When I first heard that children with a parent in prison are 6 times more likely to end up in prison than their peers, it broke my heart. Innocent children whose lives are turned upside down at such a young age.
Little did I know that God was preparing me for a role at Prison Fellowship years later, where he would use me to set up a program called Extraordinary Lives. This wonderful program brings together Angel Tree and Camp for Kids under the one umbrella to work in a more connected way by also incorporating one-to-one mentoring, educational support, and facilitating prison visits for families.
It’s estimated there are around 43,000 children in Australia who currently have a parent in prison. These children are the innocent and invisible victims of crime. Some are living with grandparents, some with extended family, and many are in the care of the state.
Prison Fellowship in every state and territory of Australia is working towards expanding its services to secure the wellbeing and future for these children and young people. We pray that our mentors sow the seeds of God’s love and purpose for them and their future, and that they invite Jesus to be central to their lives.
In my 18 months as national Extraordinary Lives Coordinator, it has been wonderful to see the impact that mentoring and support can have on a child with a parent in prison. Put simply, lives are transformed.
As part of this role I have connected with grandparents who were just beginning to wind down and enjoy retirement when they were suddenly thrust back into a full-time child-raising role as one of their children was sent to prison. I am amazed by their strength, love, sacrifice, and care.
Deborah* was waiting at the Prison Fellowship office to collect her grandchildren who were coming back from Camp for Kids when she overheard volunteers being trained as mentors. Walking into the room, she began, “Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt. I just have to say thank you for all you do for children. Mentoring would be wonderful for my grandkids, they need it so much. I am overwhelmed that there are people like you that care enough to want to help.”
For Deborah, Camp for Kids was her first break from her grandchildren since her daughter went to prison. She was run down and exhausted.
Deborah’s grandchildren loved camp! “It’s important that they get a break from me and have other people to talk to. All the kids on the camp had something in common [a parent in prison], which made it much easier for them to talk about things. The camp leaders are different from parents and teachers and they are there to help. Their communication with me was great – when one of them wasn’t doing well they rang me and together we talked about what would work best for her particular behaviours. It was really good that they called. My grandkids got to see things done differently and that really helped.”
Deborah’s grandchildren are now being mentored by two leaders from camp. “It was really good,” she says, “Knowing the mentors from the camp and having that relationship made a big difference once mentoring started. It has helped them take responsibility, as well as doing things they enjoy like cooking and rollerblading.”
For children with a parent in prison, having a supportive mentor who listens to and affirms them, who offers encouragement and is a positive role model in their lives can increase their self-esteem. A Christian mentor can also share the love Jesus has for them and how He sees them, counteracting the negativity they hear about their identity and their future.
Through Extraordinary Lives, Deborah’s grandchildren now have mentors, attend camps in the school holidays, receive gifts from their mum at Christmas, and receive other support as needed.
Oh, and Deborah gets some time to just relax!
When you talk, don’t say anything bad. But say the good things that people need—whatever will help them grow stronger. Then what you say will be a blessing to those who hear you. Ephesians 4:29 ERV
Sue Oliver, Former Extraordinary Lives Coordinator