The family stood before the judge, terrified and humiliated: father, 12-year old son, and 7-year old daughter. Their mother had abandoned them a year before. The son was accused of physically abusing his sister, repeatedly, while the father was at work, trusting him to care for the tiny girl. It was a tragic scene, for the legal system would split up the family, remove both children from their father, and place them in an orphanage or a reformatory.
It’s an oft-repeated story. In a country committed to protecting its children, Costa Rica finds itself obligated to separate hurting families. But is there another way? Is there an alternative to what the Director of PANI described as the heavy-handed action of social workers and judges, deciding what is best for the families, shaming and condemning them, separating parents from children?
I recently attended a life-giving presentation shouting YES! I am involved with a conflict transformation process called Circles. I helped facilitate “Circles of Dialogue” in my church to vent concerns and tensions. My co-facilitator, Sara, is the director of an alternative justice organization, CONAMAJ, within the Ministry of Justice of the Costa Rican government. They recently joined forces with PANI and family court judges to try a Circles methodology with troubled families.
One of the most passionate presenters was a judge, Yerma, who just happens to be a graduate of the UBL where I teach, one of the first Baptist women pastors here, and from my home church in Desamparados! She described how, when she first became a judge, they were warned to keep their emotional distance from the families, to be objective, and to make decisions based on written law. But with Circles, everyone is invited to be part of the process. The parents and children, social workers, lawyers and judge all have equal voice to discuss the situation, how they feel and what they think needs to be done. They try to come to a consensus about what is best for everyone in the family. Yerma felt that the Circles process was so much more respectful and productive. The director of PANI echoed her words: the pain of being required to wrench children from their families, with no way to negotiate, replaced by a method that often permits families to stay together and at the very least, restores their dignity. One of my goals for this year is to become increasingly involved
- Pray for Ruth as she becomes increasingly involved in the Circles process as a part of her ministry of proclaiming reconciliation and new life.
- Pray for Ruth as she also helps train and develop Christian leaders in Latin America.