A conference aimed at shedding light on the most marginalised children in the country has heard from its keynote speaker - a 12-year-old girl.

Madison Strempek from the United States today spoke in front of a crowd filled with delegates from 19 countries about what it was like having a parent in prison.

Madison, who became a published author at 10, spoke at the first International Coalition for the Children of Incarcerated Parents (INCCIP) conference, being held in Rotorua this week.

Speaking with the Rotorua Daily Post, Madison said dealing with her father going to prison was hard and she was unsure about everything.


"It's a problem nobody talks about, I didn't tell my friends - I didn't want anyone to know about it, I was embarrassed.

"I started writing my book as a kind of therapy - a way to get everything out of my system and then I realised by sharing my experience I could help others in the same position."

Madison said she wanted other children to know they were not alone and it was important to talk about how they were feeling when faced with their mum or dad going to prison.

"People need to be more open about it because this is real life, it's not like the movies, children need a safe environment to deal with what they are facing."

The conference, hosted by Pillars Ka Pou Whakahou Inc, provides an opportunity to learn about the range of issues children of prisoners face globally.

INCCIP members and guests have been presenting and sharing research and evidence-based best practice models to help support positive outcomes for children like Madison.

Pillars founder and chief executive Verna McFelin said having Madison speak at the conference was vital.

"Sharing her experience and hearing a child's voice on the matter was an added value to the conference which is centred around children."


Ms McFelin said she was "absolutely thrilled" with how the conference was tracking.

"Here we have gathered the world's experts on the issue and we can only hope they go away with heightened learning and some idea of moving forward to solve issues surrounding children with parents in prison.

"Children with incarcerated parents are the most marginalised in our communities. Not only are they dealing with poverty but they have the added stigma of having a parent in prison."

Ms McFelin said New Zealand had 148,000 children under 14 who were from benefit-led homes and had a parent in prison.

"There is the stigma they face, isolation and they carry the weight of a crime they did not commit. We want to shed light on these children and get the issues out there and we are thrilled this conference is doing that."