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Kea Project Kaitiaki Keeping Kids Calm And Connected During Prison Visits

A new initiative to support children visiting a parent in prison is off to a flying start, with birds guiding young people through stringent prison security processes to help reduce their fear and anxiety.

“The Kea Project is designed to serve the needs of children who are impacted by the experiences of a parent’s incarceration. It makes visiting a parent in prison more friendly for children and encourages valuable bonds between whānau to be nurtured and strengthened,” says Rachel Leota, National Commissioner.

“An estimated 23,000 children in New Zealand are impacted by having a parent in prison, and this World Children’s Day, we want to acknowledge just how difficult this can be for them, through absolutely no fault of their own.”

The Kea Project is being rolled out to prison sites individually, with Hawke’s Bay and Whanganui prisons currently taking part, and Otago Corrections Facility in the final stages of launching.

Each prison site chooses a manu (bird) that has special significance to the area of the prison. Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison has chosen the Kāhu, Whanganui Prison the Ruru and Otago Corrections Facility the Hoiho.

The manu acts as a kaitiaki (guardian) and friendly face for children when they come to visit their loved one in prison. The goal is for the kaitiaki to become a fictional friend to children, a guardian or protector and someone they can count on to be there during challenging times.

One part of the Kea Project provides children with kits that have been developed to prepare them for what they can expect when visiting. They also provide essential emotional and whānau support mechanisms.

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The kits include a link to an animated video developed to help children understand what happens during a visit to prison, along with:

  • a storybook about the kaitiaki and the journey of visiting mum or dad
  • an activity book to learn about whānau and whakapapa
  • stickers to help familiarise children with the visual story they will follow
  • letters and pepeha cards for whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building)
  • and a soft toy version of the kaitiaki for comfort.

Other aspects of the project include redesigned visitor areas to create a friendlier and more inviting environment for children, along with providing games, books and activities to allow for more meaningful visits with family.

“The Kea Project focusses on the needs of these children and also begins to break down cycles of re-offending and generational youth offending,” says Ms Leota.

The original concept for the Kea Project was developed by Corrections’ High Impact Innovation Programme Lead Designer Kelsey Gee during her Honours year completing a Bachelor of Design at Massey University.

Kelsey was looking into the early childhood experience and environmental and experience design. She had an interest in public spaces and how these are designed for children to enhance their experiences during early years.

“I wanted to curate an experience for children that helped them feel empowered. Empowerment comes down to having a sense of self, a sense of trust and a sense of purpose.” says Kelsey.

“This translated into the needs of this project: Let children feel like they can be children, show them that this is a place they can trust to be able to heal themselves and their relationships, make sure they know they are loved by their whānau.”

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