Alternatives for juveniles in Bulgaria
Sep 30, 2011
Recently I provided restorative conferencing training for Prison Fellowship Bulgaria (PF Bulgaria) and several of its partner agencies. The twenty participants represented different public and non-governmental organisations including the Department for Child Protection, the Anti-bullying Commission of Vratsa, the Cultural Centre of Vratsa, the Probation Department, Caritas- Ruse and PF Bulgaria.
They are part of a new juvenile justice initiative being led by PF Bulgaria and Caritas-Ruse to introduce alternatives for working with at-risk youth. The project, “Active communities in the prevention of the institutionalisation of children and juvenile offenders,” offers several services for young people coming from difficult home situations and for those who have committed crime. It is being implemented in the Bulgarian cities of Vratsa and Ruse.
The guiding philosophy behind the project is that children and their families are capable of solving their own problems and all those affected by a crime or harmful behaviour should be included in the response. It incorporates various services such as mentoring, support groups for parents of at-risk children, counselling, and restorative conferencing – both with victims and to address family issues.
Considering the role of the entire community in responding to the needs of at-risk youth, PF Bulgaria created a civil network of 16 different organisations and various individuals interested in working with young people. They set up “Community of Care” Vratsa as a community support centre offering the various services that I mentioned. In 2010, they were licensed to work with children and teens by the Agency for Child Protection. The idea is that positively involving community members and organisations in the lives of juveniles will create stronger connections and lead to a more restorative community.
The two-and-a-half-day training covered the concepts of restorative justice, issues of working with victims and offenders, and the concrete steps of the restorative conferencing process (pre-conferencing, facilitation, follow-up, etc). The participant responses were interesting. Those representing non-governmental and other community organisations seemed very excited about the restorative justice concepts and how this can be applied to their work. At the same time, some – but not all-- from the governmental organisations found the concepts difficult and questioned the decision making authority given to conference participants. Some felt that a facilitator would not be respected in the process without a display of power such as standing up and speaking in a directive manner.
We discussed the difference between authority and power. While facilitators don’t have decision-making power, they do have an authority to guide the restorative process in accordance with the agreed-upon ground rules. This is not done through an overt display of power or control, but through the restorative values of respect and empowerment calling out the best in people.
Through role plays the participants considered ways facilitators might respond when conference participants are disruptive (interrupting others or speaking harshly). As the training progressed, the facilitators came to see that they exercise authority by responding with grace and respect as they helped the parties communicate with each other and work towards a good outcome.