Faith-Based Restorative Communities' Experience of Reentry: An Interpretative Phenomenological Study

Patricia Dawson, Fordham University


Background: A collaboration of faith communities in New York City in partnership with the Beck Institute for Religion and Poverty at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service is developing an evidence base for a restorative life skills program for returning citizens. By tapping into the social and human capital of the faith community, this trauma-informed program is creating an opportunity for new and different outcomes for program participants. Simultaneously, new opportunities and roles have emerged from this work for the host sites. Three sites are examined (two congregations and one parish) to understand the lived experience of leadership as they have been engaged together and with the university partner in the development of restorative communities model with and for returning citizens. Objective: The goal of this exploratory study is to further understand what has become known and is knowable from the leadership and critical actors involved in the development of restorative communities programs. Using complexity theory as the lens to ground this study, attractors and decision points that have shaped the program are explored as will new knowledge and roles that have emerged. Methods: This study used interpretative phenomenological analysis to “both ‘give voice’ and ‘make sense’ of participants’ experience of a certain situation” (Larkin et al, 2006). In this case, the situation is the development of the restorative communities model in collaboration with other faith based organizations and the university partner. Data came from interviews and focus groups conducted over the past four years with host site leadership, program coordinators, and mentors as well as notes from coordinator meetings and trainings, newsletters and prior research and reports, original field notes from site meetings, mentor trainings, program meetings and other observed program and collaborative activities. Interviews were conducted with key individuals who have been instrumental in the development of the programs at these three sites. Follow up interviews were conducted with program leadership. The Cynefin framework (Kurtz and Snowden, 2003) will be used to frame analysis and discussions around what is known and knowable. Results: What emerges from this study is an understanding of an emerging practice taking place in faith-based settings in service to returning citizens. These faith based organizations are developing more than a model that can be replicated, but a sophisticated practice that is creating a space for both social service and social justice, a practice that is holding the whole of a community, and how to build caring communities. These leadership teams highlight the need for rich layers of practice knowledge and skills to support both the returning citizens and the communities welcoming them home. On-going learning within and among sites and in partnership with the university support capacity to manage these complex adaptive systems. Conclusion: This qualitative study has provided a unique opportunity to further understand the experience of leaders who are creating communities that can hold and support returning citizens. Building these communities in faith-based organizations is creating opportunity for encounter, relationship and new ways for these faith communities to be in service and work for social justice. What is happening at these sites is a highly skilled practice and not a model. The concepts of complexity theory, including the Cynefin framework have provided a framework for understanding this practice and working in complex environments. What has become clear through this study is that more than any activity or curriculum component, facilitation skills for community practice are critical in developing a trauma informed community and organization.

Subject Area

Social work

Recommended Citation

Dawson, Patricia, "Faith-Based Restorative Communities' Experience of Reentry: An Interpretative Phenomenological Study" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27735360.