BBC WorldwideSHINE for Kids’ CEO Gloria Larman spoke recently to BBC Radio Worldwide in a segment ‘The Forgotten Children’ which reported that in the UK, over 200,000 children have a parent in prison.

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BBC: In the US the Justice Department told us maybe one and a half million American children have a mother or father in Federal or State prison. What about Australia? Going live to New South Wales now, Gloria Larman is the chief executive of SHINE for Kids, which is a charity which supports children whose parents are in prison. Hi Gloria!

GL: Hi Andrew.

BBC: Can you guestimate how many children in Australia we’re talking about?

GL: Well the numbers are a lot smaller, because our population is a lot smaller, but there’s also a guestimate out here as well. It’s roughly about 40,000 or about 125,000 if you look at within their lifetime.

BBC: […] For a start the children have to grow up very young?

GL: They do, they do, they start taking on the parenting role if they’ve got younger siblings as well.

BBC: And they’re exposed to hearing details about the world, details about the frailties of their parents, to put it in a nice way, that perhaps you wouldn’t want a young child to think about.

GL: That’s right, and I guess that’s part of that whole isolation that keeps it a secret – the parents find it really difficult to tell children that they’ve strayed, they’ve made a mistake.

BBC: The real heartbreaking fact is that children of prisoners are so much more likely to end up in prison themselves.

GL: That’s right, but on the flipside of that, it can be turned around with support. So if children are given an opportunity to have some support, and somebody to help them through it, they’re less likely to go to prison.

BBC: Tell me about the kind of support they need, because part of the point of the story we’re bringing you today is that no-one really knows who these children are, or where they are, in order to target the support at them.

GL: That’s right, they need targeted support from people that understand what that they’re going through, that are not going to judge them. They also need school teachers not to judge them so that if they happen to disclose that it’s happened, or it’s been on the news or they’ve gone to school that day and people start picking on them because of what their parents have done … school teachers need to be equipped in how to appropriately support those children, rather than being shocked and amazed, which pushes children away.

BBC: Do you think they blame themselves for the situation they find themselves in?

GL: A lot of children do. And it also depends on, you know, they may have had an argument that morning with their mum or dad before they went off to school, and they’ve come home from school and the parent’s not there. There’s a lot of [self] blaming that children do.

BBC: […] a lot of this is to do with privacy as well, ’cause we’re in a society today where we can’t share this information because somehow that is going to then be a stigma on these kids in any case, so the ability to provide this support that you said is so important ends up getting blocked by a different type of desire to keep families private about the situation they find themselves in.

GL: Absolutely, privacy has a lot to do with it. I think there’s some structural ways that governments can actually help to deconstruct some of that privacy. It should always be about what’s in the child’s best interest, what does the child need when they’re faces with a parent going to prison? What’s going to help them not go down the same path and to feel better about themselves?

BBC: […] How do you navigate the issue of privacy with trying to make sure they have the opportunity to have good role models as well, because at home there is an issue about them following their parents into criminality, largely as a role model issue. Does one protect the child from the legacy of crime in the family by not telling the teachers, or telling the teachers. Which one is the right path?

GL: I think if we educate teachers and schools that they have to take into account the issue, then children and families would be more engaged with the school to actually disclose that information. If you’ve got a supportive school network, it’s a great place to support the children.