Consequences in Community

Young Friends

“Community” is a word that comes up a lot in the Young Friends program. It summons lots of warm-fuzzy feelings of acceptance, sharing, closeness and trust. This summer at the 2014 Camp Onas gathering, Young Friends started the process of taking further responsibility for their community by engaging with the guidelines, revising them to reflect current commitments and needs. This process will continue throughout the 2014-2015 academic year. Greater youth power in making the guidelines also means greater youth responsibility for maintaining the guidelines. In effect, an infraction becomes not just a violation of a particular powerful adult’s rules and principles (i.e. the Coordinator), but rather a violation of the principles and rules that the community has together agreed are essential. For this reason, it seemed appropriate for me, as Coordinator, to reflect on an important question: What do we do when the trust is broken; when the principles and rules that the community has together committed to are not honored? I believe that an inherent role of community is to stick together through these tough times – breaches in trust, for example – inviting each of us to grow through our mistakes back into trust with the community. In my reflections I have landed on a disciplinary method for guideline infractions that seems to reflect the values of youth responsibility and continued engagement through breaches in trust. Informed by restorative justice principles and the Quaker testimonies, it focuses on partnering with a young person who has broken a guideline to come to an agreed upon set of consequences for the action. Parents become involved when the infraction is relevant to their child’s mental or physical health and legal actions, and may be invited to participate in the event of a more minor infraction when it would be beneficial to the reconciliation process. This system seeks to address the many needs that come out of infractions, some via consequences and some via the process of coming to the consequences. The following list reflects many of the needs that seem to arise from guidelines violations in general:

  1. Pastoral care – for others affected and for the person who took the action, including an opportunity to be heard in sharing what kind of circumstances, thoughts and feelings led that person to take that action
  2. The opportunity for the person to take responsibility for the actions and the impacts of those actions
  3. Growth / change in perspective of the person in a way that relates to the infraction
  4. Coming back into trust and integrity with the community
  5. Protection of the community – both the reputation of the community externally and the sense of stability of the community for other members internally
  6. Deterrence for both the person taking the actions and others in the community against taking similar actions.

It’s my hope that focusing on these needs will lay the necessary foundation for individuals who have broken guidelines to move past that break in trust in a healthy way while staying in right relationship with the community. In this way, the Young Friends community can come through the hard times with an individual with a sense of real responsibility for the guidelines of the community while still being able to move into love and acceptance of another person’s beautiful fallible human-ness and growth.