Lessons for FDR from Restorative Engagement

Jodie Grant recently presented a webinar for Resolutions Institute where she shared her considerable experience as an FDRP with family disputes, and as a facilitator with the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) working with those who have suffered institutional abuse. She provided some fascinating insights as to the similarities and differences between these different areas. The challenge in both settings can be how to assist people, who do not want to engage or change, to let go, and move beyond their hurt to a better place. She concluded that there are important lessons to be learned by FDRPs from Restorative Engagement (RE) that would be of great benefit to parents in situations of high conflict. She described a shift in practice to better engage with these clients in FDR with the results of greater empowerment and satisfaction with the process.

Jodie points out that there are many similarities in both areas, with a structured and managed process, similar values and principles, and with the role of a facilitator undertaking assessment and seeking a tailored process for each individual situation. Both often revolve around some form of harm, and aim to handle this sensitively and ensure that this is made no worse by the process. There is a very careful assessment process continuing in both scenarios around capacity and suitability. One fundamental difference flows from the bias in restorative practice that favours the person abused, and is in stark contrast to FDR this is to be an impartial process-sometimes very difficult to maintain in situations of harm such as family violence.

RE is a process where all parties with a stake in a particular issue or conflict come together to work collectively towards a resolution. The focus is on how to deal with the issue or aftermath of the conflict, and the implications for the future. The aim is to facilitate healing with an individually tailored approach. The main tools are recognition, acknowledgement, regret and apology.

RE provides a safe and supportive space, an opportunity to tell a story, to be heard and understood, to spark understanding, acknowledgment and insight. A new narrative is encouraged that allows for the letting go of past hurt and conflict, regret, apology and healing, and the development of a new story as a platform for moving forward.

At FDR we often see families who have suffered harm, and are so hooked into a past narrative that they cannot focus on the present, let alone consider what things might be like in the future. They need to get out of this cycle, disengage and unhook from their negative connections. They too, need to have space to be heard and to heal. They need to let go of the past to get beyond this and look ahead to a better life in the future.

Learnings from RE would require the FDRP to bear witness to their story; to be an active and compassionate, but non-judgmental listener; and to be exposed to meaningful responses from all involved. The FDRP needs to facilitate this perceptive listening, build insight and understanding, and elicit acknowledgments and validation, with the result of recognition of harm and a pathway to recovery.

In the solutions focused approach to FDR the process is a pathway towards an outcome. With RE, the conference is the outcome, and the process of recovery and healing is the end in itself. The expectations are very different and require a different emphasis from the facilitator. The RE approach requires a shift from the FDRP, a different connection with the parties, and a more therapeutic intervention. The focus would be on effecting recovery and building insights into behavior.

Jodie’s insights from the DART programme would indicate that by creating this shift, there would be space for a different conversation. The FDRP could provide the space, time and opportunity to bring a relationship to an end, allowing a letting go and redirection of energies. Using the facilitator’s relationship to connect and engage with the parties in a different way, this would then lead to a change in the way the parents engage with each other. By disengaging from the negative intimate relationship and repairing trust, this would offer a new opportunity that would provide positive support their capacity to parent separately.

I am very grateful to Jodie for sharing her thoughts and experiences. There has been considerable literature around restorative justice and the powerful tool this can be for healing, putting past issues in the past where they belong, and allowing for a positive view of the future. This is essential in many families to enable them to leave behind their negative and destructive overlay, and move forward to a space where they can co-parent their children with respect and dignity. Jodie has provided valuable insights as to how this might be done with family disputes in the high conflict, a category of clients who are particularly challenging, but equally rewarding when empowered to seize a brighter future.

There needs to be a conversation around the incorporation of RE into FDR. The needs to not cause further harm, and not to dispute harm, are paramount. At Creative Family Law Solutions we would like to explore the possibilities raised by Jodie’s work, and participate in a conversation around these issues. Please contact us if you too are interested in joining us!

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