been labeled “problems” by their school district or the courts. Looking around the circle, the kids appeared to represent a wide range—racially, socially and in terms of age and maturity.
There was an atmosphere of happy bustle in the room. “Good morning,” said Shaun to the kids. “Good morning Shaun!” the kids sang back. I took a seat outside the circle and the kids immediately asked me to pull my chair into it, implying: “There are no outsiders here.” Right off the bat I felt welcomed by the group, and it felt good. Sitting in the circle, I could no longer feel like a fly on the wall. Looking back on it, I realize how smart this welcoming ritual is. It’s a mechanism by which newcomers to the school are not left to feel like outsiders, as so many of them must feel in the outside world.
The meeting began with the questions: “Any problems? Announcements?”—not from Shaun, the counselor, as I expected, but from the kids. This was no fluke, I would learn as the day wore on, but central to the school’s philosophy, and indicative of how kids at CSF are asked to take responsibility for themselves. I could see that what was happening here was different from the routine at other schools. How many schools begin the day with kids of all ages meeting in a circle to discuss what’s on their minds?
Just then my eyes were caught by a poster on the wall entitled “How Do You Feel?” illustrated with drawings of faces depicting different emotions: “Bored, Frustrated, Confident, Joyful...” I saw many of the emotions pictured on the poster reflected on the faces of the kids in the circle, and realized that this was a place where they were encouraged to feel, name, own and understand their emotions.
In the meeting, some kids seemed to stand out naturally as leaders and they did much of the talking and questioning of the other kids. “People need to start bringing stuff in for the picnic,” said one girl. Another answered, “I live in a group home so I can only bring one thing.” With that comment, I got my first inkling of what some of the kids’ lives must be like.
The kids now called for introductions, I assume because a stranger was in their midst—me. We went around the circle and everyone said his or her name, age and where they were from. Kids displayed varying degrees of alertness and sleepiness, affect and lack thereof, some mumbling, some voluble—just like any other group of teenagers perhaps, except that here, a higher than usual number said that they lived in group homes.
I introduced myself and was greeted with applause and a hearty group “Welcome to CSF!” I was surprised at how much this moved me. Again, I would realize that this was all part of the wise welcoming ritual.
There followed a brief discussion of the school’s “cardinal rules” which seemed to be for the benefit of the new kids in school. Kids can arrive at CSF at any time of year, depending on the circumstances which brought them. Again, the request for this discussion came from kids concerned about their fellow students.
There are five cardinal rules which students learn when they’re given an orientation packet on arrival. 1. No drug or alcohol use. 2. No stealing. 3. No violence or threats of violence to people or property. 4. No leaving school premises without permission. 5. No sexual activity.
A girl now asked a new boy: “What does R.C. mean?” He tried hard to articulate an answer: “When they’re doing something wrong and you find out, and they don’t tell anybody, and if you don’t tell anybody you’ll get in trouble, too.”
In the orientation packet are a few paragraphs entitled “Responsible Concern,” by Donald J. Ottenberg, M.D., which include the following: “If I’m lying to myself or others—tell me. .. and if I’m not strong enough to take it to my group and counselor, you take it there for me. That will be an act of courage and an act of love.”
The new boy had focused on what would happen to him—he’d “get in trouble”—if he didn’t practice responsible concern. He apparently hadn’t been a part of the community long enough yet to understand how he would benefit from the practice, or how he would help others. But—because the other kids were asking him to—he was trying to get it, and that in itself was remarkable to witness.
Some “side conversations” began to pop up in the group—kids talking among themselves. Counselor Jay, who had recently joined the circle, now asked, a bit sternly, “Do we need to go over the norms, or what?” It seemed that even something as relatively minor as talking out of turn during the circle meeting was very important in the world of the school, not out of some arbitrary concept of discipline, but to maintain a steady structure in these kids’ otherwise chaotic lives. (The “group norms,” decided by the group as a whole, include things like: No side conversations, Confront appropriately, No sleeping, Be caring, and Participate.)
Time was now called for the end of the meeting, and the kids—without being told—automatically transformed the room from a meeting place, with chairs in a circle, into a classroom, with tables and chairs set up for learning.
A personable young man of about 13 now took me on a tour of the school. “We set up our classes ourselves,” he told me, confirming what I’d just seen. I asked how the classes were divided up in terms of grades. He said that all grades learned together in each class—be it math, science, English, social studies, music, art or industrial arts: “individual learning,” he called it.
In English class, for instance, they had writing assignments, time lines and vocabulary. In social studies they were learning about the Great Depression. They stayed longer in their classes here than they do in public school—45 minutes as opposed to 35. But, he said, here he didn’t pay attention to time the way he did in public school. He also told me that here kids helped with school maintenance.
My tour guide now dropped me off with Bob Costello, Director of Training for the International Institute for Restorative Practices, who gave me a thorough overview of the CSF organization, including its history and philosophy. Community Service Foundation was started in 1977 by public school teachers Ted and Susan Wachtel as a school for kids who were having trouble at public school. Now it is three separate organizations which work together: the Community Service Foundation, Buxmont Academy and the International Institute for Restorative Practices. Six schools, all called either Community Service Foundation or Buxmont Academy by the kids, in Bucks, Montgomery and Northampton counties, are licensed by the state of Pennsylvania as private academic schools, as well as providers of drug and alcohol and behavioral counseling.
There is not a lot of emphasis on whether fellow classmates were sent there by the courts or by their school district, said Bob, adding, “It’s one big family.” They stay from several months to years, depending on “who’s paying and what the issues were” that brought them. The organization also has a residential program of 12 foster group homes. All the programs have been “remarkably successful with difficult kids,” said Bob.
We got into the theory behind restorative practices—the philosophy behind all the schools and programs. When there is high control and low support of kids the result is punitive. In that model, when punishment fails, the solution is to punish harder. At the opposite extreme—high support and low control—the outcome is permissive. Both are disrespectful of kids. The ideal is to provide both high control and high support at the same time, the outcome being restorative. “This doesn’t mean no consequences, or that people always like what happens to them,” said Bob, “but they have a say.” It’s “communitarian,” he concluded. Bob told me that they’ve taken restorative practices techniques to public schools with the SaferSanerSchools program. “We have this dream that we’ll put ourselves out of business,” he said.
“What happens if a kid is found with drugs at school?” I asked. First, he said, they ask the kid what happened, and if the presence of drugs is confirmed, police are notified. “We ask the kid who has been affected by what he has done and what he needs to do to make things right,” said Bob. In a group, the child makes an announcement of what he has done and gets feedback. Then he is asked to make a plan to ensure it doesn’t happen again. “What they do is up to them,” said Bob: “That’s why it works.”
I now went to observe an English class. Kids sat at tables working on vocabulary assignments or making timelines for a movie they’d watched: “The Education of Little Tree.” Judy, the teacher, circulated, helping kids in turn. After a while she addressed the class, warning, “There’s far too much in the way of side conversation going on here.” A little later, she announced, “If it gets any louder, we’re going into a group.” A few minutes after that, Judy had the class pull their chairs into a circle for a discussion and asked what was going on.
“I was confronting,” said one boy. “I was talking,” said a few other children. “It annoyed Judy that I was talking,” said another. “I was cursing,” said yet another. “When people confront and they’re doing the same thing they’re telling other people not to do, they’re being hypocritical,” commented one girl. “What does this do to the class?” asked Judy. “It breaks up the class,” came the response. Judy then asked for “a quick go-around about what each of you will try to do to make it better.” The replies: “Do my work and get it all done.” “Sit there and be quiet.” “Not get mad and swear at people.” “Do my work and listen to my teacher.” “How about you, Judy?” asked one boy. “I’m going to try to keep my class focused,” she promised.
I had just heard a boy ask his teacher what she was going to do to help make her class function better. She had not gotten angry, accused him of being a smart aleck, or threatened punishment, but had openly and honestly replied to his question. Clearly, not just counselors, but teachers here also employed restorative practices techniques.
As it turned out, a little later in the day the entire school was called together into one big group. I didn’t witness the reasons for this unusual occurrence, but I heard that several arguments had broken out in two or three classes at once. I did sit in on the big group meeting.
One boy suggested that everyone in the circle “take ownership” for what they had done to cause the problems leading to the meltdown. “I called X a thief.” “I swore at X.” “I refused to put down any tables.” “I was confronting people inappropriately.” “I didn’t confront or support.” “I blew off (counselor) Jay,” ... said the kids.
Mark, the staff coordinator, now addressed the group, saying he was very disappointed. “It’s never been this chaotic,” he told them, and it made him sad and hurt. But, he said, he wasn’t going to sit there and scream. “I look around this room,” he said, “and at least 75 percent of the kids do what they need to do and say what they need to say.” He said that several people were repeatedly having problems. He encouraged them not to come to school, if they didn’t want to be there. But, he said, “if you want to end (the year) successfully, you’re welcome.”
Tracy, a counselor who was pregnant, told the group that in the last few days “people have been hurting me so bad.” She was afraid, she said, because she was “responsible for an unborn human being.” She continued, “I know you because you’re a student that gets sent here, but I care about you because you deserve to be cared about. ...This is your chance to take control. ... Make your choice or it will be made for you.”
After the meeting was over, I saw one of the boys who had been acting up apologize to Tracy, saying he felt very bad for hurting her. He said he knew how wrong it was because his girlfriend was pregnant too. It seemed very important to him that Tracy accept his apology. It didn’t appear that he was just going through the motions for effect. “Your body language was very threatening,” Tracy told him, making sure to give him feedback about his behavior.
Later I asked the staff what they thought had caused so many problems that day. Restlessness and fear about the imminent end of the school year was the consensus.
After lunch I attended a group feedback session, a structured process whereby kids passed a ball around and commented openly to each other, one at a time. I found this extremely moving: “When you help other people I feel proud of you.” “When you take a leadership position I feel confident you’ll do a good job.” “When you treat me like a human being I feel good because not that many people treat me like a human being.” “When you rush me I feel frustrated.” Each piece of feedback got a reply, none of which, to my amazement, was defensive: “I’m sorry.” “Thank you.”
I was also amazed to see that the group made sure that everyone got to give and get feedback, that nobody was left out. These kids clearly cared about each other very much. I was really beginning to see how restorative practices worked.
I now interviewed several students one on one, asking them how they had come to the school and what it had done for them. One boy, 16, said that he had been at the school for two years. He had been “acting up” at his old school and got caught with drugs and a gun. CSF had helped him, he said, because it “changed my anger” and taught him to accept the consequences of his actions. “When you get in trouble here,” he said, “you get to bring it up in group, make anger plans.” Next year he was going back to public school and hoped to graduate and get a job in construction. “I’m ready,” he said. “I know right from wrong. I know what I gotta do.” There are better things in life than “the streets,” he added. The most helpful thing he had learned? “Not to let people get me angry. I’ll just talk about it instead.”
Another boy, 14, had been at CSF since January and loved it. He’d been out of control at his old school but here, he said, “if one of my friends confronts me, I stop.” “I used to run around and beat up stuff with baseball bats,” he said. “Now I’ve figured out I can take care of my stuff and seek positive attention.”
A 16-year-old girl told me she had been at the school for nine months. Before that she hadn’t been to school in six years. “I got into drugs and alcohol—whatever I could get my hands on,” she said. “In the beginning I hated it here,” she admitted, but now she liked it. She had learned that she was an alcoholic and took part in an intensive CSF after-school program. She lived in a CSF group home, spending weekends with her family. She had been clean for two months, having relapsed at six months. “My father is an alcoholic,” she said, “And I turned to it to hide my feelings.”
She said that she had received a great deal of support at CSF, but no “negative attention,” something she had previously sought out. “I started being positive and I’ve been getting praise up and down,” she said. She was studying for her G.E.D. with a CSF tutor and hoped to go on to community college. Restorative practices had helped her get along better with her family and “respect myself, most of all,” she said, adding: “They told me nobody can love me until I love myself.”
Another girl, 17, told me that she had been at CSF for a little over a year. She had been in juvenile detention and was on probation for truancy, bringing a weapon (an Exacto knife), and “a little bag of weed that wasn’t mine” to school. She had been in a group home but now lived at home again. She liked it at CSF because she felt safe and always had someone to talk to. She didn’t want to go back to public school, although that was what seemed to be planned for her. She was afraid she would be behind when she got back. But she definitely wanted to go to college, adding: “I’m very serious. I want to be all I can be.”
Asked how CSF was different from juvenile detention, she said: “All I gained there was weight.” Detention had made her worse — “more pissed off; it gave me an ‘F the world’ attitude.” Then she went to a group home where she was “breathing and eating CSF for ten months.” She still got mad, she said, but now she cared about things — her friends, her family, her future. “I didn’t even pay attention that I had a future,” she said: “Not even two minutes later, not even tomorrow.” Now, she said, she was “a totally different person.”
I interviewed a few more kids. Only one said she wasn’t happy at CSF. She hadn’t been there very long, and seemed to be having a hard time of it. She lived in a group home, where they checked her for drugs all the time. She said that she had changed a lot, and that she was “not touching drugs and not fighting.” She blamed other kids for the fact that “my name keeps coming up in a lot of stuff.” She was upset that things weren’t working out at CSF, but wished she were home with her mother. She had been given a choice: to sign and fulfill a “behavior contract” enabling her to stay, or to leave. She wasn’t sure which she would do, but she hadn’t made the decision to leave. It seemed there was hope for her yet.
At the end of the school day, I attended a staff meeting where the counselors discussed what had happened that day, in depth. “If the kids only knew how everything they said and did is analyzed, what would they think?” wondered one staff member. I brought up what I had noticed about the way certain kids seemed to be natural leaders. A counselor had an interesting response: “A lot of the kids who end up being leaders—their leadership qualities are what got them in trouble, but it’s the same thing that can get them out of trouble.”
I spent a whole day at CSF watching classes, circles, groups, feedback sessions and staff meetings and interviewing kids, many of whom seemed to have been on a collision course with disaster. Who knows what might have happened to them if they hadn’t been assigned to this place, where people not only cared about them but had figured out a specific, structured way to help them change their destructive — and self-destructive — behavior?
Here, kids weren’t being punished for their behavior. They had come from systems where that had been tried and hadn’t worked. Instead, they had come to a place which provided both control and support in equal measure. They were learning a concrete way to talk about and deal with their problems, with the help of their fellow classmates and staff members.
Above all, I felt the kids there were very lucky to have ended up at CSF. They were learning that, no matter where and what they had come from, they themselves were the only ones who were really responsible for their lives and able to change them for the better. How many of us never realize that?
- Written by Paul McCold
Paper presented at the American Society of Criminology
annual meeting, November 13-16, 2002, Chicago, Illinois.
The IIRP gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the juvenile probation departments of Northampton, Bucks, Montgomery, and Lehigh counties, Pennsylvania, for providing access to court data used in this analysis.
The Community Service Foundation (CSF) and Buxmont Academy operate six school/day treatment programs (abbreviated as “CSF Buxmont schools”) in southeastern Pennsylvania. They are non-secure community treatment settings for adjudicated delinquent and at-risk youth.  Additionally, CSF operates three auxiliary programs—the residential, intensive supervision, and home and community programs. The residential program provides group home services to a portion of students attending CSF Buxmont schools. The intensive supervision program provides additional support to youth released from drug treatment facilities. Finally, the home and community program provides a variety of support services for youth experiencing family, emotional, and drug and alcohol related crises. Some students attending CSF Buxmont schools participate in multiple programs simultaneously.
All of these programs utilize what is broadly termed “restorative practices.” Restorative practices provide both high levels of control and high levels of support to encourage appropriate behavior .[2 ]The philosophy underlying these practices holds that human beings are happier, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things WITH them, rather than TO them or FOR them. This hypothesis maintains that the punitive and authoritarian TO mode and the permissive and paternalistic FOR mode are not as effective as the restorative, participatory, and engaging WITH mode.
CSF Buxmont has developed a culture in which “restorative” characterizes not only staff interaction with youth, but staff-to-staff and student-to-student relationships as well.  This researcher has coined the term “restorative milieu” because CSF Buxmont culture is comprised of many restorative techniques and processes and not just isolated restorative interventions.
Within this restorative milieu, youth are held accountable for their actions while being given the social and emotional support necessary to make changes. Restorative practices empower the young person and the group to develop their own behavioral standards and actively confront misbehavior. The young people act as a micro-community of support for each other, consciously building interdependency and a sense of responsibility to the community. This process is facilitated by CSF Buxmont staff.
CSF Buxmont schools have an excellent reputation for empowering youth to make positive changes. However, since their founding in 1977, they have never been formally evaluated. This analysis tests the effectiveness of restorative practices in encouraging positive changes among adjudicated delinquent and at-risk youth. However, correlation does not mean causation. To conclude that any observed changes in attitudes or behavior are the result of participation in CSF Buxmont’s restorative milieu, four conditions must be met:
1) The attitudes and behavior of youth must significantly improve.
2) These improvements must be positively related to the length of participation.
3) These improvements must remain after controlling for known risk factors, such as age, gender, race, and prior offending.
