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Caring for prisoners’ families

When someone goes to prison, the whole family suffers. How can we best support prisoners’ spouses, parents and children?

2018 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Creative activities help the children of prisoners to relax and have fun. Photo: Prison Fellowship Singapore

Creative activities help the children of prisoners to relax and have fun. Photo: Prison Fellowship Singapore

A prisoner cleaning the floor of Luzira Prison, Uganda.

From: Prisons – Footsteps 104

Practical tips for getting involved in prison ministry and caring for ex-offenders

When someone goes to prison, the whole family suffers. Family care is an important part of the ministry of Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS). We support about 70 families of inmates through the programmes below.

  • Support groups
    When a loved one is imprisoned, the spouse tends to suffer greatly. Wives and mothers often isolate themselves because of a sense of shame. Support groups offer a safe place for them to express their feelings without feeling judged. They also provide a platform for social activities and group counselling sessions.
  • Home visits
    The Family Care team and volunteers regularly visit prisoners’ families to offer friendship, comfort and counselling. Visits are especially helpful if family members are ill or bed-bound.
  • Employment, vocational training and financial assistance
    PFS helps inmates’ families to find jobs by providing training in language skills, computing and crafts. We also provide short-term financial aid to families needing urgent help.
  • Referrals to family service centres, counselling providers and the faith community
    PFS partners with various organisations to provide professional counselling and social work services. While doing this we maintain friendships with the families, with a view to helping inmates rejoin their families after release.
  • Parents’ ministry
    The parents of prisoners often become the caregivers for their grandchildren. For the parents of inmates, PFS provides emotional, medical and other practical assistance. 
  • Support for children of prisoners
    Prisoners’ children often experience isolation, shame and poverty. They may suffer from a lack of attention from their caregivers, who are often struggling to cope themselves. Care Club is a weekly club for the children of prisoners. We organise activities such as tuition classes, reading, music, art and dance on Saturdays with the help of volunteers. Care Club also organises outings and camps to provide fun-filled activities for inmates’ children during school holidays. 

Discussion question

  • How could your church or organisation support the families of prisoners?

By staff at Prison Fellowship Singapore.

Email: [email protected]

Caring for a prisoner’s child 

The imprisonment of a loved one can be overwhelming for both children and caregivers. If you are caring for a prisoner’s child, below are some simple ways you can help her through tough moments. 

  • Build security. In the morning, let the child know some of the things that will happen throughout the day. For example, ‘Grandma will pick you up from school. Then you will go to the park, and later we will all have dinner together.’
  • Share your heart. Give the child a paper heart to keep in her pocket. You might say, ‘This is to remind you that I love you and will always be there for you.’
  • Express emotions. Take time each day to ask the child, ‘How are you feeling?’ Remember to let the child know that it is okay to have big feelings, no matter what they are.
  • Answer honestly. When explaining where an imprisoned parent is, you can say, ‘Daddy is in a place called prison (or jail) for a while. Grown-ups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law.’
  • Stay connected. If phone calls are possible, they are a great way for the child to stay in touch with her parent. Help her to think of something she would like to tell her parent, and give her a photo of her parent to hold during the call.
  • Prepare together. Before you visit your loved one in prison, let the child know some of the things she can expect to happen. For instance, ‘We will not be able to sit in the same room with Mummy, but we can see her through a window and read a story together.’

Adapted from the Sesame Street toolkit, Little children, big challenges: incarceration.

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