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Children with an incarcerated parent and their families are amongst the most vulnerable in our community, with statistics showing they are six times more likely to end up in prison themselves and 40% more likely to drop out of school.

SHINE for Kids is the only national charity to provide services to support children and young people from infancy to adulthood, aimed at reducing the likelihood of children transitioning into child protection and justice systems. SHINE’s targeted support and intervention helps to avoid family fragmentation and intergenerational offending.

The impact of COVID-19 has magnified the trauma, isolation and disadvantage children feel when a parent is in prison. Lockdowns and restrictions mean that in-person visits have not been possible, at times for months on end.

To directly address this additional trauma, the Charitable Foundation is supporting SHINE to deliver the Storytime in Wellington initiative.

Storytime is a 12-month, creative communication project that aims to re-connect 350 children aged 0-10 years through storytelling with their parent incarcerated in Wellington and Macquarie Correctional Centres in the Central West of NSW.

SHINE teaches parents about the importance of storytelling in developing and maintaining a strong bond between the child and parent, and also the child’s brain development. Incarcerated parents record a book reading, along with writing and decorating a story of their own. The recording and books are then given to the child to read at home, supported by SHINE for Kids family support workers.

SHINE for Kids Manager, Julianne Sanders, said Storytime has enabled a parental connection to be maintained.

“The stories we hear, of reading together with a recording or keeping a book close at night shows how important this connection with a parent is, regardless of circumstance,” Julianne said.

Manager of Services and Programs at Macquarie Correctional Centre, Katrina Taunton, said a focus on education and experience at Macquarie is aimed at reducing repeat and intergenerational offending.

It can be confronting to realise the impact of offending on your children. Storytime helps acknowledge that impact, work through it and use it as a driver of positive outcomes. Humanising the experience and supporting that with education is so important to reducing reoffending and intergenerational incarceration, Katrina said.

Parents in custody at Macquarie are empowered to be responsible for themselves, working on how they can improve themselves through work, education and rehabilitation programs like those offered by Shine for Kids.

Dad in custody at Macquarie, Kyle* says that Storytime has changed his attitude.

“Storytime means my kids get to hear dad’s voice. I hear how that makes them happy and it lifts me. You can hold a lot of resentment to the world when you are in here that can also be passed to your kids. This program helps us talk in a positive way. It means we engage with authority figures in a positive way too. I was never good at that and it led me down the wrong path,” Kyle said.

Dad in custody at Macquarie Correctional Centre, Matthew* said that it is hard to explain the impact of Storytime.

“During the Storytime program I wrote a story about fishing for my son. It was the last thing we did together. My son now sleeps with the book under his pillow,” Matthew* said.

While nothing can replace a hug or visit with Mum or Dad, early intervention programs like this have an enormous impact on a child’s development and future prospects and this program has the potential to truly rewrite the future for young people who may have felt their path was pre-determined by their social circumstances.

*names changed for privacy

SHINE for kids
SHINE For Kids is using storytelling to connect families.

About SHINE for kids

SHINE for Kids support children, young people and families with relatives in the criminal justice system. SHINE for Kids has a firm belief in the power of early intervention and a focus on collaboration to reduce the negative effects of parental imprisonment on children and young people.

The programs operate through their child and family centres as well as prison based services. As well as the practical day-to-day assistance, they are also committed to improving community awareness and knowledge of issues that affect children and families dealing with incarceration.