4) These improvements must remain after controlling for the effects, if any, between these risk factors and early program discharge (case selection bias).
This analysis presents the outcome experiences of the 919 youth discharged from CSF Buxmont schools between June 1, 1999 and August 30, 2001. The 334 youth discharged during the 1999-2000 school year and the 445 youth discharged during the 2000-2001 school year include all youth discharged during these school years. The 140 youth discharged during school year 1998-1999 include only those discharged during the final two weeks of that school year.
The total number of youth discharged from CSF Buxmont schools between the 1999-2000 school year and the 2000-2001 school year increased by 33% (from 334 to 445). Reflecting the expansion of CSF Buxmont programs generally, this increase in the number of discharges was greatest for school referrals, with a one year increase of 69% (from 104 to 176), compared to 18% among probation referred (from 192 to 226), and 13% for children and youth referrals (from 38 to 43).
Youth are referred to CSF Buxmont schools from three sources: juvenile probation (56% or 516), children and youth services (10% or 88), and individual school districts (34% or 315). Probation referrals are overrepresented among discharges prior to September 1999 (70%), and children and youth referrals are somewhat underrepresented (5%) during this time period.
Demographics. The demographic distribution of cases is presented in Table 1.
CSF Buxmont Schools Sample
Overall, girls represented 28% (260) of all discharged youth, most of whom were referred by probation. A majority of children and youth referrals were girls (52%), compared to one-fourth of probation and school referrals (both 26%).
Overall, 55% of youth were 16 years old or older upon entering CSF Buxmont schools. Probation referred youth were older than those referred by schools or children and youth. Most of probation referred youth (62%) were 16 years old or older when entering CSF Buxmont schools, compared to less than half of school and children and youth referrals (47% and 41% respectively). The average age on entry into CSF Buxmont schools was 15.8 years old for probation referred youth, 15.5 for school referred youth, and 15.3 for children and youth (F = 12.2; p < .001).
Most youth referred to CSF Buxmont schools were white (77%), followed by black (11%) and Hispanic (7%). The race of youth differed significantly by referral source. The great majority of youth referred by probation and schools were white (78% and 79% respectfully), while a smaller majority of those referred by children and youth were white (64%). Hispanic youth totaled 17% of children and youth referrals, compared to 7% for probation and 6% for school referred youth. Black youth constituted 14% of those referred by children and youth, 11% of probation, and 10% of school referrals (ChiSq = 16.3, df = 6, p < .05).
4) County of referral
Youth are primarily referred by three counties: Bucks (57%), Montgomery (25%), and Northampton (15%). Three percent of referrals were from Lehigh, Monroe, and Chester counties (26, 3, and 1 referrals respectively). Most of those referred by probation were from Bucks (77%), with fewer from Montgomery (12%), and Northampton (7%). The largest percent of school referred youth were from Montgomery (43%), followed by Bucks (31%), and Northampton (23%). Among children and youth referrals, the largest percent were from Montgomery (39%) and Northampton (34%), with fewer from Bucks (26%).
Overall, race was unrelated to gender, with whites constituting 79% of boys and 75% of girls. Likewise, age was unrelated to gender, with the mean age upon entering CSF Buxmont schools being 15.7 years old for boys and 15.6 for girls. Hispanic youth were significantly younger (15.2), than were white youth (15.7), black youth (15.6), or Asian youth (15.5) (F = 2.69, df = 4, p < .05). Also, Hispanic youth tended to be younger with 62% under 16 at program entry, compared to 43% of whites, 48% of blacks, and 43% of others. Children and youth referrals tended to be younger, were twice as likely to be girls, and nearly three times more likely to be Hispanic than youth referred by probation or school. Because of the overrepresentation of Hispanic and younger youth referred by children and youth, this age by race relationship became insignificant once referral source was taken into account.
A higher proportion of youth from Northampton County were minorities (38%), than Montgomery (28%), or Bucks (13%). One-quarter of Northampton County referrals to CSF Buxmont schools were Hispanic, compared to 3% for Bucks County and 6% for Montgomery County. Compared to other counties, a higher proportion of youth referred from Bucks were white, from Northampton were Hispanic, and Montgomery were black.
Delinquency. Criminal history information was gathered during intake interviews on 666 youths, including 364 referred by probation, 228 by schools, and 74 by children and youth. Among these, all of the probation referrals, 39% of the school, and 32% of the children and youth referrals had been arrested prior to entering CSF Buxmont schools.
Among those arrested, drug or alcohol related offenses were the most common (29%), followed by assault-related offenses (26%), theft (22%), violations against the public order (12%), and other offenses (12%). Of those arrested for assault-related offenses, one-third involved aggravated assault or robbery (44 of 133). Less than 1% (5) were placed for a sexual offense.
Among those with previous arrests, probation referred youth were more likely to have committed drug and alcohol related offenses or theft related offenses (31% and 24%) than school (25% and 17%) or children and youth referred (13% and 19%). School referred youth with prior arrests were more likely to have committed an assault (32%) than probation (25%) or children and youth referrals (26%). Offense type did not differ between race or gender.
Arrest history distributed in much the same way as current offense in that probation referred youth had more serious criminal histories. Among those who had been arrested, 67% of probation, 46% of school, and 39% of those referred by children and youth had been arrested more than once. Among those with multiple arrests, the number of prior arrests did not differ between referral source, age on admission, gender, or race.
Among the youth with prior court adjudications, probation referred were more likely to have been first adjudicated before age 14 (25%) than school or children and youth referrals (both 12%). Age at first adjudication was unrelated to race or gender.
In April 1999, CSF Buxmont implemented the evaluation protocol of the Program Development and Evaluation System (ProDES), an outcome-based information system that tracks delinquents for the duration of his or her involvement with the juvenile justice system. This system was developed by Temple University’s Crime and Justice Research Center. Its primary focus is program development, providing a continuous flow of intermediate (changes during the program) and ultimate (recidivism and community adjustment) outcome information. This performance monitoring system was designed to track delinquent youth for Philadelphia Juvenile Court. Since 1993, ProDES has gathered data on more than 20,000 juvenile delinquents placed in more than 78 programs. 
ProDES collects information on each youth’s current offense, prior record, socio-demographic information, and family structure. Also, ProDES collects information through risk and needs assessments, and self-esteem and values assessments at three points: program entry, program discharge, and six months following discharge. This system’s scales have been empirically derived and have high reliability. Follow-up data is gathered by checking official court records, through the self report of juveniles and interviews with the juvenile’s caregivers. ProDES has demonstrated the utility of official records, parent reports, and self report data in monitoring program and system performance.
All new admissions were to be interviewed within one month and assessed not sooner than a week nor later than a month following admission. New admissions are students entering CSF Buxmont schools for the first time and students returning after an absence of three months or more (excluding summer break). Students admitted prior to April 1999 were treated as “grandfathers” and were not interviewed unless they were returning after an absence of three months or more. Students returning with less than three months of interruption (excluding summer break) are treated as a continuous stay with a period “out of program.”
Overall, matched intake-exit interviews were collected among half (49.8%) of the 919 discharged youth. Compliance with the protocols for the 665 youth admitted after August 1999 was 94% for assessments, 84% for intake interviews, and 80% for exit interviews. Eighty-eight percent of all intake interviews were conducted within the 30 day window.
CSF Buxmont School/Day Treatment Exposure. Youths attend CSF Buxmont schools for differing lengths of time depending on a variety of factors. Most are returned to public school after a few months when their referral source and the CSF Buxmont staff deem that the youth’s behavior has sufficiently improved. Others are discharged when they turn 18, graduate, or complete their GED. Some youth are discharged for a variety of behavioral problems, most within a short period of time, but some after extensive participation.
The primary factor determining the length of exposure was discharge type. The two discharge types are defined as:
1) Normal Discharge—Youth successfully completes the program by returning to public school, graduating or receiving GED, or upon turning 18 years old.
2) Behavioral Discharge—Youth is discharged prior to completing program for failure to attend, running away, showing repeated noncompliance with program directives, violating conditions of their probation, or for an arrest resulting in a new placement.
Since the start of a new school year or semester presents minimally disruptive opportunities to return youth to public schools, many are discharged at these times. Because CSF Buxmont admits youth continuously over the course of the year, some near the end of the school semesters, length of stay for youth receiving normal discharges varies widely. Lastly, some youths attend CSF Buxmont schools for multiple school years, but most do not.
Overall, the mean length of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools was 104 school days (20.9 weeks), with a minimum of none (for 2 youths) and a maximum of 531 days (106 weeks). Half of all youth spent 87 days (17.4 weeks) or more. Among normal discharges, the average length of exposure was 118 school days (23.7 weeks), with half attending for 103 days (20.6 weeks) or longer. Among behavioral discharges, the average length of stay was 77.2 school days (15.4 weeks), with half being discharged within 58 school days (11.6 weeks). While probation referred youth were less likely to receive a behavioral discharge than those referred by schools or children and youth, the difference in length of exposure becomes insignificant, once type of discharge was taken into account. Among behavioral discharges, the length of program exposure did not significantly differ by the type of behavior problem.
Auxiliary Program Exposure. As stated above, CSF also operates a residential care program providing group home services, an intensive supervision program for youth returning to the community from residential drug rehabilitation programs, and a home and community program providing other various support services to youth in crisis. These programs operate as auxiliaries to CSF Buxmont schools.
Youth utilize various combinations of these programs as deemed necessary by their referral source, themselves, and CSF Buxmont staff. Youth referred by schools generally do not participate in these auxiliary programs. Some probation referred youth participate in a combination of all four programs.
Among the 88 children and youth referrals, 72% spent some time in residential care and the remainder did not participate in any auxiliary program. Among those that participated in residential care, the mean length of residential stay was 179 days, with half spending less than 166 days (min = 8, max = 546). The mean length of stay in residential care for those referred by children and youth was shorter for those receiving behavioral discharges (123 days) than it was for normal discharges (222 days) (F = 12.4, df = 1, p < .001).
Among the 516 youths referred by probation, 63% (325) participated in one or more auxiliary program. Among those that participated in only one of these programs, 11% (54) participated in residential care, 10% (52) in the home and community program, and 6% (29) in the intensive supervision program. Among those that participated in two or more auxiliary programs, 24% (124) participated in both residential care and intensive supervision, 4% (22) participated in residential care and home and community, and 3% (14) in both intensive supervision and home and community. Among probation referred youth, 6% (30) participated in all three auxiliary programs.
Among the 230 probation referred youth spending some time in residential care, the mean stay was 147 days with half spending less than 140 days (min = 2, max = 453). Among the 170 participating in the intensive supervision program, the mean length participation was 172 days with half spending less than 166 days (min = 1 max = 455). Among the 87 in the home and community program, the mean length of participation was 114 days with half participating less than 88 days (min = 3 max = 407). In any of these auxiliary programs, the length of participation for probation referred youth was not significantly different between normal and behavioral discharges.
Some of the probation referred youth participated in the intensive supervision program or home and community program prior to entering CSF Buxmont schools and some participated in one of these programs following discharge. Among the 516 probation referred youth, 5% (25) participated in intensive supervision prior to attending CSF Buxmont schools, and 26% (136) continued in the intensive supervision program after they were discharged. Also, 11% (54) participated in the home and community program prior to attending and 10% (53) participated in home and community following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools. The mean length of exposure to an auxiliary program prior to attendance was 47 days for intensive supervision (median = 8, min = 1, max = 252), and 69 days for home and community (median = 43, min = 1, max = 387). The mean length of participation in these programs following discharge is 71 days for intensive supervision (median = 62, min = 1, max = 214), and 75 days for the home and community program (median = 64, min = 8, max = 324).
There is an important caveat limiting the results presented in this report. Not all youth in CSF’s intensive supervision program or home and community program attended a CSF Buxmont school. Data was not collected for these youth. Since these youths may differ from those included in this study in a number of ways, the results of this evaluation can not be generalized to apply to these CSF auxiliary programs in their whole.
Complicating the analysis beyond the varying mixes of auxiliary program exposure, for youth attending a CSF Buxmont school, is that the length of this exposure is related to the length of attendance. This creates a high level of time-dependent multi-colinearity among the independent variables, making unbiased estimates of the independent effects of these programs problematic. This analysis focuses on the effect of the restorative milieu at CSF Buxmont schools on participating youth, taking into account the mix of auxiliary program exposure, but without attempting to isolate those effects. Therefore, results from this study need to be interpreted within the context of an evaluation of CSF Buxmont schools combined with CSF auxiliary program services.
The performance of CSF Buxmont schools was evaluated using three distinct measures: program completion, youth attitudes, and offending following discharge.
Program Completion. Restorative practices demand that youth take an active role in maintaining the behavior and safety of the community, so it is expected that CSF Buxmont would retain youth at rates higher than other comparable programs. Therefore, the capacity of any program to retain their clients to normal discharge (i.e. successful program completion as defined above) is an important measure of effectiveness. CSF Buxmont schools admit youth with widely disparate personal and criminal histories. Yet despite this variety of risk factors, CSF Buxmont staff take pride in the fact that they work hard to retain the majority of participating youth to normal discharge/successful program completion.  Policy only requires behavioral discharge for behavior that clearly endangers the safety of others in the program.
Youth Attitudes. A successful program will demonstrate measurable positive changes in youth attitudes as a result of program exposure. Changes in youth attitudes were measured by comparing each youth’s response to a series of interview questions designed to measure social values and self-esteem administered shortly after entering the program to those concurrent with their discharge.
Offending Following Discharge. Finally, changes in each youth’s behavior were measured by reviewing juvenile and adult court records and noting any petitions for arrests occurring during the six months following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools. Arrests occurring while attending and resulting in discharge are not included in this measurement. The great majority of youth that offend after discharge do so within six months. While court petitions may not be the best measure of behavioral change, or even recidivism, it is a generally accepted and consistent measure of program success.
Reason for discharge by referral source for full school years only.
Percent of normal discharges by referral source and offense groups.
The capacity of any program to retain their clients to successful program completion/normal discharge is an important measure of effectiveness. Youth who complete a program are more likely to be compliant and therefore are expected to have more positive outcomes than youth receiving behavioral discharges. This potential for selection bias means a program’s completion rate is an important intervening variable between the length of program exposure and the effects of that exposure. Knowledge of the variables that explain noncompletion is critical in order to test and statistically control for this likely source of outcome bias.
Reasons for discharge from CSF Buxmont Schools for the 919 youth were as follows:
1) Youth who completed the program and returned to public school, graduated high school, or completed their GED (66%).
2) Youth discharged because of a new arrest or violation of probation, which resulted in a new placement order for that youth (7%).
3) Youth discharged because of extended absences or who ran away (12%).
4) Youth who otherwise repeatedly failed to respond to the program (16%).
Among the 919 youth in the sample, those referred by probation were significantly more likely to receive a normal discharge (72% of 516) than were those referred by schools (58% of 315) or by children and youth (60% of 88) (ChiSq = 16.4, df = 2, p < .001). A distribution of discharge type more representative of a typical school year is arrived by restricting analysis to data from full school years only (see Figure 1). Thus, successful completion rates for CSF Buxmont schools were 67% of probation, 53% of school, and 57% of children and youth referrals.
Among the 313 youth receiving behavioral discharges, 32% of probation, 12% of school, and none of the children and youth referrals were discharged because of a new arrest. School referred youth were more likely to be discharged for failure to attend (40%) than were those referred by probation (32%) or children and youth (20%). Children and youth referrals were more likely to be discharged for failure to respond (80% of 35) than probation (36% of 147) or school referred youth (48% of 131) (ChiSq = 36.9, df = 4, p < .001).
A multivariate discriminate analysis was conducted on the probability of completing the program successfully in order to determine characteristics that distinguish youth discharged for misbehavior. Results revealed that probation referrals and those charged with a drug offense were more likely than others to complete the program and receive a normal discharge. Also, black girls were less likely than others to receive a normal discharge (Wilks’ Lambda .98, .96, and .97 respectively, all p < .001, with 67% correctly classified).
Percent of normal discharges by race and gender.
Cumulative weeks of participation by reason for behavioral discharge.
Distribution of months participation by referral source (behavioral discharges).
Distribution of months participation by referral source (normal discharges).
As seen in Figure 2, a greater proportion of youth charged with a drug offense successfully completed to normal discharge. Also, probation referrals completed at a rate of 7-8% higher than others. Youth charged with a drug offense have an additional 10% higher normal discharge rate among probation referrals and 6% among those referred by other sources.
Figure 3 shows the race by gender interaction effect on discharge type. All race/gender groups except one have normal discharge rates above 60%. The exception was black girls, of whom only 41% were discharged normally.
How a youth is discharged determines, at least in part, the length of their participation. The overall median length of participation was 87 days, but 103 days for normal discharges and 58 days for behavioral discharges (Kolmogorov - Smirnov Z = 4.6, df = 1, p < .001).
