James Valentine, ABC Radio presenter

Gloria Larman chats with James Valentine

SHINE for Kids profiled on ABC Radio segment

On 18th July 2016, a couple of weeks after he hosted A Night with a Few of Our Favourite Artists, ABC Radio presenter James Valentine invited SHINE for Kids CEO Gloria Larman to outline what the organisation does and how parental incarceration so adversely affects the children we support.

During the segment Gloria read a vivid and disturbing first-hand account by a 14-year-old boy who witnessed his father being arrested by police in the family home.

Listen to the segment 

James Valentine: We often at the start of the week like to catch up with people that are doing work to help the community, work to help out whoever needs helping in Sydney. And today I’m going to meet Gloria Larman, she’s the CEO of a group called SHINE for Kids, and I know it’s a really extraordinary organisation. And I think that’s because it hadn’t occurred to me. It hadn’t occurred to me that here’s a group that would need some help, would need some guidance along the way. SHINE for Kids looks after children whose parents are in prison. Gloria good afternoon, thanks for coming in.

Gloria Larman: Thanks James.

JV: I suppose it sounds just a little bit beyond my expectations: you just think about kids that have trouble with money for school or kids that need food, or materials or something like that. But kids whose parents are in prison … of course!

GL: I think people don’t think about it because everything’s focused on the crime and the perpetrator. The media and everybody just focuses on that and unless you’ve had some connection, you don’t stop and think.

JV: Yeah. Why are you involved in it, how did you get involved?

GL: Through studying, through lots of years, I’ve been involved for nearly three decades, a long time, and over that time unfortunately I have actually experienced the imprisonment of my nephew, whose son, um, well my nephew went to prison and I saw the trauma that was impacted on his son for the first time, and that was after 20 years of being involved. It can actually affect most people.

JV: Is it a hard area to get attention? I mean we focus on the crime, and in a sense, we’re going to punish the family as well, aren’t we?

GL: Yep, absolutely, and that’s exactly what happens: the children and the families are said to do and feel like they’re doing the time, just like the person in prison. And it is hard to get attention, because the families don’t like to identify themselves. We don’t like children to identify, and they’re ashamed, they’re scared, they don’t want to be stigmatised, so they don’t want to put their hand up and say, my dad or my mum’s in prison.

JV: And then I think maybe the rest of us are also like, well your mum or dad did the crime …

GL: … do the time.

JV: I can imagine that many wouldn’t put this as a priority, wouldn’t see why they necessarily need to help these kids.

GL: I think that’s right, because it was self-inflicted, I guess, by their parents. Yeah it’s not, I guess, seen by many as a high priority. But in saying that, you know, these kids are really vulnerable. They experience multiple disadvantage, so if we can focus on them we can actually stop the self-perpetuating cycle that a lot of kids find themselves in.

JV: Spell it out. What kind of things happen to a kid if Dad goes to jail, if Mum goes to jail, they’re there for a couple of years, say, what’s going to happen to that child?

GL: Well the kids get moved around a lot; they get disengaged from school; they don’t get invited to birthday parties; they don’t get invited to sleepovers – simply because their parents went to prison. Which is absolutely nothing about the children. It’s all about the parents but it’s the stigma that’s associated with that. And I guess the cycle that some families find themselves in, other families don’t like to invite those children to their houses.

So we withdraw.

Absolutely, yeah. And so the children have to withdraw. And a lot of children don’t even talk about the fact that Mum or Dad’s gone to prison. So they’re holding this huge secret, which can build up and up and up in them. They can’t actually talk about what it’s like, what it’s like to visit on the weekend. What do they bring for show and tell if they’re in primary school? They can’t come and say, I went to visit Dad on the weekend, he was in prison. It’s really hard.

JV: And their school marks drop off?

GL: Absolutely.

JV: Opportunities dwindle? You know …

GL: They start to regress, a lot of the children become two and three years behind in their education. The older kids as well, if they’re 15 or 16, when Mum and Dad’s gone to prison, they can lose hope. And then they do withdraw from school, they stop going to school. It’s very hard to get kids sometimes to go back to school. And especially if it is a high-profile case, you know, it’s hit the media, it’s all over the – everybody knows, they couldn’t hide it if they wanted to – so they’re ashamed. And that’s real for kids. So they will withdraw from school.

JV: I’m talking to Gloria Larman, she’s the CEO of SHINE for Kids, a group that helps look after children whose parents are in prison. Tell me something about …  you’ve brought some writing along?

GL: Yes, I’ve got a young boy who has wanted to write what happened to him when his dad was arrested. So I’ll just read it, it’s his story, so I’m reading it from his perspective. So what he was telling us in his story was:

I just got home from school. I was 14 at the time, sitting on my computer playing games, when three cars pulled up outside.

I walked to my front door and asked if I could help them with anything. Then in a matter of seconds my front door was opened and four police officers ran into the house looking for my dad. I was panicking. And then I heard a big boom! I was crying, I rushed to my big brother screaming, “What’s happening?” I ran back to the lounge room to see what was going on.

Police officers came into the house, I was screaming and crying. I was so scared of what was going on. I had no-one to talk to but my brother.

