Restorative Circles (RC) are often thought of as a system for addressing conflict in large institutions, such as the criminal justice system, or in schools. Yet, I am coming to appreciate the value of RC in more small-scale contexts, such as intentional communities, or families. RC would seem to be a great solution to the challenge of addressing conflict and maintaining connection within intentional communities. And, when it comes to families, I’m excited to tell you about an innovative new social structure, a “restorative families network.”
Before I go into details about that, I want to urge anyone has a little interest in this topic to consider attending Dominic Barter’s upcoming RC training in Atlanta. Dominic has announced that he won’t be back in the U.S. next year, so if you don’t go to the Atlanta training it may be a few years before you’ll have another chance to learn RC directly from its originator. Note that Dominic runs his trainings on a gift basis, so money need not be a major barrier to attending. Note also that locally Jane Connor is offering an upcoming introduction to RC.
Back to families. In Quebec, NVC trainers Gina Censiose, Shulamit Berlevtov, Valérie Lanctôt-Bédard, and colleagues have created an innovative structure they call a “restorative families network.” The network consists of a group of people, including a number of families, who live close enough geographically that gathering face-to-face is possible. When conflicts arise within member families, or among people who are members of the network, individuals have the option of calling for a restorative circle. If others who are a party to the conflict agree to participate in a circle, facilitators will be brought in and a circle will be convened. A circle is a chance for each participant in the circle to be heard about the topic of the circle, by whom they want to be heard, and to be heard to their satisfaction, using a process that supports this happening. Ultimately, this listening to one another leads to participants developing an action plan for how to address everyone’s needs in a more satisfying way going forward. The process provides a means by which families or communities can face their conflicts (rather than letting them fester) and use those conflicts as vehicles for moving life forward in rich and meaningful ways.
The way the restorative families network in Quebec was set up was along these lines. About a dozen people who were interested in using RC to address conflicts came together to form the initial core of the network. The group contained two experienced RC facilitators and others who had received RC training. The group negotiated agreements defining how the network would work. Then, each core member of the network was allowed to invite several more people into the network. Typically, these additional people would be family members, or others with whom conflicts could be expected to arise.
As appropriate and needed, live circles are held. The network also supports ongoing learning about facilitating circles. Regular meetings, perhaps monthly, offer a venue for this learning.
The initial size of the network was restricted to be small enough that the available facilitators could expect to handle the amount of conflict expected to arise in the network. As conflicts are addressed, new facilitators gain experience by apprenticing with the experienced facilitators. Eventually, there will be more experienced facilitators and it should be possible to expand the network.
One can think about this sort of network as simply a means for families to create more satisfying lives together, or one can think about it from a systems level as a vehicle for bringing restorative practices into society. From the latter perspective, I see this type of network as brilliantly addressing a number of challenges:
- It makes Restorative Circles available to families as a viable means of addressing the conflicts that inevitably arise. Through the network, families get access to skilled facilitators who can support them in addressing their conflicts.
- It creates a context for training Restorative Circle facilitators via “live” circles, expanding and deepening the pool of experienced RC facilitators. In the absence of this sort of context, would-be-facilitators train using “semi-simulated” circles. While these offer valuable training, the opportunity to facilitate live circles is likely to be more motivating, as well as providing deeper learning.
- It bypasses the need to persuade a pre-existing institution to adopt Restorative Circles. Instead, one creates a new institution composed of people who are pre-disposed to wanting to address their conflicts using Restorative Circles.
There is talk of forming a restorative families network in the DC/Maryland/Virginia region. Let us know if you’re interested by contacting Jane Connor.