A majority of behavioral discharges occurred within the first three months. As shown in Figure 4, youth discharged for failure to attend were more likely to fail during their first week (10% of 63) than nonresponsive youth (2% of 114) or arrested youth (2% of 144) (ChiSq = 11.0 df = 2, p < .01). Half of those discharged for failure to attend had participated for less than 8 weeks, compared to 12 weeks for other behavioral discharges. Differences between the reason for behavioral discharges were not statistically significant beyond the first week.
Within each type of discharge, the differences in the length of CSF Buxmont school exposure between referral types were insignificant (see Figure 5 and Figure 6). Once the higher completion rates of probation referred youth were accounted for, the length of exposure was determined more by the type of discharge than by the referral source. Comparing the two figures reveals that the shape of the distribution of exposure time was different for normal discharges than it was for behavioral discharges (approximating first-order and second-order delay functions, respectively).
A multivariate survival analysis was conducted on the number of days of exposure for the 311 behavioral discharges. Only one variable was predictive of time until behavioral discharge—youth who were also in CSF residential care remained in CSF Buxmont schools significantly longer than other youth (B = .200, Chi Sq = 10.1, df = 1, p = .0015). As shown in Figure 7, among those receiving a behavioral discharge, youth in residential care remained in the program longer than others. Among those youth not participating in residential care, one-quarter received behavioral discharges by 4 months, half by 9 months, and three-fourths by 17 months. Comparable proportions for residential care participants were 7 months, 16 months, and 29 months respectively. None of the demographic or delinquency variables were significantly related to the time until behavioral discharge. Differences in survival rates were not significant between referral sources, demographic groups, or prior delinquency.
Since residential care is not provided to school referred youth, there is a potential interaction effect between referral source and participation in this auxiliary program. To test whether the increase in survival rates for youth in residential care was simply a proxy for not being a school referred youth, the effect of residential care was tested among probation referrals only. Among this group, youth participating in residential care still had significantly greater survival rates (B = 2.16, ChiSq = 4.9, p = .027).
Among the 723 intake interviews, 88% were conducted within 30 days and 91% within 6 weeks of the start of attendance at a CSF Buxmont school. The remaining intake interviews were excluded from the sample as not accurately reflecting the youth prior to admission, leaving 656 cases with a valid intake interview. Among these cases, 414 (63%) had a matching exit interview. Of these valid matched interviews, the minimum time between measures was 34 days and the maximum was 639 days, or 21 months (one youth with 774 days was excluded from the sample as an outlier). There were 365 (88%) with one year or less between measures and 49 (11%) with more than one year between measures. These interviews measured changes in social values and self-esteem.
ProDES utilizes the 38-item Jessness Values Scale to measure changes in a youth’s attitudes toward social values. The scale ranges from 1 for the least to 10 for the most positive values score. The scale was found to be reliable on both the intake and exit interviews (36 items: Standardized alpha = .838 and .866, respectively). As shown in Figure 8, social values on program entry were normally distributed, with a mean of 5.34 and a median and mode of 5 (skewness = -.08).
Cumulative weeks of participation by CSF residential care (behavioral discharges).
Frequency distribution of social values score on entry.
Change in social values by type of discharge.
Frequency distribution of self-esteem score on entry.
Change in self-esteem by type of discharge.
A youth’s value score on entry to a CSF Buxmont school was a good predictor of their score on exit (r = .692, df = 412, p < .001). A few participating youth became less positive (9%), most remained fairly stable in their values (57%), while more than a third developed more positive social values (34%). A majority of all youth showed some improvement between measures. As shown in Figure 9, the net improvement was greater for normal discharges than it was for behavioral discharges. Also, behavioral discharges were nearly twice as likely to become more antisocial than normal discharges (ChiSq = 5.974, df = 2, p = .050).
Youth receiving behavioral discharges had lower social values scores on intake (mean = 4.97), compared to those receiving normal discharges (mean = 5.44) (F = 5.3418, df = 411, p < 0.05). There was an increase of 10.6% in positive social values among youth receiving normal discharges (from 5.44 to 6.01) (paired-t = 7.72, df = 327, p < .001). The 5.7% increase in mean social values for the 84 behavioral discharges, although it was in a positive direction, was not statistically significant (from 5.00 at entry to 5.29 at exit, paired t = 1.97, df = 83, p = 0.053).
Three questions were thought to be particularly useful in testing the effectiveness of restorative practices. These questions were related to acceptance of responsibility. At intake, 90% of all youth in CSF Buxmont schools agreed with the statement, “When I get into trouble, its my own fault”, compared to 100% at exit (paired-t = 6.65, df = 409, p < .001). Also, all youth that participated in CSF Buxmont schools became less likely to agree with the statement, “I am blamed at home for things that are not my fault” (from 56% to 48%; paired-t = 2.87, df = 411, p = .004). Further, normal discharges became less likely to agree with the statement, “I do not get a fair chance” (from 26% to 19%; paired-t = 2.31, df = 328, p = .022), while the change was insignificant for behavioral discharges (from 36.9% to 38.1%).
There were also significant improvements in youth attitudes toward authority as a result of attending CSF Buxmont schools. Youth were more likely to agree with the statement, “Police try to help” (from 47% to 100%; paired-t = 21.22, df = 406 , p < .001). Further, normal discharges were less likely to agree that “People in authority are bossy” (from 59% to 53%; paired t = 2.17, df = 324, p = .031), compared to a nonsignificant increase among behavioral discharges (from 63% to 66%; paired-t = -.60, df = 82, p = .552).
ProDES utilizes a 10 item self-esteem scale to measure changes in a youth’s self-image. The scale ranges from 1 for the lowest to 10 for the highest. The self-esteem scale was found to be reliable on both the intake and exit interviews (Standardized alpha = .873 and .888, respectively). As shown in Figure 10, self-esteem scores on program entry were highly skewed, with a mean of 7.88, a median of 9 and a mode of 11 (skewness = -1.22). Only 30% percent of youth entering CSF Buxmont schools recorded a self-esteem score below 8 and only 13% a score below 5.
A youth’s self-esteem score on entry was a good predictor of their score on exit (r = .6456, df = 412, p < .001). A few youth had lower self-esteem at exit (10%), most remained relatively stable (66%), and nearly a quarter of youth had substantial increases in their self-esteem (24%). As shown in Figure 11, normal discharges were nearly twice as likely to have a large increase in self-esteem (27%) than behavioral discharges (14%).
Self-esteem Mean Scores at Intake and Exit by Type of Discharge
Among normal discharges, self-esteem scores improved by 8.8% (from 7.89 to 8.58; paired-t = 6.26, df = 326, p < .001). There was essentially no change in self-esteem scores for youth receiving behavioral discharges (from 7.87 to 7.88, p = .851). Normal discharges also had statistically significant increases on eight of the ten self-esteem questions, while behavioral discharges had no significant change on any of the self-esteem items (see Table 2).
Trends in Attitudes by Program Exposure
For youth receiving normal discharges, there was a statistically significant relationship between the change in youth attitudes and the length of program exposure (values r = +.157, df = 326, p = .004; esteem r = +.122, df = 326, p = .027). There was no relationship between program exposure and change in social values or self-esteem for youth receiving a behavioral discharge (r = -.012 and -.032, respectively).
Scattergram of change in social values by weeks between measures
Scattergram of change in self-esteem by weeks between measures
As shown in Figure 12, the longer youth who were normally discharged were exposed to CSF Buxmont schools, the more positive their values became. Difference scores for social values increased an average of .0183 for every week of participation. Beginning with the mean social values score on entry of 5.44, this corresponds to 0.34% improvement per week, 1.35% per month, 4.37% after three months, and 8.75% after six months.
There was a corresponding increase in self-esteem scores for youth receiving normal discharges as shown in Figure 13. Self-esteem scores increased an average of .0217 for every week of participation. Beginning from the intake average of 7.89, this change corresponds to 0.28% improvement per week, 1.10% per month, 3.58% after three months, and 7.15% after six months. These improvements in social values and self-esteem were unrelated to referral source, gender, age, race, risk, or to participation in a CSF auxiliary program.
To explore a possible nonlinear relationship between the changes in youth attitudes and the length of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools, mean scale scores for each month between measures were computed for youth discharged normally. Half of these youth had 23 weeks or less between measures (min = 4 weeks, max = 91 weeks). Mean scores for any specific week are very unstable, since most weeks have fewer than 10 cases. A simple smoothing technique was employed to increase the number of cases for any given week by averaging the weighted scores across multiple weeks. The means for all weeks are based upon more than 20 cases when moving averages are computed over a 16-week period.
The trends produced by this 16-week smoothing reveal the relationship between the length of participation in CSF Buxmont schools and youth scores at intake and exit. As shown in Figure 14, both social values and self-esteem measures reveal a similar pattern over time. Youth with greater time between measures were more likely to have lower intake values and slightly higher exit scores. Because of the great variation in intake scores and the lack of trends in exit scores, neither are statistically different from zero. Youth with 33-52 weeks between measures had unusually high intake scores which were not reflected in the exit scores, with mean social value and self-esteem scores more than one-half of a point higher than the overall mean (0.510 and 0.671, respectively).
The trends of the difference scores (exit minus entry means) represent an estimate of the effect CSF Buxmont schools have on youth attitudes. As shown in Figure 15, there was nearly a 0.5 point mean improvement in both scales for youth with 9-36 weeks between measures. The effect appears to decline from 20-42 weeks, which is solely the effect of the unusually high intake scores of the youth with 35-52 weeks between measures. The effect on attitudes was most dramatic for youth spending a second year in program (52+ weeks between measures), but no obvious nonlinear trend emerges.
Exit interviews were not conducted with any youth participating for less than 30 days and matched interviews were only available on 22% of normal discharges with 30-60 days in attendance. For these reasons, the data are unable to estimate any tipping point in the shape of the relationship between length of exposure and attitude changes, as it must have occurred within the first 9 weeks following program entry.
Entry and exit attitudes by weeks between measures, 16 week weighted moving averages, and linear trends (normal discharges).
Attitude changes by weeks between measures, 16 week weighted moving averages, and linear trends (normal discharges).
Still, the overall trends were toward more positive social values and higher self-esteem the longer youth had participated CSF Buxmont schools. Linear least squares estimates of these trends with zero intercepts have slopes slightly higher than estimated from the zero-order correlations above (.0217 for social values and .0240 for self-esteem). These correspond to a 10.5% increase in social values and a 7.9% increase in self-esteem after 6 months of participation in CSF Buxmont schools.
Offending Following Discharge
Court records were available on 96% of the 919 youth discharged from CSF Buxmont schools. Overall, 10.4% had a new court petition and an additional 5.6% had a petition for a violation of probation filed in juvenile court during the six months following discharge. Behavioral discharges were nearly twice as likely (15.1% of 305) as normal discharges (7.9% of 581) to have a new court petition following discharge (ChiSq = 11.0, df = 1, p = .0009).
School referred youth were slightly more likely to have a new court petition (11.6% of 303) than probation (10.1% of 496) or those referred by children and youth (8% of 87). Also, boys were more likely than girls to have a new court petition (11.3% to 8.0%), but this difference was not statistically significant. Probation referred youth were, of course, more likely to be petitioned for a violation of probation (8%) than school (3%) or children and youth referrals (1%) (ChiSq = 12.8, df = 2, p = .002).
Black youth were nearly twice as likely to receive a new court petition (18% of 91) than other youth (10% of 795) (ChiSq = 5.6, df = 1, p = .017). Youth entering CSF Buxmont schools who were 16 years old or younger were more likely (12% of 621) than older youth (7% of 244) (ChiSq = 4.3, df = 1, p = .038), and those with a prior arrest were more likely (14% of 364) than others (8% of 286) to have a new court petition (ChiSq = 4.1, df = 1, p = .042).
Overall, the proportion of youth with a new court petition during the six months following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools was related to the weeks of participation. The rate of new petitions was 16.2% of the 277 youth who participated less than three months, compared to 7.7% of the 609 participating three months or longer (Lambda = .9878, df = 884, p = .001). For youth receiving a normal discharge, the reduction in offending following discharge held for both new petitions (Lambda = .9915, df = 579, p = .0265) and for all petitions (new petitions and probation violations combined) (Lambda = .9921, df = 579, p = .0317). Length of stay was not significantly related to offending following discharge for youth receiving a behavioral discharge.
As shown in Figure 16, those that attended for three months or longer and received normal discharges, representing more than half of all youth, had the lowest rate of new court petitions (6.1%). Behavioral discharges with less than three months of participation had the highest rate of offending following discharge (17.6%), followed by normal discharges with less than three months (14.5%), and behavioral discharges participating three months or longer (12.5%) (ChiSq = 20.6, df = 3, p < .001).
Percent with new court petitions by type of discharge and length of participation.
Percent with new court petitions by weeks of participation, 16 week weighted moving average, and linear trend (normal discharges).
Percent with new court petitions by weeks of participation, 16 week weighted moving average, and nonlinear trend (normal discharges).
Percent with new court petitions by length of participation and risk category (plus all court petitions for youth participating in intensive supervision following discharge).
A linear estimate of the relationship between length of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools and new court petition rates for youth receiving normal discharges is shown in Figure 17. Beginning at a 15% rate, the rate of new court petitions was reduced by 1% for every three weeks of exposure, for up to 40 weeks. The rate of new petitions was reduced to 11.4% for youth participating for three months, 7.4% at six months, 3.5% at nine months, and finally to 1.8% at 10 months.
As shown in Figure 18, a nonlinear estimate of the relationship between length of exposure and new court petitions produced a more accurate estimate (r = -.1279, df = 581, p = .002) than a linear estimate (r = -.092, p = .027). The largest reduction was for youth attending for more than 3 months (12-20 weeks). This nonlinear trend reveals a clear tipping point occurring after 3 months of participation with the effect leveling off beyond 5 months.
A multivariate analysis revealed a significant interaction related to offending following discharge between age on admission and existence of a prior arrest history. A risk variable was created to capture this interaction effect to include three categories: 1) low risk includes youth that were over 16 years old upon entry and all youth without prior arrests, 2) medium risk includes youth that were 16 years old with a prior arrest, and 3) high risk includes youth younger than 16 years old with a prior arrest. This risk variable was a strong predictor of new court petitions, with 8% of 641 low risk youth, 13% of 109 medium risk youth, and 19% of 136 high risk youth petitioned for a new offense within six months of discharge (ChiSq = 15.4, df = 2, p = .00045).
Among the risk categories, low risk black youth (19.4% of 62) were nearly three times as likely to be petitioned for a new offense as other low risk youth (6.9% of 579) (ChiSq = 11.6, df = 1, p = .00065). Race was unrelated to the probability of a new court petition among the medium risk (p = .08) and high risk youth (p = .54).
High risk youth were slightly more likely to receive behavioral discharges (41%) than medium risk (35%) or low risk (33%), although these differences were not significant (p = .18). Among normal discharges, risk category was strongly predictive of new petitions following discharge (low = 5%, medium = 15%, high = 18%, ChiSq = 21.1, df = 2, p = .00003), weakly predictive for probation violation petitions (5%, 7%, and 13% respectively, ChiSq = 6.2, df = 2, p = .0444), and strongly for all petitions (20%, 23%, and 30% respectively, ChiSq = 26.5, df = 2, p < .00000). Among youth receiving behavioral discharges, risk category was not predictive of new petitions (p = .19), probation violations (p = .92), or all petitions (p = .35).
A generalized least-squares multivariate analysis revealed that the effect of exposure to CSF Buxmont schools on the reduction of new court petitions (beta = -13.0%, t = 3.2, p = .0014 ) was still statistically significant after controlling for risk (beta = 17.2%, t = 4.3, p < .0000) and race (beta = 9.9%, t = 2.449,p = .0146) (change in R2 = .0460, F = 13.945, p = .000). Additionally, youth who participated in intensive supervision following discharge were less likely to have been petitioned for a new offense than other youth (beta = -8.6%, t = -2.1, p = .0344; change in R2 = .0073, F = 4.494, p = .034).
To isolate the independent effect of intensive supervision, a separate analysis was conducted among the 515 probation referred youth in the sample, 26% of whom participated in intensive supervision following discharge from CSF Buxmont schools. New petitions were filed for 1.5% (2 of 136) of those participating in intensive supervision following discharge, as compared to 13.3% (48 of 360) of youth that did not participate (ChiSq = 15.3, df = 1, p < .001). However, those that participated in intensive supervision following discharge were more likely to be petitioned for a probation violation (14.7% to 5.6% respectively, ChiSq = 11.1, df = 1, p < .001). While the combined new court petition and probation violation rate was somewhat lower among those participating in intensive supervision following discharge (16.2% vs. 18.9%), this difference was not significant (ChiSq = 0.5).
The effect of the CSF Buxmont schools on reducing new court petitions was independent of the other factors related to offending (Wilk’s Lambda RISK = .98, IPAFTER = .95, LRBLACK = .94, and E(RECID) = .96, all p < .001, with 61% correctly classified).  As shown in Figure 19, youth who participated for more than three months had lower new petition rates across all risk categories. There were also fewer new court petitions after three months for behavioral discharges and fewer petitions for a probation violation among those participating in intensive supervision following discharge.
