Information For Parents of Offenders
Being the parent of someone who has committed an offence can be a difficult, uncomfortable, and complex position to be in. In restorative justice, most parents want to support their child through the process and may also have needs of their own they hope can be met. Both of these are possible. As it relates to supporting the offender, whether you participate directly in the process or are on the “sidelines,” you can provide much-needed assistance to them and help them be successful in this process. As you may know, the process will focus on harms the offender has caused, their ability to be accountable for their actions directly to the people they have hurt (including you), and the active steps they can take to make things right. You can support the offender by encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions, show genuine remorse for the harms they have caused, and to carry out the terms of their agreement. You may also have valuable insights into the causes of the offender’s criminal behaviour, and what the offender needs in order to improve the circumstances that contributed to their offence. There will be many opportunities throughout to share with the offender and other participants how the offence has impacted you and your family, as well as seek meaningful outcomes to address those.
Below you will find common questions that parents of offenders’ have had about our work. We’ve done our best to provide thorough information on our approach and what to expect. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for here, please reach out to us.
FAQ for Parents of Offenders
Restorative justice has many definitions and there is a lot of diversity in how it’s seen and practiced around the world. We use this definition by Howard Zehr: “Restorative justice is an approach to achieving justice that involves, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offence or harm to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”
Here at Restorative Justice Victoria (RJV), we work towards five main goals:
- Assisting and supporting victims in identifying and seeking redress for the harms and needs they have experienced resulting from crime.
- Providing meaningful and helpful support to victims in their healing and recovery from crime.
- Creating opportunities for offenders to accept and demonstrate accountability for the harms they have caused to victims and the community.
- Providing safe and effective opportunities for the sharing of information (direct or indirect) between victims, offenders, and others impacted by crime.
- Assisting and supporting all participants in understanding the causes of a crime, such as trauma, mental health, addictions, and structural/social factors, and supporting offenders in addressing these when possible.
There are many myths and misconceptions about restorative justice. To learn more about them and get further clarity on what restorative justice is and is not, visit our Myths and Misconceptions page.
For a file to be referred to us, the offender and the victim must consent. Also, the offender must take responsibility for the offence and be willing to understand and work towards addressing the harms that resulted from it. We understand this can be challenging for a number of reasons and are here to support offenders who are willing to work towards these goals.
Restorative justice can be used as diversion from or in conjunction with the criminal justice system. It can also be used outside of the criminal justice system, such as after an offender has completed their sentence. In some cases, restorative justice is used instead of the justice system.
No, restorative justice is not mandatory; a crucial aspect of our program is that participation must be voluntary for everyone. If the offender is offered the option of restorative justice by anyone and is not interested, they can decline. The only exception is if the offender is court-mandated to do restorative justice, but this is rare because most judges understand how important voluntariness is to the success of the process. If an offender is interested in restorative justice but wants more information, they can reach out to us directly. We can also provide you with any information you would like about our services. We always encourage people to seek legal advice as well to know whether restorative justice is a good fit for their situation.
If the offender chooses to not complete the restorative justice process (either at the start or mid-way), we will return the file to the referring agency and they decide how to proceed. Their options are generally to take no further action or seek/go forward with a criminal charge.
Once a person reaches 12 years of age, in Canada they can be held criminally responsible for their actions. Therefore, if an offender is 12 or older, they also have the legal right to decide how they want to deal with an offence they are being held responsible for committing, including whether they want it dealt with in restorative justice. Nobody else can make this decision. For offenders who are under 18, their parents/legal guardians have the right to know that they have been referred to our program and some other general information regarding such things as meeting times, dates, and locations, and who the offender will be working with. However, offenders also have the right to privacy within restorative justice, meaning there are things that they share with us that we will not share with others without their permission, as long as those things do not make us concerned for their wellbeing or safety, in which instance we would immediatly alert the appropriate individuals and/or agencies. More information on these rights is available here and in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The timeline of each case differs depending on several factors, such as how many people are participating and their availability, the severity of the offence and its impact on people, the emotional state of each participant, and our caseload. As a general guideline, a typical case runs four to eight months from intake to file closure.
For our initial intake and assessment, if the victim or offender is a youth, we contact their parents/guardians first to introduce ourselves, explain why we want to speak to the youth, and answer questions. We then speak individually with the victim and the offender via telephone, and if the offender is interested in pursuing restorative justice, they are required to come and meet with us in-person for an intake. We always invite them to bring supporters to the intake and any subsequent meetings with us; parents/guardians can attend these meetings if the offender would like them there (including the dialogue, which is described below). If the victim, the offender, and we are all in agreement to proceed, we assign a team of caseworkers and move into the preparation stage of the process.
During the preparation stage, we work with the offender to assist them in developing such things as meaningful accountability, empathy, and insight, and we explore with them how they might repair the harms resulting from their offence. We also discuss with them the factors at play in their lives that might have contributed to the offence, as well as social/structural factors that might have been related, such as class, race/ethnicity, gender, etc. During this period, we often connect offenders, victims, and their supporters with community resources.
In the preparation stage for the victim, we assist them in deciding if or how they want to participate in the process, for which they have a number of of options (go to our Victim Participation Spectrum page to explore them). We also work to help them understand and identify their needs and determine how me might address those in restorative justice.
