Recently, I facilitated a conference with an offender who I suspected of having some mental health issues. The case involved neglecting job duties that resulted in placing a young child at risk of harm (thankfully the child wasn’t physically injured). While accepting that the incident happened, the offender denied any responsibility. The offender remained adamant that it was simply a mistake and that the offender was being victimised by the system. No one was hurt -- although the potential had definitely been there – so everyone should’ve just let it go. “No harm, no foul.”
The attitude bothered me and I feared causing more harm to the victim. In fact, I was ready to say the case wasn’t suitable for a restorative conference. Still, I met with the child’s mother; although a little nervously. She talked about the fear when her child’s whereabouts were unknown and her relief of being able to hold her child again. She described on-going nightmares and the reluctance to leave her child in anyone’s care.
The mother also adamantly stated that she wanted to meet with the offender. Honestly, I tried to talk her out of it. I shared my concerns about the attitudes and possibility for more harm. I even asked, “How would you feel if the offender said that there was no harm caused, that there shouldn’t be consequences for a simple mistake?”
Her reply, “I would cry,” reinforced my concerns. But, she still wanted to move forward. She needed to meet with the offender. So, with a great deal of trepidation I continued organising the conference. To my great surprise (and relief) it went well. The mother spoke from her heart and gently challenged the offender. The offender acknowledged some responsibility for the incident. There wasn’t a great revelation or sudden change, but there was understanding and some recognition of the harm. The mother later told us, "…thank you for this opportunity to be heard and hopefully understood by a person responsible for an incident that I have some relief of now. I would not have been able to truly move on without this opportunity."
I’m glad that I released control and followed through with the victim’s desire to meet. The process allows for amazing things to happen. That doesn’t mean that a facilitator shouldn’t take steps to evaluate the situation and provide for the safety of participants. But there are times we need to let go of control and, just like in this case, listen to the needs of the participants. So, in trusting the process, I hope for the best but, anticipating the worst, do as much preparation as possible.