The CSF Buxmont restorative milieu produced positive results in all three performance measures: program completion, youth attitudes, and offending following discharge.
The majority of youth referred to CSF Buxmont schools successfully completed the program with rates of 66% for probation referrals, 53% for school referrals, and 57% for referrals from children and youth. These rates are very high when compared to programs serving similar populations. The average completion rate for programs serving youth placed by Philadelphia Juvenile Court is estimated at 35% for community-based programs and 55% for non community-based programs (excluding boot camps). About 33% of nonadjudicated youth in Philadelphia’s delinquency prevention programs complete their program and 40% simply stopped attending.  Thus, the completion rates for CSF Buxmont schools are very respectable for a community-based program.
These high completion rates are especially significant because CSF Buxmont schools have a very open referral policy and accept youth with a wide range of offense seriousness and related risk factors.  Further, rather than screening out high need youth, CSF Buxmont’s restorative milieu tends to retain them. Youth with the lowest social values and self-esteem scores upon entry were retained longer than others. It was these youth that showed the greatest improvements. This is especially impressive in light of the fact that the proportion of youth receiving a behavioral discharge did not differ by age, gender, race, prior offending, or other risk factors.
Youth were more likely to have more positive social values and higher self-esteem at discharge than at program entry. These improvements were greater for youth completing the program than for youth receiving behavioral discharges and were positively related to the length of participation in CSF Buxmont schools. Youth completing the program had more positive social values and higher self-esteem scores upon discharge regardless of their scores at intake.
Offending during the six months following discharge was reduced by 58% for those youth who completed the program successfully with more than three months participation. Youth in all risk categories were less likely to offend following discharge, including those discharged unsuccessfully, if they participated in the program for more than three months. Finally, the greatest reduction in offending occurred among youth with the highest risk factors for offending.
These results present sufficient empirical evidence to conclude that the changes in attitudes and behavior of youth were the result of participating in CSF’s restorative milieu because:
1) There were significant improvements in both attitude and behavioral measures.
2) These improvements were positively related to the length of participation.
3) The relationships between improvement and participation remained statistically significant after accounting for relevant risk factors.
4) The reduction in offending following discharge after three months participation remained significant after controlling for relevant risk factors and reason for discharge.
Very few programs for delinquent and troubled youth can demonstrate similar positive outcomes. These results provide very strong empirical support that restorative practices are effective and that youth in a restorative milieu will become more positive in their social values, develop an improved self-image, and will be less likely to offend in the future.
1. For more information on CSF Buxmont schools go to: http://www.csfbuxmont.org
2. Wachtel, T. and McCold, P. (2000). Restorative justice in everyday life. In J. Braithwaite and H. Strang (eds.), Restorative Justice in Civil Society. New York: Cambridge University Press; and P. McCold and T. Wachtel (2002). Restorative justice theory validation. In E. Weitekamp and H-J. Kerner (eds.), Restorative Justice: Theoretical Foundations. Devon UK: Willan Publishing.
3. Harris, P., Jones, P., Naiburg, J., and Washnock, J. (2000). Objectives and Outcomes of Community Service Foundation Programs: Results of the Evaluability Assessment Study. Philadelphia, PA: Crime and Justice Research Institute. “The programs of the Community Service Foundation share several common objectives and a mission that includes building among its clients greater self control, a belief in the capacity of people to change, an appreciation of the value of community, and life-styles in which sobriety is the norm. ... The values of believing in people’s capacity to change, the importance of community, the need for open confrontation and the establishment of a few important rules of behavior dominate the agency’s culture.” p.14. Also see Karp, D. and Breslin, B. (2001). Restorative justice in school communities. Youth & Society, 33(2), 249-272.
4. Jones, P., Harris, P. , Grubstein, L. and Fader, J. (2000). Juvenile Justice Trends and Projections. Program Development and Evaluation System. Philadelphia, PA: Crime and Justice Research Institute. Also see: Crime and Justice Research Institute. (1997). ProDES: The Program Development and Evaluation System Reference Packet (rev. 3/19/98). Philadelphia, PA: Author
6. An independent analysis by Peter Jones, Criminal Justice Research Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 27,2002 confirmed a significant reduction in offending for youth receiving normal discharges. Jones identified several variables which, when combined, created a useful risk classification. He found a significant relationship between this a priori risk classification and offending (ChiSq = 31.6, df = 2, p < .001) with an additional effect for program stays of more than 3 months (ChiSq = 9.0, df = 1, p < .003). In a multivariate logistic regression, the odds ratios for time in program show a 65% reduction in the probability of offending when you move from program time of less than 3 months to 3+ months. Separate one-way ANOVA analysis shows that the effect of time in program is significant in one specific type of interaction - high risk youth. These general results were also confirmed by a discriminate analysis. Repeating the analysis on several community-based programs in the PRoDES database failed to reveal a similar effect for any of these programs.
7. Jones, et al., op. cit., and Jones, P., Harris, P., Poulin, M., and Moss, M. (2001). Delinquency Prevention Program Trends and Projections. Prevention Outcome Monitoring Information System (PROMIS). Philadelphia, PA: Crime and Justice Research Institute.
- Written by Lorenn Walker
This article originally appeared in the Federal Probation Journal, Volume 66, No. 1, June, 2002.
The Honolulu Police Department conducted an experimental diversion project for first time juvenile offenders in the City and County of Honolulu. Juveniles were diverted to restorative justice conferences instead of traditional diversion programs. Conferences are based on the assumption that crime damages relationships between people. Conferencing is a group reconciliation process that is best used when someone who has caused harm admits wrongdoing. Offenders and those most hurt by the wrongdoing, gather in a circle at conferences to discuss how they have been affected, and collectively decide how to repair the harm. This study analyzed the effects of conferencing on participant satisfaction, offender agreement compliance, and recidivism. Results show that victims were highly satisfied with the process and conferenced juveniles arrested for non-violent offenses did not escalate to arrests for violent crimes, while juveniles who participated in traditional programs had a significantly higher arrest rate for subsequent violent crimes.
The man was seated in a circle with seven other people. He bent down to the eye level of a 10-year-old boy sitting across from him and said, “I want you to know that my son will never touch you again.” The tense looking boy sighed, “o.k.” The boy’s mother and father, who were seated along side him, nodded their heads in agreement and relaxed their faces. The man’s words to the boy were reassurance that his 16-year-old son would not hurt him again. A month before, the 16-year-old held the 10-year-old upside down against his wishes. Because the older boy would not admit that he touched the boy, this conference turned out to be the least successful compared to 84 others held for first time juvenile offenders in Honolulu. Yet, even with its shortcomings, the conference provided the 10-year-old and his parents assurance that the offender would not touch him again.
Meeting the needs of victims, and providing them with the opportunity to be assured that they will not be hurt again by offenders, is not something traditional criminal justice systems provide. Conferencing attempts to meet victims’ needs, which in the end benefits not only the victims, but also offenders, and the community affected by crime. This study evaluates how effective conferencing was in meeting victims’ needs and its effects on recidivism in a recent Honolulu juvenile diversion program.
Historical Development of the Conferencing Process
Conferencing is a generic term for a group reconciliation process. Conference groups are facilitated by a neutral third party, and reach decisions by consensus. Western governments are using conferencing in criminal and child protective services cases (Hudson, Morris, Maxwell & Galaway, 1996). Conference models include family group conferencing (Maxwell & Morris, 1993), community conferencing (Cameron & Thorsborne, 1999), family group decision-making (Graber, Keys & White, 1996), and Real Justice conferences (O’Connell, Wachtel & Wachtel, 1999).
Conferences incorporate the conflict resolution practices of many indigenous people, including the Maoris of New Zealand, Hawaiians, North American Indians, and Africans (Shook, 1985; Schiff, 1998; Some, 1999; Zion, 1998; Walker, 2001). In 1989, New Zealand enacted legislation that required diversion of all juvenile offenders to family group conferences rather than traditional criminal justice processes (Maxwell & Morris, 1993). The New Zealand family group conference model is based on the Maori conflict resolution practice called whanau. Although the conference model that New Zealand developed was not meant to replicate the Maori process, “it seeks to incorporate many of the features apparent in whanau decision-making processes” (Maxwell & Morris, 1993).
Daly (2001) argues that conferences do not “reflect [and are not] based on indigenous justice practices”; however, New Zealand’s legislative history clearly shows that the Maori practice influenced that country’s mandated conferencing process. In 1986 New Zealand had rejected legislation and conferencing that was “monocultural” because it failed to include the “cultural identity of the tangata whenua (the people indigenous to or belonging in an area)” and did not “involve parents, family groups, whanau, hapu and iwi in developing solutions to the problem situations” (Hassall, 1996). After these two issues were addressed and included in the 1989 legislation, New Zealand enacted the law requiring that juveniles be diverted to family group conferences.
While conferencing did not develop in the West as a restorative justice process, but as a multi-disciplinary team approach in social work, it is a restorative process (Hassall, 1996; McCold, 1999). Restorative justice is an “alternative approach to criminal justice” which began in response to what its proponents viewed as the ineffectiveness of our current system (Pranis, 1996). Western justice is based primarily on retributive values where: “Crime is a violation of the state, defined by lawbreaking and guilt. Justice determines blame and administers pain in a contest between the offender and the state directed by systematic rules” (Zehr, 1990, p. 181). In contrast, restorative justice is based on values that hold “Crime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates obligations to make things right. Justice involves the victims, the offender, and the community in a search for solutions which promote repair, reconciliation, and reassurance” (Zehr, 1990, p. 181).
Emphasis on reconciliation should be an important part of our criminal justice system where in the United States most convictions come from guilty pleas. “More than 90 percent of all felony cases are disposed of by guilty pleas.” (Hall, 1996). The percent of juveniles who plead guilty or admit to offenses before court intervention is unknown, but it is assumed to be higher than the number of adults. During the six years that this author defended juveniles for law violations, all of them admitted responsibility for an offense.
Conferencing is a reconciliation process that addresses the needs of those most affected by crimes to a greater extent than traditional adversarial and autocratic processes can. The father of the 16-year-old offender addressed the need of the 10-year-old victim and his parents that the youngster be safe from the older boy in the future. While the offender’s father could not guarantee that his son would not harm the victim again, the father’s assurance was more than that offered by the criminal justice system. Even though the offender did not fully admit his wrongdoing, the conference benefited the victim. This could not be accomplished with our current justice processes, which do not provide the opportunity for victims and their loved ones to openly communicate with offenders. Without victim participation and the presence of the offender’s father at the conference, the victim’s needs could not be addressed.
The Real Justice Conferencing Model
This pilot project used the Real Justice conferencing model. In Real Justice conferences, participants sit in a circle without a table between them. Participants include victims, offenders, and representatives of the community most affected by crime. The community includes supporters of the victims and offenders (family and/or friends), and others who have been affected. For example, if a crime occurred on a school campus, school staff may be a part of the affected community and participate in a conference.
In some cases, victims do not want to meet with offenders. In these cases, victims may send a representative. Of the 102 juveniles who had conferences, 30 were for assaults and of those, 21 victims participated in conferences. In the remaining nine cases, representatives were from the victims’ families or the schools where many of the assaults occurred.
Conferences are facilitated by a neutral third party who does not participate in decision making. Real Justice facilitators attend a two-day training program. Thirty facilitators from Honolulu were trained, 12 of whom facilitated most of the conferences. Their backgrounds included housewife, sales clerk, college student, retired social worker, and contractor. They were paid $150.00 for each conference. Facilitators also convened and found a conference location convenient for the parties. The main scheduling priority was the victim’s convenience.
Real Justice conference facilitators follow a script developed by Terry O’Connell, a former Australian police officer. In 1990, O’Connell developed protocols from what he learned about New Zealand’s process. These protocols are followed in the Real Justice script (O’Connell, 1998). The script maintains a specific speaking order for conference participants. The facilitator begins a conference by reading a preamble, which creates an atmosphere of respect, and subtly establishes the ground rules. The offender speaks next, before the other participants, allowing him or her to take responsibility for the bad behavior immediately. Having the offender take responsibility at the beginning of the conference gives the victims some emotional relief by knowing denial is not an issue. The offender answers a round of questions that cause him or her to consider the consequences of the bad behavior.
Although some find the use of a script distasteful or stilted, conferences conducted with them have been thoroughly researched and evaluated. These studies have consistently found high rates of participant satisfaction, perceptions of fairness, and offender compliance with agreements (McCold & Wachtel, 1998; Moore & Forsythe, 1995; Umbriet & Fercello, 1998, 1999; O’Connell, Wachtel, Wachtel, 1999). Perhaps the most beneficial reason for using the script is it ensures that the participants will maintain control of the conference outcome, not the facilitator. Participant control during group process has been found to generate more cooperative relationships than autocratic group process (Lewin, 1997). The Real Justice script can prevent facilitators from becoming autocratic and defeating this consensus-based process.
Real Justice Conference Parts
There are four phases to a Real Justice conference. First, offenders admit what they did. They explain what they were thinking when they committed the offense, what they have thought about since then, and whom they think has been affected by their actions. Second, the other individuals in the group discuss how they have been affected by the offender’s behavior. Third, the group discusses and decides what can be done to repair the harm to make things right. Finally, a written agreement is decided upon by the group, which all participants sign. The conference ends with the participants eating together—a ceremonial breaking of bread—which allows for further reintegration, closure, and healing.
In 1999 the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) received a federal grant through the Hawai‘i State Office of Youth Services to divert first-time juvenile offenders to restorative conferences rather than traditional police diversion programs. The project was designed by the Hawai‘i Friends of Civic and Law Related Education (Hawai‘i Friends), a non-profit educational organization.
Between March and September 2000, 102 first-time juvenile offenders participated in conferences instead of traditional police diversion programs in the City and County of Honolulu. Eighty-five conferences were held for the 102 offenders (co-defendants participated together in single conferences).
Selection of Cases for Conferencing
The juveniles who participated in the 85 conferences were initially selected randomly, but after several weeks, shoplifting and runaway cases were selected out. Theft cases were avoided when a major retailer in Honolulu, frequently a juvenile shoplifting victim, refused to participate in conferences. Without the retailer’s participation, conferencing its theft cases could not be meaningful.
Runaway cases were also avoided after the program began because they often concern complicated family issues and not the resolution of a specific wrongdoing. Some juveniles run away because of abuse or neglect. The Real Justice conference model does not address these complex problems and is more effective for clear cases of wrongdoing.
A total of 160 juveniles were selected for conferences. Of those originally selected, 102 juveniles participated in a conference. Fifty-eight of the 160 juveniles originally selected for conferences did not participate. Twenty-five of those denied that they were responsible for the crime. Most of them were charged with violent offenses. The conferencing process is only used when the offender admits wrongdoing.
The next most common reason for not participating in a conference was that the juveniles’ families either never returned phone calls about the program or did not have telephones. In a few of the cases where there was no telephone, facilitators went to the homes and arranged a conference. The remaining 16 juveniles selected for conferences did not participate for a variety of reasons.
Nature of Conference Agreements
The majority of agreements, 73 percent or 61 out of 83 cases sought purely symbolic (i.e., apology) or a combination of symbolic and service reparations (i.e., apology with service including counseling for the offender), See Table 1. Fourteen cases, 17 percent, sought purely service reparations where juveniles agreed to repair damage or provide other community service. One juvenile agreed to service, symbolic, and monetary reparation. Only 7 percent of the offenders (8 juveniles out of the 100 whose agreements were reviewed) were required to pay monetary restitution. This study confirms what many believe: most victims want to know offenders are remorseful (Tutu, 1999).
Result: Participant Satisfaction
A total of 405 participants in 831 conferences were surveyed immediately following conferences for their satisfaction with the process. Although there may be concern that immediate surveys may have a “bubble effect,” where individuals are more inclined to report satisfaction than they would over time (McCold, 1998), one study shows that this does not apply to conferencing satisfaction survey results (Palk, Hayes & Prenzler, 1998).
Recent research of 35 fully-restorative, mostly-restorative and non-restorative conflict resolution programs throughout the world found a significantly higher satisfaction level with conferencing which is a fully-restorative process (McCold & Wachtel, 2000). The fully-restorative programs (conferencing and circles) had a 91.3 percent level of satisfaction while the mostly- restorative programs (victim offender mediation) had an 81.6 percent level of satisfaction. The non-restorative programs (boot camp and scared programs) had only a 55.6 percent level of participant satisfaction. The differences in the satisfaction levels reflect the differences in participation of stakeholders whose needs are addressed during the process. For example, in conferencing all the key stakeholders (i.e., victims, offenders and their communities of care) participate in the process that addresses their needs. In the mostly-restorative processes, victim offender mediation, usually only the victim and offender participate, their communities of care are not included in decision making nor are their needs addressed. Finally, in the non-restorative processes, the boot camp and scared straight programs, offenders reluctantly participate, and the victims and communities of care are excluded. McCold & Wachtel found that the more key stakeholders participating in the process, the higher the level of satisfaction with the process. Conferencing includes the main stakeholders, who are all encouraged to meaningfully participate, which the other programs lack.
