Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation

by Center for Conflict Resolution
Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation

Denise had been having a lot of conflict with her mom. Her mother, Sharon, had been hoping the two of them would be able to work things out on their own, but things had continued to get worse between them and eventually Denise went to live with her aunt. After staying with her aunt for a few months, Denise got in some trouble. She ended up getting arrested and her aunt told her she could no longer stay with her. After that, Denise went to live with her Dad, but he didn’t have the space for Denise to stay comfortably full-time. Denise was working with a social worker who decided to refer Denise and her mother to mediation with CCR.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Denise and Sharon participated in mediation via Zoom. The mediator began the mediation by checking in with each of them privately to discuss the mediation and see if they had any concerns. Sharon told the mediator she was really angry about Denise’s behavior and was not happy to be at the mediation. She said she felt like she didn’t know what else to do and that if Denise continued to misbehave she would have to ask her to move out permanently. Denise told the mediator she was optimistic about having a conversation with her mother, that the two of them had not really had a conversation in months that didn’t result in yelling, and that she was nervous she might need a break when her mom got angry. The mediator and Denise made a plan that if Sharon was yelling and Denise felt overwhelmed, she could ask for a time out and the mediator would stop the mediation.

Denise was right to be concerned about Sharon’s anger. Early in the mediation the mediator found it very difficult to help the two women speak with one another. Sharon was so upset that she could not contain herself and often spoke over Denise, raising her voice. This would cause Denise to raise her voice and repeatedly the mediator found them in a screaming match. The mediator realized the parties would need to make a better plan for how to communicate in order to have a positive experience in mediation.

The mediator brought each party into another private meeting and talked to them about how they were engaging one another. In the meeting with Sharon, the mediator gave Sharon the opportunity to express the anger she was feeling. The mediator listened while Sharon got louder and angrier, her voice trembling as she recounted all her efforts to support Denise. Once she finished, the mediator summarized everything back and checked in with her to see how she felt about moving forward. Sharon said she felt much calmer after her outburst and wanted to continue the conversation. When the mediator met privately with Denise she learned that Denise was really apologetic about her previous behavior and that she wanted to come home and live with her mother. The mediator was surprised to hear this, as it had not been said when the parties were together. The mediator spent time with Denise making a plan for how she would ask her mother if she could come home. Then the mediator brought the two of them back together.

It wasn’t an easy conversation, but both parties were calmer and more focused and, with the mediator’s help, they were able to keep talking. Denise asked to come live with her mom again and the two of them agreed on a set of expectations for living together. The agreement included obligations for both Sharon and Denise and the two left the mediation in good spirits, ready to share a home again. 

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Trent and Jess were referred to mediation at CCR after a fight at their school. A conflict between the two of them got physical and escalated into an altercation involving multiple students. Trent’s probation officer recommended the two try mediation to see if they could settle things between themselves.

The mediator began by asking about the history of their relationship. Jess and Trent started dating in 8th grade and continued until their Junior year. They had been their school’s most recognizable couple until March when rumors began that Jess had cheated on Trent. After hearing it from several friends, Trent broke up with Jess. That same week during lunch, Jess and a couple of her friends confronted Trent and demanded to know why he believed others and not her. Trent shoved Jess down and a fight broke out. As a result, Trent was arrested.

Both students attended mediation with their mothers and the women began to chime in about how the other kid was a bad influence on their own child. The dynamic between the two mothers began to worsen and they each began questioning the parenting methods of the other.

The mediator stepped in and asked the parties if things had always been this way. Everyone agreed that it was only within the last year that things had started downhill. Sensing a tipping point, the mediator continued to explore by asking why things had changed. Jess’s mom, Maria, said, “Because Trent started hanging out with those gang boys.”

Trent denied that he was in a gang and said that he had only been trying to protect Jess. Everyone began speaking at once and the mediator helped focus the conversation by asking Trent to explain more about what he meant.

At the end of Sophomore year, Trent had been 5’8” and about 125 lbs. By November of Junior year, he was a little over 6’ and weighed close to 160 lbs. Gang affiliated guys that he had known, some since grade school, started to recruit him. Trent tried to duck them, but they wouldn’t stop. Trent said they just started telling other people that he was with them. Once word got out, he couldn’t deny it or he faced retribution from them and/or pressure from rival gangs.

To make matters worse, the guy whom Jess supposedly cheated with was one of those rivals. As the drama unfolded among seemingly the whole school, Trent said his affiliated friends told him that he couldn’t let this stand. If he wasn’t going to do something, they would. When Jess and her friends confronted Trent that day, he knew he had to do something and all he could think was to shove Jess.

Everyone was silent for a moment and then the mediator asked how that had felt for Trent. After a few seconds, he said that he had felt trapped and angry. Following up, she asked who he was angry with. Trent said he was mad at Jess, but he was angrier with the other kids who had threatened her and seemed to be controlling both their lives. He still cared about her and had been hurt by the alleged cheating, but he was afraid his new acquaintances would be a danger to Jess.

