Why Mothers Project? An estimated 20,000 New Zealand children are affected by parental imprisonment. Although the number of imprisoned men is much higher, at any given time there are roughly 750 women in New Zealand prisons. As reported by the Families Commission in June 2015, based on a small sample, it is estimated that 87% of female prisoners are mothers.
Once inside, it can be difficult for mothers to maintain meaningful relationships with their children and for those children to have their mother’s emotional support. According to government statistics, such children are approximately five times more likely to end up in prison than the children of never-imprisoned parents.
How does Mothers Project help? Good relationships between mothers and their children can benefit child wellbeing and reduce parent reoffending. Lawyer volunteers trained and coordinated by Mothers Project visit every women’s prison in New Zealand every month to help imprisoned mothers understand their responsibilities and rights regarding their children.
Volunteers assist mothers to understand where their children are, who is caring for them and what the mothers need to do in order to preserve their legal rights. Volunteers make calls to Oranga Tamariki (the Ministry for Vulnerable Children), family members, caregivers, schools and Legal Aid lawyers, to open communication lines and share information, and arrange prison calls and visits with children as appropriate.
Often volunteers can facilitate an information flow that enables mothers simply to know that their children are ok – and for children to know that their mothers love them and are asking after them.
As at November 2017, over 265 imprisoned mothers – parents to over 800 children – had been helped one-on-one by a volunteer Mothers Project lawyer. These numbers continue to grow. Many more mothers have joined general information sessions with Mothers Project lawyers in the prisons. Around 130 female lawyers have signed up to volunteer on Mothers Project, from over 20 different law firms and other organisations.
Feedback from both mothers and volunteers working on Mothers Project has been positive. Mothers describe being appreciative that someone in a volunteer capacity is willing to help them. Volunteers get a new perspective on the challenging lives of some women and children in our country.
If you are a lawyer keen to volunteer, or for more information on Mothers Project, contact Stacey Shortall.