Once the preparation work is done and everyone feels ready, a date for the restorative justice dialogue is set. This group meeting explores how the victim and/or others have been harmed by the offence and the needs that have resulted. This meeting provides the offender an opportunity to share information with the victim and/or others in attendance around such things as what was motivating them at the time, what has been happening since, how they feel about it, and more. The offender will also hear directly from them about how the offence has impacted their lives, and will be able to respond (e.g. acknowledge their pain, express remorse, apologize). The factors in the offender’s life that may have contributed to the offence, and ways those can be supported or addressed, will also be explored. Everyone works together to create an agreement, by consensus, on how to move forward. Dialogues typically last between 2.5 and 4 hours and take place at our office. After the dialogue, one of the caseworkers will continue to support the offender as they complete the terms of their agreement. The case manager will keep the victim and referring agency updated on the offender’s progress and once the agreement is complete, the case manager will alert the referring agency.
For a detailed description of the steps of a case, go to the Offender FAQ.
Restorative justice requires offenders to actively participate in the process by attending meetings, openly discussing the offence and what led up to it, exploring ways they can address harms that resulted from the offence and causes of it, communicating (directly or indirectly) with people who were affected by their actions (if they wish to participate), listening to their perspectives and sharing the offender’s own, and carrying out the agreement terms that are decided on.
The agreement contains what the offender has agreed to do in order to best address the harms that resulted from the offence, as well as factors and causes of the offence. It’s developed by consensus at the dialogue. Every agreement looks different and we encourage creative ideas that address the unique needs of the participants. However, some of the typical terms are:
- A formal apology to victims and others harmed by the crime
- A gift or some other offering to victims and/or the community
- Restitution to pay for damages related to the offence (we do not facilitate payment for pain and suffering)
- Follow-up meetings with victims to further understand the offence and address harms
- Attending support services such as counselling, treatment, trauma recovery, meditation/wellness, etc.
- Giving back to the community through volunteer service
- Donations or gifts to social serving agencies/causes related to the offence or of interest to the victim
- Doing public presentations on matters related to the offence
- And much more!
The number of people assigned to a case varies depending on the severity of the case and the needs of the participants. For more minor offences, the offender may just work with one person. If it is more serious and there are more people involved, there can be as many as four people assigned to the case. The people assigned have distinct roles, but all share the same goal of supporting the offender, the victim, and everyone else involved through this process.
The team will expect the offender to participate meaningfully in this process. This means attending scheduled meetings, responding to all communication, and engaging with the team and the other participants. We know that restorative justice takes a lot of courage and we are here to support the offender.
Please note that RJV cannot provide counselling, treatment, legal advice, or any social work services. However, we are happy to connect the offender with organizations that can.
It is entirely up to the offender whether they bring someone along to any meetings with us. If you would like to meet or speak with our staff, you’re welcome to call us or schedule a separate meeting. Please note that we are bound by confidentiality with all our clients, regardless of age, unless we have concerns about their safety or well-being, in which case we will notify parents/guardians and any relevant agencies immediately. We can also tell you who the offender will be working with and invite you to speak or meet with them, as well as email you the dates, times, and locations of all meetings we have with the offender (please let us know what email we may send these to), as well as any agreement terms they are obligated to complete.
When a youth has a committed crime, it’s not uncommon for their parents/guardians to also feel harmed by the experience. We understand that when a crime occurs, it has a rippling effect out to others and the community, and we hope to address those wherever we can. Because of this, parents/guardians of youth offenders are often involved in the restorative justice process in some way. This might mean that you participate alongside the offender and support them while also sharing your own needs that have resulted from the offence, or it might mean participating in a separate process with the offender (if they are open to it) with our support. When we encounter cases with multiple people involved, we work to find a way to meet everyone’s needs as best we can. We’re always open to exploring creative options and will seek your input, as well as the offender’s and the victim’s, on how to best do that.
Restorative justice can happen at any stage in the criminal justice system. In some cases, the file is referred as diversion out of the criminal justice system before a charge has been laid. This can be done by the police or Crown. Alternatively, the matter can be referred after a charge has been laid by the Crown with the understanding that if the offender completes the process, the charges are stayed (dropped). Restorative justice can also be used before or after sentencing. Whether or not the offender has been charged will depend on the point in the criminal justice system their case was referred.
If a file is referred as diversion before a charge has been laid and the offender completes the process, they will not get a criminal record for the offence. The same is true when a file is referred after a charge has been laid with the understanding that if the offender completes the process, the charge will be stayed. However, in both instances, there will be a police record of the offence that may show up if the offender gets a vulnerable sectors police information check (a more thorough criminal record check) done.
At what stage in the criminal justice system restorative justice is used and how it impacts the offender’s record is complex. We are available to discuss the implications of restorative justice.
When a case is referred through the criminal justice system (police, Crown, judges, probation, etc.) and the offender does not complete the process, we send the file back to the referring agency and describe what took place. The next steps depend on at what point in the justice system the file was sent to us. Generally, the referring person can choose to either end the file or go forward with a formal criminal charge. We don’t have any say or input into what the criminal justice system does with the case from there. When we are referred a case, we do considerable amount of assessment during the intake stage regarding whether it will be appropriate for restorative justice, as well as safe and effective. We also provide all participants with a lot of support throughout the process, so it is very uncommon for a case to end incompletely.
Restorative justice provides the offender a unique opportunity to self-reflect, set goals, learn new perspectives, and give back to their community and the people affected by their actions in a safe and supportive environment. As a response to crime, it provides them a place to demonstrate accountability, address harms, transform shame or negative feelings they may have about themselves and the crime, and access personal healing from harms they may have experienced that contributed to the offence. Some offenders who have participated in restorative justice have found it to be life-changing. If the offender is willing to put in the time and energy, they may find that it has far-reaching positive effects in their life.