FASD-focused restorative justice program coming to SL

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

It’s in the early stages, but a local agency is setting itself up to provide restorative justice services to adults affected by FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) or other brain issues.

Such services already exist for teens and some Indigenous people, but not generally. Slave Lake’s WJS Canada hopes to change that.

It began with two WJS staff members taking a restorative justice course with ‘an FASD lens.’

Meanwhile, WJS is the FASD contractor for Willow Winds Support Network. It is a non-profit organization that provides Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) supports to individuals and families in a large part of north central Alberta.

Restorative justice focuses on repairing the damaged relationship between the person who did the harm and the person harmed. Both have equal voice in the process.

The goal of restorative justice is to “build and restore trust,” says Slave Lake’s WJS Director Andrew Achoba. Also, to prevent future harm.

This is done through a restorative justice circle. This is facilitated by the person who has the training. It includes the person harmed, the person who did the harm, and may include support people for each of these, an Indigenous elder, spiritual leader (such as a pastor), community members, the police, and other interested parties.

It follows a traditional Indigenous talking-circle format, where each speaker has a turn, clockwise. People are not allowed to talk out of turn. The circle as a whole comes to a consensus on what happened, what the harm was, and how the person who did the harm is going to make it right.

Restorative justice isn’t new to Slave Lake. The Slave Lake Youth Justice Committee (SLYJC) volunteers have restorative justice training. This volunteer group runs circles with youth who are approved for extra judicial sanctions by the court. This is part of a province-wide youth justice committee system.

One SLYJC volunteer did the training with WJS earlier this year.

Also, Bigstone Restorative Justice has government funding to run this type of work in Wabasca. Some people accused of crimes in Slave Lake are eligible, and have successfully completed the program.

“We’ve collaborated with the Bigstone restorative justice in the past,” says Achoba.

The WJS restorative justice program is still in its infancy. It will likely work with people with brain domain challenges who are accused of a crime.

The main focus of Willow Winds is FASD support, but it is also involved in justice.

“As Willow Winds, we have a justice program in the Edmonton area and Grande Cache,” says Angela Kemble, the Executive Director of Willow Winds.

“Primarily our work will be with individuals who have experienced or caused harm,” says Achoba.

“Right now the focus at the start is criminal,” says Kemble.

However, this type of conflict resolution isn’t limited to crimes.

“Restorative justice could be used in the schools,” says Sarah Cardinal, a WJS support worker with the Bridges FASD program.

Adding restorative justice “aligns very well with our mission and vision – successful lives for people with FASD and brain challenges,” says Kemble.

“It does align with our vision to strengthen communities,” says Achoba.

As the program expands, Willow Winds plans to incorporate restorative justice principals into each interaction, says Kemble. She hopes that eventually 80 per cent of it will be in day-to-day interactions and 20 per cent in formal circles. The end goal is “to keep from having to do the circle.”

People with brain domain challenges (including FASD) have trouble connecting their actions with the results, says Achoba. The traditional court system heightens this disconnect.

Restorative justice circles and philosophy helps them make the connection between their action and the harm.

Within WJS, Achoba hopes that the new training will help to “embody some of the practices that the agency is shifting towards.”

His goal is “primarily to transform the way conflict is resolved in our community.” Others are “an improved understanding of FASD,” to reduce the tendency for people with FASD to do harm and increase victim satisfaction when they are harmed.

The person harmed has an integral role in restorative justice, but less in the traditional court system. Victim support services are offered by the RCMP, and Northern Haven has added a court worker for victims of domestic violence.

People interested in connecting with local FASD supports can call 780-849-5111. To find out information about FASD services in the Slave Lake area online, go to https://wwsn.ca/. The WJS Canada website focuses on its work in Ontario.

WJS Canada also has a Family Resilience program which helps any family with children aged seven to 18. For younger children, a similar program is run by the Children’s Resource Council. For information on CRC programs, contact Christine Boisvert at c.boisvert-crc@telus.net.

WJS is interested in partnering with other organizations as it works toward building this restorative justice program.

“As a community-led initiative, we’re looking for anyone and everyone who is interested,” says Kemble.

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