Participant satisfaction with the conferencing process here was extremely high. Only seven of the 405 participants who completed surveys at the 83 conferences indicated that they did not believe the process served justice. Three of these participants were from the single conference that was incorrectly conducted after the 16-year-old denied full responsibility. The other four participants who did not believe the conference served justice were two offenders and two offenders’ supporters. The only victim who did not believe the process served justice was the 10-year-old whose case was incorrectly conferenced.
Conference participants’ satisfaction in Honolulu was compared with satisfaction levels of juvenile conferencing programs in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania during 1995 - 1997; four sites in Virginia during 1998 - 1999; Indianapolis, Indiana during 1997 - 2000; and Canberra, Australia during 1997 - 1999. Analysis of these programs shows Honolulu participants had a similar level of satisfaction with the conferencing process as the other projects (McCold, 1998; McCold, 1999; McGarrell, Olivares, Crawford, & Kroovand, 2000; Sherman, Strange, Barnes, Braithwaite, Inkpen, and The M.M., 1998 & 1999). Table 2 shows conference participant satisfaction rates.
Result: Offender Compliance with Agreements
All of the 85 conferences resulted in agreements. Approximately six months after the conferences, a telephone survey was conducted to determine whether offenders fulfilled the agreements. Victims were contacted in 47 of the cases (representing 61 juveniles). When the victim was not available, the victim’s supporters were contacted. Victim supporters were contacted in 14 of the cases (representing 15 juveniles) and when they were unavailable, the offender’s supporters were contacted. Offender’s supporters were used to determine whether the agreements were fulfilled in 15 cases (representing 17 juveniles), and as a last resort, in three cases offenders were relied on. One of these offenders said that he did not fulfill the agreement while the other two said they had.
The telephone survey showed that there was a high rate of offender compliance with the agreements. Out of the 102 juvenile offenders, at least 90 of them complied with the terms of the agreements as shown in Table 3. Even the 16-year old whose case was incorrectly conferenced complied with his agreement to “stay away from [the victim’s] home,” although the victim’s mother said the offender was seen near the victim’s street. Six juveniles did not fulfill their agreements. In six other cases, the outcome is unknown because no one was contacted.
Out of the 102 juvenile offenders, only eight were required to provide monetary restitution. Seven of these juveniles fulfilled the agreements. Only one offender did not pay the money back to the victim as agreed. In this case, he agreed to repay $250.00 damage to a candle display in a store. The store representative had no authority to lower the restitution amount, which its head out-of-state office had established without any negotiation possibility. Even with this juvenile’s failure to pay the restitution, the overall 87 percent restitution payment rate is significantly higher the current system’s.
First, there is no requirement of other Honolulu Police Department diversion programs that offenders pay any restitution. While courts order restitution, there is no data on the percent of collected court-ordered restitution in Honolulu’s juvenile cases. A long-time juvenile probation officer of the court believes, however, that less than 10 percent of all restitution orders for juveniles are completely paid.
Result: Recidivism Rates
Recidivism in this study looked at re-arrest rates six months after the conference. As shown in Table 4, the overall recidivism rate for the juveniles who had conferences was 28 percent six months following the last conference. The recidivism rate was only 11 percent in September 2000 when the last conference was held. This increase from 11 percent to 28 percent six months later confirms the likelihood of repeat offenses over time.
As shown in Table 5, a statistically significant recidivism difference was found for juveniles arrested for non-violent violations, i.e. theft, status offenses, and drugs. A matched group for time of offense, type of offense (non-violent) and gender was used to compare the difference between diversion programs. Although the overall recidivism rates between the two groups was not different, the juveniles who had conferences for non-violent offenses were less likely to escalate to violent crimes, compared to juveniles without conferences. In the group of 102 conferenced juveniles, 59 were arrested for non-violent offenses. Of those, only one was rearrested within the following six months for a violent crime. In the matched group of 82 juveniles, 75 of them were arrested for non-violent offenses. Of those, six were arrested for violent crimes within the following six months.
Keeping juveniles from escalating to violent crimes is important for reducing recidivism. The latest national study analyzing recidivism differences found that juveniles charged with assault are 44 percent more likely to repeat future offenses, while juveniles charged with theft are only 34 percent more likely to repeat offenses (Snyder, 1988).
The re-arrest rate for all youth in Honolulu was not significantly different from the conferenced juveniles. During the project, a total 3376 youth, excluding the 102 in this project, were arrested in Honolulu. After six months, 863 juveniles or 25 percent were rearrested. It is unknown what crimes the juveniles were arrested for.
Conferencing is a welcome juvenile justice process in Honolulu. As one assault victim’s parent said: “We were able to share our feelings and felt that the children understood how their actions affect others. I felt a healing when my thoughts and feelings were heard. I also felt good to show the children that we support them and care about their well being. We are very glad we could solve this problem in this manner.” The mother of the 10-year victim in the incorrectly conferenced case said, “Talking with the [offender’s] dad was very helpful.” She also added that the “conference would have been better if [the offender] would have admitted assaulting my son. He cannot get better until he can face that he assaulted my son. Until he admits it nothing can be repaired.” This statement illustrates why conferencing criminal cases should only be used when offenders accept full responsibility for their behavior. When offenders take responsibility, conferencing offers a process where healing can occur compared to traditional processes that focus primarily on retribution.
Second, while the Real Justice conference model relies on the offender admitting guilt, and may fail to address the often-complex problems that are relevant for status offenses, it is an effective intervention for many non-violent offenses. Conferenced non-violent offenders are less likely to escalate to more serious crimes six months later. A conferencing model needs to be developed to address relevant social issues for status offenders.
Finally, this research confirms what South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: "justice, restorative justice, is being served when efforts are being made to work for healing, for forgiving, and for reconciliation." Most victims of juvenile crime in Honolulu agree with Archbishop Tutu because most that attended conferences wanted an apology. As one victim said a "verbal apology was all I needed." And, as the 10-year-old victim’s father from the incorrectly held conference said, “Until the [offender] can be remorseful and admit what happened nothing can be accomplished!” When those most affected by crime participate in a process focused on addressing their needs, healing can begin, and restorative justice happens.
1. The case of the 16-year-old boy who held the 10-year-old upside down should not have been conferenced. Although the conference had value because the offender’s father assured the victim he would not be touched again, the case did not meet the criterion of the offender taking responsibility for his actions.
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- Written by Brenda Morrison
Paper presented at the International Conference on Violence in Schools
and Public Policies, Palais de l'UNESCO, Paris, March 5-7, 2001.
Paper to be published by The European Observatory of Violence in Schools.
Addressing school violence has no easy answers. There have been journeys down many different avenues. We have swung between the libertarian ideal of rehabilitation for the damaged lives of perpetrators of violence and the more conservative punitive just deserts approach. Broadly speaking, the former values compassion, while the latter values accountability for individuals' actions. Both approaches aim to (1) achieve behavioural change for the individual; (2) keep our schools and communities safe. The evidence is mixed as to what works best. Is it possible to incorporate both compassion and accountability in the sanctions we impose when dealing with school violence? Advocates of restorative justice answer a tentative yes to this question. Restorative justice is about building communities of care around individuals while not condoning harmful behavior, in other words holding individuals accountable for their actions. This paper will explore recent developments in the building of theory and practice in the area of restorative justice, particularly in terms of addressing one form of school violence — school bullying. Addressing violence in schools is a pressing social issue. It needs to take center stage in developing the roots of a civil society (Morrison, forthcoming).
Violence in schools is being increasingly recognized as not only a social justice problem but also a public health problem (Mercy & O'Carroll, 1988). Violence casts a web of harm that captures the victims, the offenders and their communities. This web creates cycles of fear and distrust to all who befall its trap, perpetuating antisocial and self-critical cycles of behaviour. For offenders, longitudinal studies have shown that there is often a continuity of aggressive and dominating behaviors over time (Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz & Walder, 1984; McCord, 1991; Moffitt, 1993; Pepler & Rubin, 1991; Tremblay, McCord & Boileau, 1992). Victims carry with them the emotional scars of nagging self-criticism, suffering the long-term effects of perpetual victimhood (Callaghan & Joseph, 1995; Olweus, 1993; Slee, 1995). Both, in their own way, have been alienated from the communities in which they live. Both need to re-establish their ties with their community.
In the last decade or so we have become increasingly aware that bullying in schools is a serious, and insidious, form of violence that plagues the school system. Internationally, there are countless tragic stories to be told. There is also building empirical evidence of the consequences of its ill effects. Those who bully are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, as well as engage in subsequent delinquent and criminal behaviour (Gottfredson, Gottfredson & Hybl, 1993). Children who are bullied have higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, illness and suicidal ideation (Cox, 1995; Rigby, 1998; Rigby, 1999). For both, this web of fear becomes an obstacle to learning, self-development and effective citizenship. This fear breaks down the foundation of a civil society. Our concern must be at many levels, not only for the individuals themselves, and their families, but also society at large. For it is society that must support those who befall our justice and health care systems.
In Australia this evidence has been clearly recognised. The National Crime Prevention and the National Anti-Crime Strategy have identified school bullying as a risk factor associated with antisocial and criminal behaviour in their publication "Pathways to prevention: Developmental and early intervention approaches to crime in Australia" (National Crime Prevention, 1999). Early intervention has been advocated as the most appropriate way to break this cycle (Yoshikawa, 1994; Tremblay & Craig, 1995). Schools may be the most appropriate institution to target in addressing these issues, reducing antisocial and criminal behaviour patterns, while promoting productive citizenship and social responsibility.
School Bullying as a Target of Early Intervention Practice
Schools are an appropriate target because they capture such a large proportion of the population base. They not only capture children in their formative years, they also capture parents in their most influential years with their children. Schools also capture other members of a child's community of support, such as grandparents, friends, teachers, instructors and coaches. Schools, in essence, are a microcosm of society. Schools have the developmental potential to both stigmatize and exclude, as well as nurture and integrate individuals within society. The process of becoming a chronic offender and victim in society is often fed by the cycles of bullying and victimization that develop in the school system. Bullying, and victimization, within schools is an effective behavioural target as these behaviours signal the breakdown of social relationships. In such cases, the re-affirming of positive relationships is vital to individual and social well-being. This is reflected in the increasing awareness of researchers who couch deviant behaviour not in terms of individual pathology but in terms of social relationships that sustain individual lives (Ahmed et al., forthcoming; Koh, 1998; Emler & Reicher, 1995; Tutu, 1999).
The task is to re-build relationships in individual's lives at the first sign that the child is becoming disenfranchised from the relationships that sustain their well-being during their years at school. Working with children who bully and who are bullied in schools, particularly in the primary years, seems an effective place to commit our resources. Bullying is an important target as it is one of the most prevalent and insidious forms of domination over others. The ethos of bullying values dominance and control as a powerful form of influence over others. Restorative justice recognizes the ill effects of this form of influence, for influence, through domination, results in an alienated society. The practice of restorative justice does not value dominance but offers mutual respect and human dignity, while holding individuals' accountable. School bullying reflects wider social processes of domination as a form of influence. The study of school bullying offers us an opportunity to not only understand and address the phenomenon itself but also explore wider social issues.
What is Bullying?
The most frequently cited definition of bullying is the "repeated oppression, psychological or physical of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons" (Rigby, 1996, p.15; see also Farrington, 1993; Olweus, 1993). Three critical points are important in this definition:
Power: Children who bully acquire their power through various means: physical size and strength; status within a peer group; and recruitment within the peer group so as to exclude others.
Frequency: Bullying is not a random act; it is characterized by its repetitive nature. Because it is repetitive, the children who are bullied not only have to survive the humiliation of the attack itself but live in constant fear of its re-occurrence.
Intent to harm: While not always fully conscious to the child who bullies, causing physical and emotional harm is a deliberative act. It puts the child who is bullied in a position of oppression by the child who bullies.
It is important to note that bullying does not define all forms of conflict. If the power balance is perceived to be relatively equal, bullying is not in play. The bullying battleground is not a level playing field. Bullying is the assertion of power through aggression and domination. It happens in government, corporate boardrooms and in our schools. The form that bullying takes changes with life stage: from playgroup bullying and gang violence, to sexual and workplace harassment, to child abuse and domestic violence, as well as abuse of our elders and disabled (Pepler & Craig, 1997). The exertion of power can be both verbal and physical and it can take many forms: through the overt use of physical size, strength and numbers, to the use of status within a group. The form can be face-to-face or insidiously indirect, through rumours, exclusion, stalking and setting people up through others (Olweus, 1991). The repetitive nature of bullying sets up an ongoing relationship of dominance and submission. Both patterns can have a negative impact on the individuals and the communities concerned. Both can be understood through an analysis of how we manage our social relationships — individually and collectively.
How Pervasive is School Bullying?
Bullying in schools is a worldwide phenomenon. The data in Australia mirrors that of other countries, such as Canada (Bentley and Li, 1995; Pepler et al., 1997), Scandinavia (Olweus, 1991), Ireland (O'Moore, 1986) and England (Boulton and Underwood, 1992). Recent figures suggest that 50% of children have experienced being bullied at school at least once (Rigby, 1996). It has been estimated that for Australian students (between the age of 9 and 17) 1 student in 5 is bullied at least once a week (Rigby, 1996). That's 20% of Australian students being bullied each week. This amounts to 634, 320 students being bullied every week across Australia (based on 1997 census data). Verbal bullying was reported by both boys and girls as the most common form of bullying. Physical bullying was the form experienced least. For girls, a figure that stands out above the boys, is the occurrence of being excluded, on purpose.
While bullying comes and goes with age, there is a developmental pattern. At the ages of I I and 12, students are most likely to report bullying others (Pepler et al., 1997). In other words, the pattern changes once adolescence begins. Overall, reported bullying is higher in primary school than secondary school; however, the early years of secondary school are higher than the final year of primary school (Rigby, 1996).
If It's Everywhere, Is Bullying Just a Lesson in Life?
Bullying is widespread and always has been. There are numerous historical accounts, such as in the works of Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, 1837; Nicholas Nickleby, 1838) and Thomas Hughes (Tom Brown's School Days, 1857), as well as other historical tales (see Ross, 1996). Even today, the exploits of the orphaned boys in Oliver Twist are alive and well in the hearts and minds of contemporary society, for the same issues are still alive today, and continue to present themselves. More recently, James Moloney's (1998) award-winning Buzzard Breath and Brains tells the contemporary tale of dominance and submission, in other words bullying. The behaviour may be common through the ages, but this is as much a reflection on having institutions that tolerate (even condone) bullying, as on the nature of children. Bullying is not just "kids being kids." Bullying is the systematic abuse of power. This paper is based on the premise that bullying should never be condoned at any age or stage of life's journey.
The acceptance of bullying as a normal part of life signals that intimidation and violence are acceptable ways to resolve conflict and influence others. We may always have to deal with some form of bullying but we should never have to nurture our children in its arms. Children who tread the path of bully and victim can carry the emotional turmoil with them for a lifetime. Not only does it harm their own sense of personal well-being, it also affects those who care for these children.
To understand the problem of bullying and of being bullied, we must consider the developmental paths of children who dominate others and their victims. We must also examine the social systems in which bullying occurs, such as the family, peer groups, schools and other social institutions. We can not dismiss children who bully in schools as part of a behavioural cycle that they'll grow out of; likewise, we can not pass off children who are bullied as needing a lesson in learning to stand up for themselves. The evidence shows that we are not doing anyone a service by taking this stand.
What are the Developmental Paths of Bullies and Victims?
There isn't a single path that leads a child to bullying others or to being bullied. Generally, the path they tread reflects a pattern of poor social adjustment. A number of risk factors have been identified which generally fall into the categories of individual differences, family, and school. Wider social institutions also play a role (see Morrison, forthcoming). For example, one recent model found that school bullying was best predicted by family disharmony, perceived control of bullying in schools, school hassles, liking for schools, as well as the individual characteristics of impulsivity, empathy, self-esteem and internal locus of control (see Ahmed et al., forthcoming).
The purpose in this paper is not to review each of these factors but develop a theoretical framework through which to understand the problem and then use this framework to develop effective interventions. This was the approach advocated by the influential social scientist Kurt Lewin (1946), who said, "there is nothing as practical as a good theory."
Developing a Theoretical Framework
We will begin this endeavour with the finding that a lack of cooperation has been correlated with high involvement in school bullying (Rigby, Cox & Black, 1997). Two different theoretical perspectives may be helpful in explaining this finding: social identity (and self categorization) theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987) and reintegrative shaming theory (Braithwaite, 1989). The social identity perspective argues that social cooperation is a product of the salience (or activation) of a social identity. A social identity can be thought of as the psychological link between the self and the collective, in this case the school community. Through social identification, the school becomes a positive reference group for the student. When a student identifies with the school community, he or she will see themselves as interdependent with this community and behave cooperatively, upholding the school's rules and values (Morrison, 1999). Tyler (1998) has made a similar point. He argues that there are two inter-related aspects to self-worth: collective and individual. In the context of the school, the collective aspect is reflected in pride in being a member of a school community. The individual aspect is reflected in having respect within that community. As self-worth within a community increases in terms of pride and respect, social cooperation within that community also increases. In other words each of us strives for a sense of belongingness and significance. As well as meeting our individual needs, being a member of a positive reference group is also importance to us. We are social animals.
