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Restorative Conferencing

A restorative conference is a structured meeting between those who have done harm, those who have been affected by harm and both parties’ family and friends, in which they deal with the consequences of  wrongdoing and decide how best to repair the harm. Each RC is led by an experienced and trained facilitator. The facilitator and the formal circle process create a safe and constructive space for all parties to have a voice and a chance to express what they are needing for repair and re-integration. Neither a counseling nor a mediation process, conferencing is a victim-sensitive, straightforward problem-solving method that demonstrates how citizens can resolve their own problems when provided with a constructive forum to do so (O’Connell, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 1999).

restorative conference process

Preparation

Participation in conferences is voluntary. After being contacted for a restorative process the conference facilitator meets with all parties to ensure the appropriateness of the conference, to explain the conference process, and to gather agreement from all parties to participate. During these preparatory meetings the facilitator will also gather names of family and friends whose presence may be of support for those involved in the incident, both those harmed and those whose actions resulted in harm.  After all parties have been spoken to the facilitator will schedule a time and location for the conference which works for all parties and ensure the everyone has transportation and whatever they are needing to attend the conference.

the conference

The restorative conference is conducted in a circle format.  The facilitator will guide each participant to their designated chair. Those who have been harmed and those whose actions have resulted in harm do not sit next to each other.  They are separated by the conference facilitator and their support people.

Opening Statement

The conference begins with an opening statement read by the facilitator.  During this statement the facilitator reminds everyone of the incident they are in the conference to address and goes over ground rules for communication during the conference. All participants are reminded that every person will have a chance to talk, that the facilitator will call on participants when it is their chance to talk, and that interruptions are not allowed.  Participants are also reminded that they are participating in the conference, not to judge anyone but to discuss a particular incident and how it has affected everyone, and to hopefully come to some agreements about how to restore the situation.

Sharing

Sharing begins with the person whose actions resulted in harm. This is their chance to admit to their actions and reflect on how their actions have affected others. 

Using the conference script, those who caused harm are asked these restorative questions:

  • “What happened?”
  • “What were you thinking about at the time?”
  • “What have you thought about since?”
  • “Who has been affected by what you have done?”
  • “What do you think you need to do to make things right?”

After those whose actions have resulted in harm share it is time for those harmed to share.

Those affected by harm are then asked these restorative questions:

  • “What did you think when you realized what happened?”
  • “What impact has the incident had on you and others?”
  • “What has been the hardest thing for you?”
  • “What do you think needs to happen to make things right?”

Finally, the those affected by the harm are asked what they would like to be the outcome of the conference. The response is discussed with the those who caused harm and everyone else at the conference. When an agreement is reached, a simple contract is written and signed (O’Connell, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 1999).

Reconnect and Relax

When the conference ends all parties are invited to the food table to enjoy refreshments while the facilitator writes up the agreement. This is an important healing step of the conference process, giving a chance for all involved to relax and re-integrate. Smiles, handshakes and hugs are often shared between all parties. Reconnection begins.

Conference Bullet Points

  • No matter what role played in the situation being addressed each person is held with compassion, creating a safe environment foreveryone involved to be heard and empowered to work toward a resolution which elevates and liberates all.
  • The facilitator meets individually with allwho are willing to participate in the confrerence to learn about the situation and to coach each person around the RC process.
  • A time & place for the conference which allows all willing parties to participate is scheduled.
  • The restorative conference itself can take from as little as one hour to as long 4 hours, depending on the scale of the situation being processed.
  • Agreements reached by the participants during the circle will be written up by the facilitator and signed by all parties at the end of the RC.

Harm comes in many forms. Restorative Conferences can be used to

facilitate repair for most kinds of harm such as:

  • Discipline Challenges
  • Bullying
  • Truancy
  • Vandalism
  • Poor Performance/Compliance (work/school/home)
  • Attacks on Safety
  • Theft
  • Dishonesty

 

References

O’Connell, T., Wachtel, B., & Wachtel, T. (1999). The conferencing handbook. Pipersville, PA: The Piper’s Press.

International Institute of Restorative Practices. (2015-17) Defining Restorative. https://www.iirp.edu/what-we-do/what-is-restorative-practices/defining-restorative