The mediator asked Jess what she thought about all this. Through tears, she explained that she’d never known this before and now she was even more upset. Not at Trent, but at the people who started all the gossip. Because things had moved so quickly, the two of them never had a chance to discuss the gossip and her friends had been pressuring her to stand up for herself. Jess hadn’t cheated and that’s why she had confronted Trent.

The mediator summarized for both parties that it sounded like they were feeling manipulated and out of control of their own lives. She said that it seemed like they both cared a lot about each other and that they wanted freedom to be themselves and enjoy their relationship without everyone else getting into their business. The mediator also highlighted that it wasn’t just their emotional safety that was at stake, but possibly their physical safety as well. Then she asked what they would want to do to move forward and to avoid something like this happening again.

Right away, Trent apologized for hitting Jess and for not trusting her. He said in the future, he would always come to her first if there was a question. She apologized as well for confronting him in public and agreed that they should always talk together about any issue before letting others push them towards an action.

Finally, the mediator asked how they would handle this when they got back to school in a couple of months. Both of them felt like things would have settled down, since COVID-19 had everyone thinking about other things and school would be remote anyway. But, they both agreed to tell any friends who asked that the cheating rumors were not true and that they were back together again.

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When David’s friend pulled up in front of his house on a Saturday morning and asked him if he wanted to drive, David said “Yes!” and cruised around the neighborhood. It turned out David was driving a stolen vehicle. As part of his probation, David participated in a mediation session with his mother, Monica, and Marina, the owner of the car. Due to Covid-19, the mediation took place via video conference.

David reluctantly began the mediation by sharing his side of the story - that he did not steal the car, claiming he had no idea the car did not belong to his friend. David felt his friend who stole the car should be the one at the mediation and not him. His mother, however, was quick to remind David that he was responsible because he was the one driving. She told him the minute he left the house, where he was supposed to be watching his younger siblings, and got behind the wheel, he was responsible for his behavior. Monica also wanted to be sure Marina knew that David was a good kid, had great grades and had never been in trouble before. During the mediation, David shared more about himself; that he wants to do well in school and become a video game designer.

Marina appreciated the opportunity to share her side of the story as well. Marina is a single mom with a teenage son and was completely panicked when she could not find her car one morning. She searched for an hour before finally calling the police. She could not go to work that day and her son missed school. Even though she got her car back, she had been unable to drive it due to the damage. Marina had to rely on others for rides and spend money on Uber to get to work. Marina also expressed that she felt violated that her car had been stolen.

During the mediator’s private conversation with David and his mother, David spoke about how frightening the entire experience had been for him. David was incredibly scared and cried when he was arrested. His younger sister and Grandmother witnessed his arrest and they both were traumatized by the experience. Mom and David both spoke about how they wanted to move forward and put this incident behind them so David could focus on school and his future.

When the mediator brought the parties back together, David apologized to Marina. Marina told David how much he reminded her of her own son and how she knows teenagers make mistakes and that is important to learn from them.

David’s mom then shared that her own car was stolen the previous year and found totaled in a neighboring state, filled with firearms. She understood what it was like to lose the independence a car provides and the expense of having to use Uber. Since she knew David did not have any money to give, she offered to pay Marina $225, and in return David would help her out more around the house; doing weekly laundry, cleaning out the garage and babysitting his siblings. David quickly agreed to this.  

They decided to write up this agreement, exchanged cell numbers and Marina, David and mom all wished each other well. Through mediation, David, Monica and Marina were able to find a solution that met their needs and opened the possibility for a more positive relationship in the future.

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Anthony was arrested during the Puerto Rican Pride Festival in early June, just a little before his seventeenth birthday. He and his two sisters had taken their father’s car without permission. Anthony’s older sister, Angela, had a license. But Anthony really liked to drive, and she let him that day, even though he didn’t have a license.

Angela had been waving a flag out the window, enjoying the day along with their fellow community members. When the officer pulled them over, the younger sister, Aracelis, got into a verbal altercation with the officer, claiming that he had stopped them because they were “young Latinos making too much noise.”

The police ended up charging both Anthony and Angela as minors with possession of a stolen vehicle and driving without a license. Since the car belonged to their father and he wasn’t pressing charges, the matter ended up with a social worker partnering with the Chicago Police Department. The social worker referred the family to CCR after their interview, citing a lack of communication and oversight between the children and parents.

During the mediation, the mediator asked about how things were at home before the arrest. The mother, Celia, expressed that what the social worker said was true, especially between herself and Anthony. Most of their communication was by texting or having other family members pass messages.

As a result of working two jobs, raising four teenage children, and caring for her mom who had Parkinson’s, Celia didn’t have much energy left over to fight battles or watch over her kids. She relied on Anthony to be a leader and make good decisions. She said that for the most part, he was a good kid, but that he often ended up getting influenced by other kids and making poor choices.

When asked how he felt about this, Anthony told the mediator that he felt isolated and unsupported. He hadn’t been going to school for the last few months because he had been hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting incident that one of his friends was involved in. He was still wearing a cast and he said that while he had been recovering, all his mom did was ask him to clean the house, get his younger siblings off to school, and run errands.