For bullies, the evidence indicates that the school community is not seen as a positive reference group. Indeed the school may even become a negative reference group as a child drifts towards a delinquent identity (see Koh, 1998). The building of a positive identity within the school is not a simple and straightforward means to an end. There may be some barriers to the process of identifying with the school community. Work by Eliza Ahmed and her colleagues (2000) suggests that one barrier that needs to be addressed is the affective barrier associated with shame. The shame associated with a harmful act acts as a barrier to us thinking of ourselves as a fully integrated member of a community. Indeed, recent findings have shown that shame-management has been found to be an important mediating variable in the understanding of bullying and victimization (Ahmed et al., forthcoming).
This work, inspired by reintegrative shaming theory (Braithwaite, 1989), suggests that both shaming and the emotion of shame are of considerable importance in regulating social behaviour. When a member of our community has done something that the community does not condone, the act can be dealt with in two ways: one can belittle both the person and the behaviour, or one can respect the person while not condoning the behaviour. The former is known as stigmatized shaming, a process that gives negative labels to both the person and the act; the latter is known as reintegrative shaming, a process that supports the person while not condoning the act. Within this framework, Ahmed has developed an integrated model of shame management and bullying. Building on many of the variables that have previously been found to influence bullying behaviour, such as family, school and individual difference variables, Ahmed shows how shame-management mediates many of these well acknowledged influences. In other words, failure to manage shame effectively is understood to be of importance in understanding and addressing school bullying.
Shame can be adaptive or maladaptive. Shame is adaptive when it activates an internal sanctioning mechanism that regulates the consistency and appropriateness of our social behaviour. The process can be understood as follows. Shame comes to the fore when we behave inappropriately in respect to an important community of support, for example our family or school. Through taking responsibility for the wrongdoing and making amends, the shame is acknowledged and discharged. Through this process, our feeling of connectedness to our community remains intact. Shame can be maladaptive when our internal sanctioning agent is functioning in such a way that does not allows us to discharge our shame over a wrongdoing. Why the sanctioning system is not operating at an optimal level can be determined through a number of processes. These have been discussed further by Eliza Ahmed elsewhere (Ahmed et al., forthcoming). Suffice to say for now that the shame has not been discharged and thus remains with the individual. This has consequences for our feeling of connectedness with others in our communities. This can be reflected in individuals' feelings of pride in their communities and respect within them, as supported by recent evidence by Morrison (forthcoming). Further, unacknowledged shame has the potential to be expressed as anger. The community that has evoked the shame can contribute further to its negative manifestation if the individual is subjected to further feelings of rejection from the community.
How was shame-management found to be different across the four categories of bullying behaviour (what we call bullying status): bullies, victims, bully/victims and non-bullies/non-victims)? Non-bullies/non-victims acknowledge shame and thus discharge it; victims acknowledge shame but are caught up in self-critical thinking, through their ongoing feelings of rejection from others. Their shame becomes persistent, despite acknowledgement of the wrongdoing. Bullies are less likely to acknowledge shame and the shame is transformed, often manifested as anger. Bully/victims capture the worst of these two troublesome groups. They feel the shame but, like bullies, fail to acknowledge it. As such, they are also more likely to displace shame. Again their shame can be transformed into anti-social behaviour, such as anger. Further, like victims, they are caught up in self-critical thoughts.
How does shame management relate to some of our earlier risk factors for bullying behaviour? The influence of the family can be taken as one example. One family factor which has been found to be significantly influential is how wrongdoing is dealt with in the family. Is the process punitive or reintegrative? Does the process stigmatize the child into a certain pattern of behaviour or does the process allow the child to make amends and carry on as a respected member of the family? The evidence is consistent with the theory we have outlined: parents of children who bullied others report using stigmatized shaming more often as a child-rearing practice (Ahmed, et al., forthcoming).
In summary, both social identity theory and reintegrative shaming theory emphasize the importance of social relationships. This is consistent with other theorists, who stress the importance of social bonds. Lewis (1981, 1983) argues that connection with others is a primary motive in human behaviour. The maintenance of bonds is reciprocally related to and involves emotions: emotions are a means of cohesion. Nathanson (1992) has also argued that shame is the central social regulator that governs our social relations with others. Shame, as such, is intimately connected with solidarity (ingroup cooperation) and alienation (outgroup competition). Humans are inherently social animals; lapses in important social bonds affect us as individuals. Threatened or damaged bonds create an environment for shame. Chronic unacknowledged shame arises from and generates failure of social connectedness (Retzinger, 1991). Shame can be conceptualized as a thermostat; if it fails to function informatively about the state of our social relationships, regulation of relationships becomes impossible. Thus, shame is an important signal about the state of our social relationships. Shame management involves the search for coherence of identity. Acknowledgment of shame can lead to greater integrity of the self and our social world; shame avoidance can lead to social alienation and conflict with the self and our social world.
Restorative Justice and School Bullying: The Philosophy of the Practice
A central tenet that has developed in this chapter is the importance of social relationships to individual and social well-being. This is the central tenet of the practice of restorative justice, which at its heart holds that the nature of our social relationships is central to the nature of our individual lives. Reintegrative shaming theory upholds the practice of restorative justice. Based on this theory, Braithwaite (1989) has argued that there are two main features inherent to restorative processes. First, to achieve successful reintegration the process must involve the presence and participation of a community of support for the offender and the victim. This community would be made up of the people who respect and care most about these two (or more) people. Second, the process of shaming requires a confrontation over the wrongdoing between the victim and offender within this community of support (see Braithwaite, 1989, 1998). The theory argues that the process is restorative in that the intervention (1) makes it clear to the offender that their behaviour is not condoned within the community; (2) is respectful and supportive of the individual while not condoning the behaviour. The first point constitutes the shaming aspect of the intervention while the second point provides the basis by which the shaming process is of a reintegrative (rather than a stigmatizing) nature.
Restorative justice processes offer us an opportunity to get off the seesaw between punitive and moralistic approaches to addressing school bullying. Advocates of punitive approaches call for responsibility and accountability for behavior. Advocates of the libertarian approaches call for further care and support of the person. A restorative process involves both these components, in that: (1) a message is communicated to the offender that the behaviour is not condoned by a community; (2) the offender is offered respect, support and forgiveness by the community. In other words, efforts are made to separate the act (or behaviour) from the person.
In line with this ethos, we prefer to separate the act from the person and use the terms students who bully or students who are bullied. Commonly, literature on bullying uses the terms bullies and victims when referring to children involved in bullying. As many children may at some point take on either role, and because the terms bullies and victims label the children rather than the behaviour, these terms have not been adopted in our work on restorative justice. An important tenet of restorative justice is the ability to conceptually separate the behaviour from the person. This is a philosophical point rather than a semantic preference. It is our hope that through approaching the problem in this way, children will not be polarized into these two positions and become stigmatized as problem kids with associated behavioural problems. At the same time we maintain that bullying, and other forms of violence, has no place in the school environment.
The aim of restorative programs is to reintegrate those affected by wrongdoing back into the community, to identify with the community, and become a cooperative member of that community, upholding its laws and values. A community accountability conference, which brings together victims, offenders and their respective communities of care, is one such intervention program. As Braithwaite states (1998), "Restorative justice conferences may prevent crime by facilitating a drift back to law-supportive identities from law-neutralizing ones" (p. 24). Community accountability conferencing has been used well in schools, particularly in addressing bullying (see Cameron & Thorsborne, forthcoming; Wachtel & McCold, forthcoming). Further, restorative justice conferences work best when supported by a broader institutional culture that mirrors the values of restorative justice (see O'Connell & Ritchie, forthcoming). As well as reactive interventions, such as community accountability conferencing, pro-active restorative interventions are also important. Pro-active programs, often called primary interventions in that they target the entire community, develop the understanding and practice of restorative processes for all students. One such program, piloted in Australia, is the Responsible Citizenship Program (RCP). This program has two explicit aims: (1) to build a community of care based on respect, consideration and participation; (2) develop student's conflict resolution skills based on principles of restorative justice.
Goleman's (1995) research on Emotional IQ provides support for the aspirations of this program. He argues that children need lessons in learning about and coping with a repertoire of emotions, particularly the emotions involved in conflicts, as these are the ones that are often masked. Becoming aware of our emotions, acknowledging them, speaking about and acting on them are healthy skills to develop. Through building this awareness, we can often front-end the escalation of conflict and reduce violence in our schools. Goleman (1995) comments:
… over the last decade or so 'wars' have been proclaimed, in turn, on teen pregnancy, dropping out, drugs, and most recently violence. The trouble with such campaigns, though, is that they come too late, after the targeted problem has reached epidemic proportions and taken firm root in the lives of the young. They are crisis interventions, the equivalent of solving a health problem by sending an ambulance to the rescue rather than giving an inoculation that would ward off the disease in the first place. Instead of more 'wars,' what we need to follow is the logic of prevention, offering our children the skills for facing life that will increase their chances of avoiding any and all these fates. (p. 256)
How do we as concerned parents, educators, researchers, policy makers and citizens increase our capacity to enable our children to manage their shame over wrongdoing and conflict more effectively? Is it possible to enable a child to increase their capacity to manage shame more effectively? Preliminary results of a pre/post self report evaluation of the Responsible Citizenship Program, using the Life at School Survey (Morrison, 2000), showed that students' use of a number of adaptive shame-management strategies increased while the use of some maladaptive shame-management strategies decreased. While this result is promising, it is only a start. As with a large number of school-based intervention programs, much more extensive and systematic evaluation work needs to be done. As a start, we are beginning to survey a number of restorative justice initiatives in Canada and Australia, using the Life at School Survey (Morrison, 2000).
The practice of restorative justice is a vehicle that offers hope to those affected by violent and aggressive acts. Hope for a different tomorrow is what brings participants together to talk through how these acts have affected them. It is why people came forward to tell their stories of atrocious acts during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu shows that reconciliation after conflict is not easy but is the only way forward — whether at the political or personal level — and he offers inspirational advice on how we might make this principle work in a better, more humane future.
Desmond Tutu (1999) tells us of ubuntu — the essence of being human. That we "live in a delicate network of interdependence. … That a person is a person through other people. … It says 'I am human because I belong.' I participate, I share." (p.35). We must cultivate a culture of hope for our children, for ourselves. We must ensure that children, from an early age, are educated in the skills of nurturing productive relationships and working through conflict. This is always difficult but we have ignored the importance of teaching children about conflict, its purpose and benefits, as well as skills in productive conflict resolution, for too long. Children will only benefit from education on the values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that enable them to resolve any dispute peacefully and in the spirit of respect for human dignity, tolerance and non-discrimination — the essence of democratic citizenship.
UNESCO has recognized this in their declaration and programme of action on a Culture of Peace. They have proclaimed the period 2001-2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the children of the world. Schools have an important agenda to take up here. Let us develop praxis based on the institutionalization of hope. Let's take a leaf from Desmond Tutu's book and cultivate the art of building relationships, and resolving conflicts productively, in our schools. Restorative justice offers us new insights, both in theory and practice, in taking a fresh look at addressing violence in schools.
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- Written by Laura Mirsky
On August 8-10, 2002, 300-plus people from all parts of the globe came together to change the world. That was my impression of the Third International IIRP (International Institute for Restorative Practices) Conference on Conferencing, Circles and other Restorative Practices, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
As a reporter for the Delaware Valley News, which covers Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Hunterdon County, New Jersey, I wrote an article in the spring of 2002 about a documentary film being shot about the IIRP’s restorative practices techniques, in use in a Bucks County school district. IIRP president Ted Wachtel saw the article and asked me to visit one of IIRP’s Community Service Foundation (CSF) schools in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where they also utilize restorative practices to record my impressions. Wachtel then asked me to cover the IIRP’s Minneapolis conference. In three days, I attended many conference sessions, interviewed numerous individuals for videotape and spoke to myriad participants. Folks had journeyed from as far away as Australia and New Zealand and hailed from places such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, the Antilles, the Philippines, the Middle East, Hong Kong, the Yukon and other parts of Canada and many of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. Also striking was the number of different Native American and First Nation peoples represented from the Nishnawbe-Aski, Ashinabe, Secwepemc, Qagan Tayagungin, Esketemc, Mille Lacs Ojibwe, Wet’suwet’en, Laksilyu, Navajo Mistawasis Cree, Mohawk and Tyendinaga, as well as other nations, clans and territories.
As the intense and busy days of the convention wore on, I was repeatedly struck by the selfless dedication of the group that had gathered. There was Bernadette Boschert, a guidance counselor from Tucson, Arizona who had paid her own way and admission to the conference after hearing about restorative practices on public radio and was determined to learn how to implement them in her school. There were Ivan Iserhoff, Lee-Ann Landry and Betty and Elbert Achneepineskum of Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation, First Nation people who had driven all the way from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada to share their experiences with restorative justice in their community and learn what others were doing. From police, to teachers, to social workers, to mediators, to psychologists, to psychiatrists, to film producers, to authors, to clergy, to counselors, to attorneys, to administrators, all had come to change the world.
“Dreaming of a New Reality” was the name of the conference and indeed, the participants all seemed to share the dream of making the world a place where conflict can be resolved in non-violent, non-punitive, productive ways. But most of these dreamers did not seem to have their heads in the clouds. On the contrary, those at the conference working with restorative programs, whether under the name restorative practices, restorative justice, the Family Unity Meeting or family group conferencing, all seemed to be implementing very specific techniques and obtaining positive, substantiated results. These dreamers were employing conscious, purposeful systems to make a difference in people’s lives and had come to the conference to share their knowledge and achievements and to find encouragement, support and advice from others doing similar work.
A highly multi-cultural event, the conference was nevertheless remarkably united in its purpose. From the very beginning, numerous excited and focused conversations could be heard going on in every corner about restorative practices. At breakfast on day one, I sat next to Ingrid Cumberlidge of Alaska, a Native American former tribal judge and member of the Qagan Tayagungin Nation who had come to learn more about restorative practices to help the youth in her area, in the Aleutian Islands, “before they get involved with the State,” as she put it. Many of the kids she dealt with didn’t get services until they ‘’hit the felony level,’’ she said, and she was determined to change that situation.
To my left at the table was Bruce Barnes, a professor of conflict resolution and mediation negotiations in Honolulu, Hawaii. He said that he had been able to integrate a lot of Hawaiian cultural traditions in his work. It hit me then that I was seated between someone from Hawaii and someone from Alaska — a tidy coincidence, but also indicative of the conference’s wide reach.
Also at the table was Kathy Levine, a teacher from what she called the “ghetto area” of Duluth, Minnesota. Hers was a low-income “magnet school” for languages, she said, a place where Spanish and Ojibwa were taught to accommodate a multi-cultural population. Levine said that she had started restorative circles at the school two years ago and that the Native American parents were very taken with it. “They come with their grandmothers,” she said. Rounding out the table was Theresa Ozuna from Arizona, who said she did community dialogue circles and mediation. Kids really want to talk about a lot of issues, she said — molestation, rape — its adults who have the problem. She said that a common remark heard from the youth she worked with was, “I can’t believe you’re an adult, because you actually want to know what I think.”
The official proceedings of the conference began with welcoming remarks from Ted Wachtel. “All of us are dreamers,” he said. “We see the possibility of a future different from the present.” But, he said, it’s lonely to be a dreamer; that’s why these gatherings are important. Wachtel gave a history and overview both of the IIRP and circle conferencing and ended by saying that he hoped the conference would provide “a forum for anyone who shares the dream of a new reality based on restorative practices.”
Wachtel’s wife, Susan, IIRP’s vice president, introduced Vidia Negrea, a psychologist who is helping to open a Community Service Foundation school in Hungary. With an appealing soft-spoken manner and self-effacing humor, Negrea talked about her struggles as a social worker in Romania and Hungary and her internship at a Community Service Foundation school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. One of the most striking things she communicated was the way in which she learned to incorporate restorative practices into her own work.
When Negrea became frustrated and overwhelmed by a particularly troubled young man at the school, she sought assistance from fellow staff members, thinking she was failing in her duties. It was a major revelation for her that asking for help from others, especially from the troubled boy himself, was not only “allowed”, but an essential part of the theory and practice of restorative practices. When Negrea let the boy know how his actions were affecting her and asked him to take responsibility for them, his behavior began to change for the better. Through this experience, Negrea discovered, first hand, the cornerstone of restorative practices — the thing that drives it and makes it work — doing things not for or to people — but with them. In sharing her personal immediate experiences, Negrea communicated an essential message to the conference.
