The purpose of a prison sentence is to punish offenders, not their children. In January 2010 the James N. Kirby Foundation recognised this essential truth by providing a grant of $15,000 for SHINE for Kids’ Education for Life – Peer Support Project. The grant funded vitally important peer support groups for children who currently have a parent in prison.
Losing a parent is perhaps the most traumatic event a child can face – it has a devastating emotional impact on the children left behind and family crisis often follows. When a parent is lost through arrest and incarceration children grieve as any child does – but they also carry the extra burdens of stigma and isolation, and they are often bullied at school. At the same time they are trying to cope with prison visits, financial disadvantage, family stress, and in some cases the dissolution of the entire family – the negative impact on each child’s future life chances is profound.
Often arrest and imprisonment occur without prior warning and children are left without an explanation; confused and fearful. Education for Life Peer Support Groups directly address the needs of children by providing a positive peer support experience in a safe learning environment. Children are encouraged to explore their strengths and abilities, learn new skills, and find solutions to problems. One activity, for example, is specifically designed to address the fear and anxiety children feel by encouraging them to explore, recognise and understand feelings. Children discover their feelings by drawing an outline of their bodies and identifying where feelings are felt – self knowledge and understanding are a vital part of helping children develop coping skills that will last them a life-time.
Parental incarceration is a problem of magnitude – more than 5% of all Australian children have this experience. The support of the James N. Kirby Foundation is vital in helping children of prisoners overcome the social, emotional and educational barriers that keep them from realising their full potential. On behalf of the children – thank you.
Chief Executive Officer, SHINE for Kids