The mediator then checked in with Angela to get her perspective. She said that she was really frustrated that no one in their family seemed to talk much. She first blamed it on the fact that they were all busy and tired, but with some probing by the mediator, ended up talking about how no one ever expressed their affection for each other or asked to see how things were going.

Anthony and Celia agreed, and Celia said that’s just how she had been raised. She also disclosed that her relationship with their dad had suffered because of this pattern and that even though they were still married, things weren’t good between the two of them either.

Anthony expressed that he was hurt and concerned by this. When the mediator asked what each of their goals were for the future, Anthony talked about wanting to be a truck driver but that he was scared about how these kinds of incidents would affect his future. Celia echoed this fear right away, saying that she just wanted him to finish school and get this arrest expunged from his record.

At this point, the mediator gently asked each of them what they thought they could do to change any of this. Celia said that the past year had made her realize how much her family needs her to be present emotionally. She said that she would commit to asking each of her kids how they were doing at least once a week. Anthony said that he knew how much his mom needed support too, and promised that he would make better choices with who he chose to hang around.

They also agreed that Celia would take him to do his driving test so he could get his license, and Anthony would start looking for a part time job so he could earn money to pay for truck driving school.

In ending the session, the mediator asked if there was anything else they wanted to say. Anthony looked at his mom and said, “I love you. I’m proud of how much you do to keep our family together, even though you can’t always be a part of things day-to-day.”

Celia began to cry and said how proud she was of him too. And all the kids. All three of them hugged and said they loved each other. Then, through tears, they all started laughing about how this kind of thing had never happened before. They joked about how it felt a little awkward, but they liked it and hoped they could do it more in the future. Through mediation, Anthony, Angela and Celia were able, for the first time, to talk openly and plan for a future with improved communication and more fulfilling relationships.

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Sergio and his mother Carla came to mediation at Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) after Sergio was arrested for battery. Sergio had been dating his friend Sam’s old girlfriend, and was upset when he learned that Sam and other friends were talking badly about him. Sergio felt that because Sam had a new girlfriend, he had no reason to be upset with Sergio.

Sergio confronted Sam on a Friday afternoon after school, and their interaction ended with Sergio shoving Sam. Sam’s parents reported the incident to the police, and when school resumed the following Monday, Sergio was called into the principal’s ofce, handcuffed, arrested, and taken to the police station. He was also suspended from school for one week. Sergio’s case was eventually referred for mediation with CCR. Sam declined to participate in the mediation and so a family mediation was held for Sergio and his mother, Carla.

Through a guided conversation, the mediator was able to find common ground between Sergio and Carla, as well as help them recognize ways to improve their relationship. Both Sergio and Carla agreed that work and school were the most important things for Sergio to concentrate on, and that fighting with classmates would only distract Sergio from his goals. It was important to Sergio to finish school, and to continue working at his part-time job that allowed him to buy clothes and save up to visit family in Mexico.

During the mediation, the mediator took a break from having Sergio and Carla together in the same room and met separately with each party. Carla teared up when she explained that she had left Sergio with his grandparents in Mexico for the first 10 years of his life - while she worked to establish herself in the United States. They did not see each once during those 10 years. Carla explained that she was concerned Sergio didn’t understand how she saw their time apart as an important sacrifice she needed to make to ensure a better opportunity for him. She was worried because Sergio has started to lie to her occasionally about his whereabouts.

When the mediator met with Sergio, they discussed the fact that Carla has many rules she expects Sergio to follow regarding work and school. The day before the mediation Carla found out that Sergio took a trip to a water park in Wisconsin and told her that he was working. She had been furious. Sergio explained that he wants to follow his mother’s rules, but he would also like to have some more independence to spend time with his friends. Sergio said he was proud to be an important role model for his younger brothers and that he plans to have a conversation with them about what they can learn from his experience of being arrested. He felt he had learned from his mistake, and that he wanted to have a conversation with his mom about what he could do to earn more independence.

Through mediation, Sergio and Carla were able to have a conversation about tough topics in a safe, neutral space, and develop solutions that worked for them. When the mediator brought Sergio and Carla back together, they talked about setting up regular time on Saturdays for just the two of them to spend time with each other. Carla expressed that building a close relationship with Sergio was important to her, and she was able to tell him that she understood that their time apart was very hard for him, and that she felt it was necessary to give him richer opportunities. Having this conversation allowed Sergio to express that he appreciated the sacrifice that Carla made, and that it was also important to him to continue his close ties with his grandparents in Mexico. Sergio asked for Carla’s support in making regular visits, and she agreed. There was conversation about Sergio taking pictures of his grandmother’s Mexican cooking and returning with some of her recipes. They also discussed Sergio’s desire to have more independence to spend time with his friends. Carla agreed to give permission for Sergio to spend time with his friends, as long as he updates her with his whereabouts via text so she will not worry. They both agreed that they would continue to work to improve their communication and trust, and were happy to have a plan to move them forward.

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Center for Conflict Resolution

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
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Cassandra Lively
Chicago, IL United States
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