Women's group out to break family cycle of crime

By Simon Collins

Twenty years after escaping from a violent relationship, Aucklander Ana White is opening a home for women leaving jail and wanting to make the same kind of new start in their lives.

The Balmoral house, owned by Housing New Zealand, will give women a supportive place to stay with their children while they sort out somewhere new to live.

As Auckland manager of the Christchurch-based prisoners' families support group Pillars, Ms White is also seeking volunteers to mentor the children while their mother or father is in jail. "We are trying to stop inter-generational offending by teaching the kids a different way of life," she said yesterday.

"From my own point of view, it's breaking the cycle. My biggest fear when I was young was my son following in his family's violence - it wasn't just my partner, it was the whole family.

"That was my biggest motivation - I didn't want him growing up and hitting his partner."

Her son is now 25 and lives with his partner in his mother's house.

"He's doing fine," Ms White said.

The Auckland service will be opened next week with funding from Child, Youth and Family Services, gambling charities and other philanthropic trusts.

In Christchurch, volunteers already mentor 45 prisoners' families, and founder Verna McFelin said she hoped to raise funds to extend the service nationally. The country's 8000 prisoners, including about 500 women, are believed to have about 12,500 children in the community.

Mrs McFelin herself had a family member in jail in the early 1980s and found that most prisoners were the children of parents who had also been prisoners. "I started to ask why that is," she said.

Ironically, she found that helping the prisoners' children not only helped the children on to a better path but was also the best way to reach the prisoners themselves.

Ms White said mentors would be trained and supported to spend time at least fortnightly with one child of the same gender for at least a year.

She said it could be hard work with older children, but was still worth doing.

"For a 14-year-old teenage boy going on the wrong path, getting him a mentor who spends a whole year or more with him can actually work," she said.

* Pillars, 09 631 0575, www.pillars. org.nz

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