Finally my mum called – I lived with my dad in the country –  I was crying on the phone. She couldn’t even hear me. As I was screaming, “Mum, police officers are here!” she told me she was coming as fast as she can. I was sitting in the lounge room for six hours. My mum lives in the city.

Watching my dad sit in the chair while the police were questioning him and he couldn’t actually do anything. I felt like running away but there was nowhere to go. I was thinking about how I might never see my dad or my friends again. It was my best friend’s second last day as he was moving schools. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

Watching my brothers, both crying, we couldn’t do anything, I felt like I was trapped and couldn’t tell anyone where I was. The hardest thing was looking at my Dad as he was sitting in the chair as the police officers were tearing the place apart. As they took my dad away it was hard to watch, because I couldn’t do anything to make him stay, thinking that I would never see him again.

Mum finally turned up and I had to pack my bags and leave. Driving to the police station to give my dad clothes, and write him a letter to say how much I would miss him. Driving to Sydney, thinking the whole way about my dad and my family I might never get to see again.

Trying to sleep that night was so hard because I could not bring myself to believe it was real. Waking up the next morning, I wasn’t at home. Crying myself to sleep for the next seven weeks, depressed every day, having nightmares of it happening over and over again. Waking up in the middle of night crying. I realised that I had to start a new life, new school, new friends, and now things were going over in my mind.

I was one of the lucky children that this has happened to. I had my mother who could take care of me. Some kids have to live with other families and this would be even harder.

There’s a whole lot of emotions a young boy is going through.

JV: When you think about that sort of disruption when you leave school or whatever, but you’re doing it with your family – that sort of situation is incredibly difficult. What’s there officially? Even with what you were describing, like in my mind, if police knew there were kids there, there would be someone to deal with that. But that didn’t sound like that, it sounded like he was just standing around watching a police operation occur in his own house.

GL: It’s really difficult, I think, for the police because they are very focused on catching the perpetrator – whoever’s committed the crime. So that’s their main focus. In some cases they have to call in the authorities, especially if there are young children in the house. But although they take as much care as they can, I guess, from a child’s perspective it could be a whole lot different.

JV: After that, is there much official help, is there government-type help. Do they help with the school, does the school know, for example, of this child’s situation. Is there any sort of back-up or help?

GL: No, there is no formal system in place to put in supports for those families. So I guess what happens in reality is these kids are out there experiencing all sorts of things. SHINE for Kids is the only organisation that focuses purely on helping these sorts of children. But there is no systematic way of making referrals to the organisation either.

JV: So how do you find out?

GL: We find out either that the families happen to Google and they’re looking for support so they find us on our website, or the person in jail makes a referral, so they can make, the Mum or Dad in prison can make a referral.

JV: So it works through that system, like, you should get in touch with these people … but no-one gets to hand them a brochure.

GL: And there’s no real way, you know, and a lot of kids are going through this, you know, and it may be that it was a good thing that Mum or Dad went to prison. In most cases it’s not – but those kids still need support as well.

JV: ‘Cause you’re not excusing the crime.

GL: Absolutely.

JV: You’ve done it, if the crime’s there and you’re charged you should be going to prison.

GL: Yeah.

JV: But there’s an immediate consequence …

GL: … of that …

JV: … with the children in particular. But then what do you see as the main thing that you want to do? What’s the best help SHINE can provide?

GL: The best help we give is actually listening to them, and being a really non-judgmental ear for the families. And then also supporting the kids to work through a lot of the emotional turmoil that’s going on for them. Putting kids in touch with other kids – so bringing them together to support them, because peer support, doesn’t matter what’s going on for you, is one of the best remedies to make you feel that you’re not alone.

JV: So are you mainly looking to provide counselling services to kids or … ?

GL: Well, SHINE for Kids provide a range of services. Some of them are counselling; some of them are peer support programs; we have Child and Family Centres located close to the prisons …

JV: What, actual places?

GL: Yeah, where families can actually come and get support, kids can meet other kids, and they do that before or after [visits]. We provide a range of activities within visiting areas, so that the visiting experience is not so traumatic for kids. Because that’s a whole other side of what happens to kids as well.

JV: So you’ve been going for three decades, you said, now?

GL: Yes.

JV: Seeing good results? What are you seeing as success?

GL: Great, I mean, we’re getting really good results in terms of hearing how kids are actually staying at school, getting good results. They’re actually making their way through all the emotion that goes on for them. And also in terms of helping the prisoner, their mum and dad not go back to prison as well, so that we stop that cycle.

JV: Yeah that’s an interesting thing, I suppose that also provides hope to the person inside. Because if everything’s gone, if the kids’ve run off the rails as well and that’s all fallen apart, well then perhaps they don’t have that same sense of “when I get out of here I better not come back”.

GL: Yeah. And it’s giving them some good options about how to rebuild their relationship with their kids, and keep them focused on their kids, and they can be productive.

JV: Well, I think it’s a fantastic organisation, it’s just one of those things where these are people, these are kids who’ve fallen through the cracks, as they say. You’ve found those cracks and you’re dealing with it. Gloria great to meet you. Gloria Larman, CEO of SHINE for Kids, you can Google that up and get all the details and maybe you can help with their work as well. Thanks very much for coming in.

GL: Thanks James.

JV: SHINE for Kids is what you’re looking for.