There followed a vintage slide-show produced by Ted Wachtel in 1977 for a conference, “Social Work for a Change,” when the Community Service Foundation was just being incorporated. He had been looking for funds and kids at the time, running out of money and feeling hopeless, said Wachtel as he introduced the show. With slides ranging from panoramic shots of the American West to those of troubled youth and bombed-out urban areas, accompanied by inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Buckminster Fuller and Lao Tsu and songs from 25 years ago, the show was a moving and nostalgic trip back to a more innocent time remembered by the baby boomers attending the conference.
The slide show’s theme was American, but universal as well, as I realized when I heard two Swedish women next to me — who had been speaking to each other in their own language — softly singing along to Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’ “ and The Beatles’ “Let it Be”.
An unexpected shock of emotion swept the room when 1970’s photos of the World Trade Center came up on the screen, bringing us smack up against the present and reminding the group of the importance of the work to be done to restore real communication in the world.
The group broke up to go to the first sessions, people finding it hard to choose between the many fascinating alternatives on offer. I sat in a presentation by Terry O’Connell, the Australian ex-cop who pioneered the scripted restorative conference model that is influencing restorative practices in many countries around the world.
O’Connell used anecdotes and sought answers from the group to explore the difference between healthy and toxic systems and how to function effectively within them. “Don’t imagine that we’re going to change the system,” he said, adding, “The essence of what we’re on about is relationships.” He said it was paramount to “be very clear about what the hell’s happening — what the process is.” People need to feel that they’re being heard, taken seriously and understood, he said, and then they need to get feedback and accept responsibility for their actions. Their faith in the system can thereby be renewed. “We’re doing that intuitively,” said one audience member. “That’s the problem,” responded O’Connell and explained that “people need to do things deliberately, not intuitively.”
The first plenary speaker on Day Two was Chief Judge Heino Lilles, a territorial court judge in the Yukon since 1987. Exuding wit and power, Lilles talked about his experiences implementing restorative justice. Circle sentencing, he said — using a golf club metaphor — was “an oversized titanium driver.” Lilles took pains to point out that circle sentencing was not a slap on the wrist. He said that offenders had told him, “If I’d known how tough this is, I would have gone to jail.”
Lilles said that he did not use circle sentencing as a form of diversion. On the contrary, he said, in his court circle sentencing results in criminal sentences, replacing the formal sentencing hearing. But, while sometimes jail is the sentence, the reasons for jail time are quite different; it’s used almost exclusively in serious cases.
In Lilles’s courtroom, the victim does not have veto power over the decision to hold a circle because the community is also a victim. The restorative justice notion of crime as an injury to both the victim and the community is consistent with the culture of indigenous people.
Circles take on a life of their own, said Lilles. He used the analogy of dog sledding, which he has done himself. It’s easy — the dogs just go — until there’s a problem. You might get dumped off the sled or the dogs might fight and kill each other. “Any idiot, including a judge, can chair a circle when things are going well,” he said. But when things go wrong, that’s when an experienced facilitator can avert disaster.
Lilles said that he walks into a circle fully gowned in his judge’s robes. He removes them when he sits in the circle. This sends the message: “What I have to say is no more important than anyone else.” Introductions follow, then the professionals read the facts of the case or the offender is asked to relate them. The defense attorney reads some remarks and then “shuts up.” In a circle, said Lilles, the lawyers speak to the people in the circle, not to the judge. An eagle feather or some other “talking piece” is passed around the circle. Only the person holding it can speak.
Sometimes it takes a long time for a young male offender to speak, said Lilles, . There’s a lot of silence. But he always speaks. Sometimes emotions are so strong that the victim discloses things he or she has never before repeated. Many offenders, said Lilles, change their lifestyle and become restorative justice leaders in the community. Most victims, he said, don’t want to further punish offenders but want answers to questions.
Everything in a circle conference is recorded and transcribed and all legal safeguards apply, said Lilles. At first, he said, every circle had to be approved by the Crown. But, said Lilles, “they finally left us alone.” In the Yukon, judges have led the movement for restorative justice. Lilles called restorative justice “a wonderful tool for bridging cultures” because it demands a partnership between the community and the formal justice system. Some government agencies are very reluctant to participate in restorative justice. Solidifying these partnerships, said Lilles, will be the major challenge of the next few years.
Day Two’s second plenary speaker was Liz Quinnett, Manager of Training and Development for Health and Human Services in San Diego County, California. An extensive interview with Quinnett is covered below.
Day Three’s first plenary speaker was Tim Newell, a retired British prison governor who spent 37 years in the British prison system and successfully introduced restorative justice programs at Grendon and Spring Hill prisons. “Why work in prisons?” Newell asked. His answer: because that’s where the need is greatest. The victims, said Newell, are most seriously affected and the offenders are the most damaging and damaged. In England, 85–90 percent of young offenders and 55-60 percent of adults are convicted again within two years of their prison release. Prison costs £35,000 per year per person and 72,000 people are imprisoned every week.
The advantage of working in prisons is that people are contained and you can work within boundaries. In Grendon, the normal culture of fear in prisons is removed. There is a long list of prisoners waiting to get into Grendon, said Newell, because it’s a place they can actually achieve something for themselves and move on.
Restorative justice is very hard work in a prison, said Newell. “Why is it so hard to move the mainstream of the criminal justice system from doing the things we know don’t work to doing the things we do?” he asked. The resistance, he said, comes from the need of organizations to preserve their purpose.
Newell said that the conference had taken a big risk in asking him to speak because he was a Quaker. They could have gotten an hour of silence, he joked. On a serious note, Newell asked that there be no applause at the end of his speech. Then, with great eloquence, he summed up the essence of restorative justice with this quote, from the novelist Ian McEwen, about the horrors of September 11: “If the hijackers had been able to imagine themselves into the thoughts and feelings of the passengers, they would have been unable to proceed. It is hard to be cruel once you permit yourself to enter the mind of your victim. Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion and it is the beginning of morality.”
The third day’s second plenary speakers were two high school principals from southeastern Pennsylvania — David Piperato from Palisades High School and Joseph Roy from Springfield Township High School. Public schools, they said, are in a key position to bring people together at a time when things like vouchers and charter schools are making them increasingly irrelevant. Public school change is essential now, they said, because of increased competition in educational choices, more stringent educational standards, pressure put on schools by businesses to train students in problem solving and other skills, as well as the rise in violence and drug and alcohol related problems.
But, said Roy and Piperato, while you can make changes in block scheduling, heterogeneous grouping and cooperative learning, these programs will fail without a change in the cultural foundation of the school. They defined cultural change as a change in people’s shared philosophies, ideologies, values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes and norms. And, they added, you can’t separate the acquisition of knowledge from relationships. Positive relationships, they said, lead to increased safety and better academic performance.
When Roy was assistant principal at a high school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania he suspended hundreds of students for thousands of days. He said the “dirty little secret” in public education was that the traditional system doesn’t work. What he learned was that with the kids with whom he made a connection, things started to change.
Roy and Piperato started the Academy, an alternative school, at Palisades High — a school within a school for students who were alienated. The teachers “busted their butts” in planning and implementing this project , said Roy. But student misbehavior was disrupting the innovative effort and “the teachers were ready to mutiny.” Along came Ted and Susan Wachtel and the IIRP’s SaferSanerSchools program. First the teachers in the Academy and eventually teachers throughout the high school learned to use restorative practices.
Piperato said that Palisades High had changed by “focusing on a new set of the three R’s: relationships, respect and responsibility.” Everybody, from students to teachers to administrators, is responsible for the success of the school. When someone comes to Piperato with a complaint his response is, “What are you going to do about it?” He stressed that restorative practices weren’t about excuse making, but about accountability and accepting consequences. Palisades High, said Piperato, had seen a dramatic shift since implementing the changes with restorative practices. Last year the school won a National Blue Ribbon Award.
The videotaped interviews I did made it clear to me that effective and concrete restorative methods are spreading throughout the world. All the interviewees were impressive in the passion they had for their work and in the scope of their accomplishments.
Paul Schnell, who is using restorative practices in his job with the St. Paul, Minnesota Police Department, has been a police officer for ten years. Schnell said that when he started out as a new cop, working in a school, he thought that, with his shiny new gun, badge and handcuffs, he would have an impact. But he didn’t. He found himself arresting kids, sometimes the same ones, over and over again. Then he had the opportunity to do restorative practices training with Terry O’Connell and Ted Wachtel and began to implement what he had learned. Some eight years later, he has facilitated hundreds of conferences in the neighborhood where he works and trained other officers in restorative practices techniques.
Schnell talked of using restorative language in every day police work. In the case of theft, for instance, when a cop asks questions beyond the normal “who, what, when and where” it can make an enormous difference. A simple question: “Tell me what this has been like for you?” or “What’s been the hardest thing about this experience for you?” helps the person who’s been through something as seemingly trivial as the theft of a set of golf clubs from their car deal with their feelings of loss and their concerns about safety.
Schnell spoke about a situation where one family in a community — two children in particular — was causing a great deal of trouble. They were damaging property, breaking windows and making noise. The cops were called in 50 or 60 times. They lectured the kids and the parents and still the problems remained. Then Schnell facilitated a conference attended by the family and many of their neighbors. The discussion, he said, was about what they wanted their neighborhood to be like. There was “heavy emotion”; the neighbors were quite upset. The difference was that the “trouble-makers” had been invited to be a part of the discussion for the first time. The outcome was extraordinary, said Schnell. In the following six months, police calls to the neighborhood all but ceased. The group, including the “trouble-makers”, had decided what they wanted their neighborhood to be like and how they were going to treat one another. Because it had been their decision, they had stuck by it.
Schnell also told the story of a man in prison for sexually assaulting a young girl. The man was in prison but the fallout from the crime remained. The man’s family was being targeted for abuse by the entire neighborhood. Schnell facilitated a conference with the parents of the victim, and the offender and his ex-wife. “It was excruciating,’’ said Schnell, “but it was also a phenomenal experience.” He was honored to be a part of the painful emotions exchanged in the conference. In the wake of the conference, the victimization of the offender’s family stopped immediately.
Restorative practices are spreading throughout Schnell’s department. His dream of the future includes formally applying restorative practices to the ways in which members of his department relate to one another as police officers, and in addressing such issues as racial profiling.
Matt Casey uses restorative practices at Family Support Services, a community agency in Goulbourne, New South Wales, Australia. He uses the scripted questions from the restorative conference in cases of domestic violence and other family problems. The questions – “‘What did you think about when this was happening? What have you thought about since? Who else has been affected by this and how? What’s the hardest thing about this for you?” — are the framework for engaging clients in an affective manner to allow them to express their emotions. He can then provide them with support to help them to “own their behavior unconditionally” and look at what’s necessary to change it. He always explains the theories behind what he’s doing to his clients, so that they understand why things are happening and it’s “not just magic” for them.
What’s amazing about the answers to the scripted questions, said Casey, is that often they’re not about the issue at hand, but much broader — about what they thought their life was going to be like. Clients can then begin to address what they can do to make their lives different and contemplate such questions as: “Where do I see myself in five years?”
It’s important, said Casey, that people not be allowed to “grab victim status.” That implies helplessness, meaning that they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. Men, especially non-custodial fathers, tend to see themselves as victims, thinking that everyone is making demands of them.
Casey talked about the importance of separating judgement of people’s behavior from judgement about people themselves. He cited the case of a very angry man, a former biker, amphetamine abuser and alcoholic who had violently mistreated his wife and kids. She had left him and taken the kids. He came to Casey’s organization for help in obtaining unsupervised access with his kids.
Casey got the man to tell his story about his drug and alcohol abuse and violence. “Your behavior was outrageous, dreadful,” Casey told him, ‘I’d have left you too.” The man was furious, saying, “You can’t tell me that!” Then Casey told the man, “You’re alright; your behavior is outrageous,” making the distinction between the man and his behavior.
The man came back a week later and told Casey, “Meeting you was like being hit on the head with a pool cue.” Nobody had ever told him that his behavior was outrageous, but that he himself was alright. Casey and the man spent a lot of time talking. The man now attends Alcoholics Anonymous, has a job, does volunteer work and has unsupervised visits with his children. People need to be able to express emotion freely, said Casey, adding, “The minute we provided that chance a whole range of changes came in.”
Casey is excited about a new direction his organization is taking: working with people with disabilities and their families. In many cases, a crisis gets dealt with but behavior is never challenged. Often people with disabilities — such as developmental and mental problems — are aware of their differences and feel frustrated and ashamed because of them. But, he said, the same principles apply to people with disabilities as with anyone else and the same types of restorative questions can be used, to great effect.
Liz Quinnett, Manager of Training and Development for Health and Human Services in San Diego County, California developed the Family Unity Meeting in San Diego. Quinnett took us through the family meeting process as practiced in her unit of Child Welfare Services.
First is careful pre-meeting preparation. Parents have a chance to tell their stories and are told about the format and what to expect. Goals for the meeting are determined. Meeting participants include extended family and support systems, plus a facilitator and court-mandated social worker. It’s very important that the facilitator’s role is explained as neutral — just there to help keep the meeting on track to achieve the family’s goals.
The meeting begins with introductions of everyone present. This models respect and empowerment, said Quinnett, adding, “You can often tell by someone’s body language how they’ve been treated by the system and how their family has given up on them.” Parents are asked for permission to talk about their family issues. The family establishes its own ground rules for safety. Anger is okay, but safety must be maintained. Ground rules that come from the group are more likely to be followed. A lot of emotion comes up, said Quinnett, because people aren’t used to describing how they feel. A time-out might be called if things get too hot.
An essential phase of the meeting is the time used to describe the strengths of the parents, the family and the children. “Not many of us have the opportunity to sit in the bosom of our family and have them say what they think are our strengths,” said Quinnett. Many perpetrators have a very clear idea of what’s wrong with them, she said, and it’s very empowering for them to hear their strengths.
A break follows during which all participants share food together. This is very important, said Quinnett, because it breaks down the hierarchy in the room between the family and the professionals, emphasizing that everyone there is the same and that all are there together out of concern for the children. Furthermore, she said, “food soothes the savage beast.”
Then comes the time when people bring up painful history and current concerns. The latter are put into major categories. What follows is “Family Alone Time,” during which all professionals — social workers, facilitators, counselors, etc. — leave the room and the family develops its own plan for how to “put a safety net around the children.” Family Alone Time is very significant and powerful to families, said Quinnett. They’ve never been given that kind of trust before and they almost can’t believe it. She said that a critical part of the process was trusting that families can come up with their own solutions — that the social worker doesn’t have to be the magician. Her unit had found that people came up with more creative ideas without them. The entire group then reconvenes and the professionals make sure that court orders are being honored in any plan the family has devised. Then everyone gets to say how the meeting has been for them.
Quinnett said that she has never worked in a program that has had such positive outcomes. “I never fail to be amazed at what families can come up with,” she said. Her hope is that the sort of work done by the Family Unity Meeting can be part of every child welfare system some day. If more social workers, supervisors and managers could experience a meeting, she said, it would change their practice and improve the quality of their working life and probably the quality of their personal life, as well. “It would cheer them up considerably to see that there’s so much hope,” said Quinnett, adding, “Child abuse is not the end. To use a cliche: like any crisis, it’s also an opportunity.”
Gena Gerard is manager of the Minneapolis CCNP (Central City Neighborhoods Partnership) Restorative Justice Program. The program deals with livability and quality of life offenses such as chronic prostitution, drug dealing and use, public drinking and panhandling.
Gerard first became involved with restorative justice in 1996, when she researched the concept as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. In 1997 she helped institute a pilot program, in partnership with the Minneapolis criminal justice system, which arranged for non-violent adult offenders to consider community conferencing as an option to resolve crimes.
Gerard said that space was created for community members and offenders to sit down and talk about the impact their behavior was having on neighborhoods, including “real people, businesses, churches, and children.” It gives people in the community a chance to do something more than call 911 or volunteer for a block patrol, said Gerard. Instead, in coming face-to-face with offenders, they can have a proactive role in the process and help repair the harm done to the community. Trained facilitators help with the conferences, during which plans are devised that are documented, signed and monitored. Offenders almost always choose to come back to the community to serve the needy, participate in community activities, apologize to those they have harmed, and make donations.
Gerard told a story about a cab driver that had been caught soliciting prostitution. He chose a restorative justice conference because he wanted to talk to someone; in court, no one had time to hear his story. The conference was very enlightening for him. As with most offenders, he had no idea who his crime had affected and when he heard from the community, he felt badly. Women in the neighborhood were being approached on the street and were afraid to walk to and from their homes. There was associated noise, traffic and littering. After the conference, he agreed to bring meals in his cab to homebound HIV patients and the homeless and continued doing so after his required community service had been completed.
The community takes a real leadership role in the program, said Gerard. They provide the direction in terms of structure, facilitating, deciding what cases to conference, guidelines, policy decisions and communicating with the criminal justice system. And, said Gerard, the effect in the neighborhoods has been extremely positive. Surveys given out after conferences have shown a 99 percent satisfaction rate. The program provides thousands of hours of community service to the neighborhoods each year while greatly improving relationships and safety in the community.
Gerard hopes that someday the criminal justice system will recognize that offenders can and should be held accountable, but that that doesn’t mean harsh punitive measures, more jail space or fining people and releasing them. Instead, it can mean positive interactions with other people and constructive outcomes for everybody involved.
