New Zealand charity Pillars Ka Pou Whakahou (Inc) is hosting the first conference of INCCIP, the international Coalition for the Children of Incarcerated Parents, in Rotorua from 20-23 March 2017.

Delegates are attending from 19 countries and 5 continents.  They are from universities, research networks, organisations that work with the families and children of prisoners and advocacy groups.


There are fifteen keynote speakers. After the Powhiri on Monday, four New Zealand speakers will provide a New Zealand context for the conference: Sir Pita Sharples (Patron of Pillars); Judge Andrew Becroft (Children’s Commissioner and youth justice advocate); Judge Carolyn Henwood (Parole Board member and chair of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service panel that heard from more than 1100 people who were abused in state care) and Verna McFelin, Founder and Chief Executive of Pillars.

Tuesday morning begins the conference proper with two exceptional speakers. Ann Adalist-Estrin, Director of the US National Resource Center on the Children and Families of the Incarcerated, will begin the day discussing ‘Twelve guiding principles for responding to the needs of children of the incarcerated’, using examples of good practice from across the United States. Ann will then introduce 11-year-old Madison Strempek, published author and guest of President Obama to the White House. Madison speaks of what it is like to have a loved parent go to prison, and the effects on the child.

There are three exciting keynotes from the Asia-Pacific region in the afternoon session. Associate Professor Tracey McIntosh (University of Auckland) talks about the high rates of Maori imprisonment and its effects on the children: “the prison colonises the future for far too many children”. Dr Catherine Flynn outlines key trends in research and then examines how to meet the challenge of translating findings into practice that makes a difference to the lives of the children. Eric Chui of Hong Kong examines stress resulting from parental incarceration and its effects on the children.

On Wednesday morning the keynotes straddle the Atlantic.  Ron and Cathy Tijerina of the Ridge Project outline their own experiences:

Early in their marriage they experienced tragedy when Ron spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. As Ron worked to overcome the challenges of being a father and husband while incarcerated, Catherine toiled to move beyond welfare assistance, creating self-sufficiency, and keeping their family intact. As they re-established their own family, they began to dream about how they could help others.

This is followed by a presentation from Professor Adele Jones of the UK, who will talk about ‘Child Blind Justice’: how the justice systems in most countries fail to acknowledge the needs of children, let alone take them into account.  She argues that:

Worldwide, unprecedented numbers of people are being imprisoned and in many countries incarceration is on the increase. For children, this means that more of them than ever live in families separated because of parental imprisonment; more children than ever have witnessed parental arrest, often in highly distressing circumstances; more children face body searches and rights violations simply executing their right for family contact, or else are denied visiting rights altogether and more children than ever have to face the stigma and social and emotional disadvantage of having their mum or dad behind bars.

In the afternoon, there are two keynotes.  Corin Morgan-Armstrong of Parc prison in Wales, with a nod to New Zealand’s Hobbit influence, talks about ‘There and back again – what prisons can do’, outlining a ‘genuine momentum’ towards high quality family interventions in the UK.  Dr Liz Gordon of Pillars notes that, in working in and out of the prison system, one comes across many views about the relationship children should have with their incarcerated parents.  But, more often than not, these views are not informed by either the research or by the genuine views or needs of the children.

Thursday morning sees the final two keynotes again from either side of the Atlantic.  Professor Nancy Loucks of the Scottish organisation ‘Families Outside’ discussing the ‘double burden’ faced by children and families of the accused or convicted of sexual offences.  She describes the ‘picking up the pieces’ resource developed by her agency for these families.

Last but not least on the keynote programme is Dr Avon Hart Johnson, She will talk about the far-reaching ‘adversities and collateral consequences of incarceration that affects families and communities’. Her network, Advocacy in Action, uses a tool called the Mass Incarceration Continuum to help communities understand and argue for changes.


There are around 45 non-keynote presentations over the three days.  I am not going to mention them all here, but I will list some of the topics,

There are papers on pre-trial detention and its effects on families and communities (Open Societies Foundation), Advocacy and the rights of children (Czech Republic), the impact of experiencing parental arrest (USA), Grandparents who look after children whose parents are in prison (2 papers – UK and NZ) and advocacy services in several countries.

Country or state papers include Korea (Seum), Ireland, India, various other US states, England, Canada and Australia. Adam Hutchinson of Prison Fellowship International will present a paper reporting on the children of prisoners in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Koen Sevenants will examine ‘lessons learned’ rom the work on international NGO Morning Tears in low income countries across Europe, South East Asia, Africa, Asia and South America. A paper from Hawaii deals with the effects of incarceration policies and practices on indigenous communities.

Fiona Donson and Aisling Parkes of the University of Cork will discuss children’s rights in the Irish constitution from a legal perspective. Aisling will also travel to Christchurch to present papers at the University of Canterbury in the previous week, funded by the NZ Law Foundation.

Other papers are on the court system, babies “speaking out” about their parents in prison, maintaining relationships with incarcerated parents, and papers from both Serco and NZ Corrections about programmes in their prisons.

Some New Zealand papers include: the impact of prison upon whānau; compassionate restoration and mental health, and “exclusion, over-regulation and complexities: The effects of parental incarceration on children and families”.

Papers on mothers and children include: mothers involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals, family ties between mothers and their children (disparities between policy and practice), contact between incarcerated mothers and their children and Māori women as mothers in prison.  Senator Kim Pate (Canada) and Debbie Kilroy (Australia) will run a workshop on “International Issues in Working and Advocating with and for Criminalized and Imprisoned Women and their Children”.

There are symposia (not mentioned above) from Monash University in Melbourne and Griffith University in Queensland, a symposium from two California (San Francisco area) partnerships around collecting information on prisoner parents and their children and child oriented parenting labs.

Finally, a number of national and international groups are giving workshops that include showcasing their work and, in some cases, offering training for participants.  Topics include:

The Messages Project
Challenging the silence around male survivors of sexual abuse (MSSA NZ)
Proven Strategies for Accessing & Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents, their Families & Caregivers (Elizabeth Fry Society of Vancouver)
Breaking the Cycle of Self-Destruction (The Ridge Project)
Building Academic Partnerships to Expand Knowledge and Inspire Change (Connecticut CHIP Initiative)
Building Academic Partnerships to Expand Knowledge and Inspire Change (PSS and Liverpool Hope University)
Supporting the supporters: awareness and sensitivity training for staff and peers in schools about the experience of having a parent in prison (University of Plymouth)
International Issues in Working and Advocating with and for Criminalized and Imprisoned Women and their Children (Canadian Assn Elizabeth Fry and Sisters Inside Australia)
Child-friendly Prisons – proposing the elements, learning the realisation (Justice Health Services, ACT, Australia)
Collection of Information and the Right to Privacy: Which way forward? (Families Outside, Scotland)
Sharing the Journey: Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents (COIPP)
Campaigning for non-campaigners: a practical workshop (Justspeak NZ)

Further information on the INCCIP conference website.

Liz Gordon
President, Pillars
Conference organiser, INCCIP conference
Ph +64 27 4545 008