Len Wildman and Tom Dwyer are, respectively, Manager of the Family Victim Services Center and Coordinator of Juvenile Accountability Conferencing (JAC) for the Rochester, New York Police Department. Wildman said that he first became interested in restorative justice when it became clear that the methods used with juveniles in his department weren’t working. He first got permission to contract with the IIRP to provide its Real Justice conference facilitator training for police officers and civilians in Rochester, then performed an experiment at a junior high school. In a year, his officers did 40 conferences. It was very successful, said Wildman.
He subsequently got a grant to implement a three-year restorative justice program, which has been equally effective, with a 93 percent success rate. The juveniles they’ve dealt with haven’t come “back into the system.” Most of the offenses JAC concerns itself with involve juveniles under 15 years of age and minor non-felony offenses, but there are exceptions.
Wildman said he had been a little frightened at the idea of bringing restorative justice into his city of 250,000 people because he had not been aware of its previous use in such a populous and multi-ethnic community. “I don’t have that concern now,” he said.
Dwyer has coordinated 140 conferences to date. “I got goose bumps from the 140th just like from the first,” he said. A major part of the work has entailed meeting and educating participants in the process. Feedback from victims, offenders and their supporters has been exceptional; many wondered why these methods hadn’t been tried years ago. “People don’t want to go to court,” said Dwyer. “They’d much rather be part of a process that gives them a chance to express emotion.”
Wildman mentioned one conference that took place soon after the school shooting incident in Columbine, Colorado. A 14 year old boy was standing outside his school waving a replica of a Beretta handgun — the same kind used by the Rochester Police Department. The boy was arrested for harassment, but the arresting officer was concerned that he didn’t understand the distress he had caused.
Dwyer set up a conference so the boy could hear from people who had been affected by his actions. A man had watched the incident from the second floor of a building across the street, unable to hear anything; he could only see. Too frightened to attend the conference, he sent a letter to be read. When the child heard it, he broke down and cried. At that point he began to feel the impact of what he had done. He also found a lot of support at the conference, learning that people were not out to get him. The boy has never caused another problem, said Dwyer.
Wildman called the program a “win-win situation for the community and the police department.” But people have to see it in action before they embrace it. That’s why it can be difficult to market, he said. Arresting officers are required to be part of the conference. The officers are invariably won over to the process and they tell their fellow officers about it.
The Rochester Police Department has been very successful in getting community service agencies involved in the JAC program to provide community service options for juveniles as part of their conference outcomes, said Wildman. A potential mentoring program has grown out of that situation.
Wildman told of another restorative program used by his department. His city has 45 homicides a year, about one a week. Whole neighborhoods suffer from the pain a homicide causes. In response, a van goes into each neighborhood where a homicide has been committed and volunteers go door to door to ask people how they have been affected by the incident. In the van, police officers, the district attorney in charge of the case and trained counselors are available. In three years, 20,000 households have been covered in this program. The communities seem to truly appreciate it, he said.
Wildman said that he had begun to implement restorative practices within his own section of the police department. He talked about the Finger Lakes (New York) Restorative Justice Consortium which is implementing restorative practices in his region. Wildman hopes that they will be instrumental in spreading the kind of work his department has been doing to a wider area.
Lorenn Walker is a lawyer, public health educator and former Deputy Attorney General of the State of Hawaii who designs violence prevention, conflict resolution and resiliency development programs for juveniles and adults in Oahu, Hawaii. She recently oversaw a juvenile conferencing program in conjunction with the Honolulu Police Department in which 85 conferences took place. The results were exciting, said Walker. Surveys were taken with 405 people who participated in the conferences and almost all were favorable. 90 percent of the juveniles complied with the plans agreed upon in the conferences. The project really educated police, said Walker. The criminal justice system in Hawaii is completely offender based. It was a revelation for them to see the importance of victims in that process, she said.
Walker has been facilitating conferences since 1997. She had the experience of participating in a conference directly when her son — a seventh grader at the time — was assaulted in school. The boy who punched her son was expelled and Walker was unhappy about that. The north shore of Oahu, said Walker, is predominantly non-white and her family is white. Consequently, she feared that the boy’s expulsion might make her son a target for more trouble.
The conference was an amazing experience for Walker. Even though she had facilitated many conferences and knew all the theory, she couldn’t have predicted how she would feel as a participant. She had very negative feelings about the offending boy’s father, thinking him a “lowlife”. He, in turn, thought she and her husband were “born with silver spoons in their mouths.” As a result of the conference, Walker realized that the father was doing the best he could for his children. He learned that Walker had been on her own since she was 14 and had worked her way through college and law school. Three years later, Walker, her husband and the boy’s father are friends and so are the boys. From the conference process, her son also learned how to express his feelings. The offending boy hasn’t assaulted anyone else.
Walker is working on a new project with the IIRP and the Hawaiian Friends of Civic and Law Related Education to develop a process for victims of crimes where there’s no known offender. Victims in these cases are particularly disenfranchised by the system, said Walker, and 70 percent of crimes fall into this category. Ninety percent of criminal defendants plead guilty with a plea bargain. “We spend all of our resources on trials and proving guilt,” said Walker. She believes it would make more sense to put resources into dealing with victims who are left without any kind of healing process.
Walker, herself a victim of a very violent crime at the age of 24, said that a lot of victims don’t know how to get the help they need after such incidents. They feel deep shame, as though the crime was their own fault. Friends and relatives shy away from talking with victims, as it makes them uncomfortable. Said Walker, “We need to provide a forum for victims to tell their stories so other people can connect with us and help us heal.” She added, “Group process is the missing piece of our criminal justice system, especially for victims where there’s no known offender.”
Rob van Pagee is director of Op Kleine Schaal, in the Netherlands, a 20 year old child welfare and child protection agency. He has worked and trained in all the Scandinavian countries plus Belgium and Central and Eastern Europe — including Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia and Russia. Van Pagee works with two restorative models: the Real Justice scripted conference and the Family Group Conference (similar to the Family Unity Meeting explained above by Liz Quinnett). The former, he said, “provides a safe place for victims and offenders and their families ... to discuss what happened and make a plan to repair the harm.” He is using that model mainly in child and youth welfare and protection cases, but it is moving into prisons as well. The latter model, said van Pagee, brings families of children together so they can take responsibility for the welfare of the child.
Van Pagee started out as a social worker. “Families used to put all their problems on my plate,” he said. He made a plan for them with his supervisor and sold it to the client. It didn’t work, he said. The system has been getting more and more medical, doing things for the clients, not with. He felt that should change. What is happening now, he said, is a “paradigm shift” in the traditional process — putting people in position to take responsibility for themselves. Van Pagee sees an opportunity now to change the system. But changing the system is going to be a very big challenge. “We have pilots all the time,’’ he said, “pushing, pulling. But people in power are resistant to the change.”
On the other hand, people who participate in the program are eager to do so. “When I offer Family Group Conferencing to people they come in quite big numbers,” he said. And satisfaction with the process is very high: 80 percent. “We don’t have to train families to do this,” he said.
Problems arise when plans decided in conferences come up against limitations presented by the system. Van Pagee cited the example of a drug-addicted woman with three children. The Family Group Conference came up with a plan, approved by all the social workers, in which the woman would be aided by members of her extended family and friends while she obtained treatment. But she and her children needed to move to an area outside the drug-related neighborhood. That meant involving the housing department, which sat on the application for months. They ended up having to offer the woman out of home placement for her children. This was a shame and waste, as a house rental would have cost $500 to $1,000 per month, while placing three children cost seven times that amount.
What’s needed, said van Pagee, is a donor conference, with all the service organizations participating, to follow the Family Group Conference. A pilot program for this idea is now in process, said van Pagee.
Van Pagee finds the idea that the family is the highest authority “very exciting.” But, he said, “Some people say; ‘You’re never going to make this happen without changing the law.’ “ The problem is, laws don’t change overnight. Advocacy groups are needed to make it happen. “This is more than I’ve ever done and been involved with,” said van Pagee.
Van Pagee has participated in 70 restorative justice conferences, mostly involving youth welfare cases. “Everyone knows how beautiful it is to see people solve their problems together,” he said. But it’s not easy to implement the process within the criminal justice system. However, in the Netherlands, the Prosecutor General’s Office has taken the position that restorative justice is valuable in the criminal justice system. That’s very important. The office did state conditions: that restorative practices should serve the needs of the victims; that they be voluntary; that they be transparent (open to all); that there be no plea bargains up front; and that the restorative plan becomes part of the legal procedure so every prosecutor has to look at it. He (or she) can’t reject it out of hand.
Van Pagee is hopeful that these developments will lead to possible system change. He believes that restorative practices should be offered to everyone, including victims. But he thinks that a great deal of work still needs to be done to familiarize people with the process. “When you ask people: What is justice, they say — police, prosecutors, a judge, jail. But when you ask: What is restorative justice? Nobody knows.”
Nancy Riestenberg is a prevention specialist with the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, a program using a whole range of restorative practices in public schools. Restorative practices, she said, have changed the way people do their jobs and their attitude toward their jobs. They help people make a connection between students and teachers and make the atmosphere in a school more comfortable and respectful. What’s wonderful to see, she said, is when kids take the initiative to hold a circle in the playground, taking care of a problem themselves.
The reason an offender does what he does, said Riestenberg, is that he doesn’t know how to empathize with someone else. In restorative practices, she said, you create a place where empathy can happen. And if you can get people to empathize with each other, they’re much less likely to hurt one another.
Riestenberg’s department got a grant from the Minnesota state legislature to evaluate results of restorative practices in four districts: one urban, one suburban and two rural. In one school where circles were used, the number of violent incidents went from seven a day to one a day over a two year period. Behavior referrals to the office went from 1600 to 450 over three years.
It was not strictly research that her department did, said Riestenberg, but gathering information on preliminary outcomes. They found that to make change happen in a school takes at least two to three years. Even with desire, energy and resources, she said, it takes time. Second, to measure impact, people need to gather data and be honest about the number of suspensions, expulsions, etc. The numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story. It’s easy to gather information on offenders, but harder to gather information on victims or the community. Nobody keeps those numbers, she said. What you have to do is put numbers and stories together.
Riestenberg also learned that if you just have a restorative intervention program, “that will get you someplace.” If you just have classroom management skills that are cognitively based and are about solving problems rather than using power and control over kids, “that will also get you someplace.” But if you use the two together, you will get much farther; the whole school becomes congruent.
Riestenberg told a story about a suburban school involving four third grade boys — three African American and one European American. The European American boy called the other boys a racial slur. This was considered racial harassment and the boy could have been suspended for two to three days. Instead, the boys agreed to sit in a circle and talk, with a facilitator present. The three African American boys had the opportunity to tell the other boy what the racial slur meant to them personally.
For one boy, it was: “the word a white man used when he shot my uncle in the head.” For the second, it was: “the word those men in white sheets use in the movies when they go to burn down people’s houses.” The third boy said, “When I hear it, it hurts my heart so much I have to get away.” The white boy didn’t know how powerful the word was when he used it, but, said Riestenberg, “He certainly does now.” The three African American boys wanted the European American boy to make amends by becoming their friend. Their friendship has lasted several years.
Asked what advice she had for people who wanted to bring restorative practices into schools, Riestenberg said, “Just do it,” then elaborated, “Decide on your sphere of influence and start there.” It can begin on the grass roots level or on a higher level. It should always be voluntary, as that’s one of the basic tenets of restorative practices. “Also,” she said, “let go of the idea that everyone in the school system has to do this.” She called that: “the road to exhaustion.”
Look for advocates, go where the strengths are and be clear that you’re not replacing what’s already there, but adding to it. “If a kid brings a knife to school and you take it away,” she said, “you have to replace it with something.” The kid brought the knife thinking they needed to defend themselves and if you take it away they’ll feel vulnerable. You have to fill that space up with skills, resources and support. The same thing is true for administrators. If you take away their discipline system they feel vulnerable.
Seek out skeptics and ask them to help you. “We need people who say, ‘I’m not sure this will work.’ They’re the people who hold us accountable.” In inviting the skeptics to do their jobs, she said, you give them something useful to do and then they won’t feel the need to sabotage you. Their criticism will be given in the spirit in which it is needed. Involve kids in the training. They offer an enormous amount of wisdom and perspective.
In conclusion, Riestenberg said she was concerned that people didn’t co-opt the term “restorative practices” just to appease people. Also, she hoped that schools would someday be able to attend to the needs of victims, not just focus on offenders.
Betty Achneepineskum and Ivan Iserhoff are Canadian First Nation restorative justice workers with Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services in the Thunder Bay, Ontario area. Restorative justice has always been a concept that Achneepineskum has valued because it’s a part of her culture and tradition. She sees it as a process that can help her people, especially those in correctional facilities. In some of the districts where she works, the inmate population is 75 percent First Nations people. “We know the system that’s in place doesn’t work for our people,” she said. She sees restorative justice as a way of helping her people “beyond the point of punishment.”
Iserhoff worked in the court system for several years investigating police officers in Ontario, geared toward Native complaints. Native people tend to be silent, he said, reluctant to trust any government services because of the bureaucracy and slowness of the system. When he came to Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services, Iserhoff “took the bull by the horns.” “This is what we used to do,” he said, adding, “It’s the only way we’re going to help our people.” However, it’s a slow process, a matter of people hearing about it and seeing the results.
Achneepineskum said that she saw restorative justice not only as an alternative to the Euro-Canadian justice system but as a healing process for her people. Alcohol and drug related charges and venting of anger stem from underlying causes, she said, such as dysfunctional families and sexual abuse.
Iserhoff is using restorative justice to deal with a range of issues including incest, sexual assault, assault with a weapon, breaking and entering, fraud and vandalism. The principle agreement with the Crown Attorneys, he said, was to deal first with lower offenses. Now his group is beginning to gain credibility with the Crown. “It will benefit the Crown,” he said, “because they’ll have to deal with less crime. It’s evident in the numbers.” The charges his organization deals with will gradually become more serious, he said.
Iserhoff is reluctant to invite lawyers and Crown Attorneys into circles. They’re only present to observe the dynamics and emotions of the process, he said, because Native people are very shy. When the attorneys witnessed a circle in a sexual assault case, however, “it blew them out of the water.”
Achneepineskum said that restorative justice had been effective in preventing crime, especially in cases of domestic abuse. When couples get together in a circle they see how their actions have affected each other, their children and their community, and it gives them a different perspective on how to deal with the issues. They also identify treatment, resources and services for their families. “We feel very positive when a couple sets out their own agreement,” she said. Iserhoff told about a spousal abuse case in which a couple went through a restorative justice circle. After attending counseling sessions, he said, they’re helping other young people in the community. This is a sign the process is working.
Asked about the similarity of Native culture with restorative justice, Achneepineskum said that respect is a very strong component of both. She must deal with diverse cultures in her community — some Christian, some observing traditional values — and she must have respect for them all. Honesty is another value common to both. She must honor the values of respect and honesty to gain credibility in the community, she said.
Iserhoff talked about a circle which focused on assault with a weapon. After the circle was done and the two boys had worked things out and forgiven each other, a grandfather came up to Iserhoff and whispered in his ear in his own language, “This is what we used to do a long time ago.” The grandfather was glad to see the old ways being used again. Iserhoff was very touched by the elderly man’s response. It made him feel like a servant to his people — like he was meant to be there, doing what he was doing.
Asked about her hopes for the future of restorative justice in her community, Achneepineskum said that she had a personal vision of a time when they would no longer have the Euro-Canadian justice system coming into their community, but could deal with their own issues. Said Iserhoff, ‘’We talk about self-government, but the only time we’ll ever see it is when we totally take over our own system.” He dreams of a time when his community has no ties to the court system and no government agencies telling them what to do. Native people lead the statistics in every category — suicides, alcoholism... “That’s got to change,” he said. “We’ve got to stop blaming people and just get on with our lives and try to better our situation. What’s done is done,” he said, “1492 was a long time ago.”
I left the conference filled with hope about the future of restorative practices, restorative justice, circles and conferencing. Learning about the ways in which the techniques are being used successfully all over the world was extremely encouraging. Happily, restorative principles seem to be contagious.
Many of the locations where restorative practices are being used now seem to be on the small side — schools, smaller communities. But one can dream. My dream is that someday circle conferences will be used to help make peace between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and between Palestinians and Israelis. I dream that someday restorative practices will be used to improve the quality of life in big cities with high crime rates like New York and Los Angeles.
It will take, as Rob van Pagee called it, “a paradigm shift.” But God knows we need it. One need only look at the skyline of lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center once stood, for proof. And the “war on terror” and invading Iraq will do nothing to repair the harm done on that dreadful day.
Still, I’m hopeful. I attended the conference session led by Mark Green, counsel with the Canadian Department of Justice who helped plan the United Nations Experts’ Meeting on Restorative Justice. If an organization on the scale of the United Nations is beginning to recognize restorative justice as viable, perhaps there is hope for our world, yet. We must keep dreaming and keep working . . .