Whanganui children are among an estimated 23,000 young people in New Zealand who are affected by having a parent in prison, and Christmas can be an especially tough time of year.
The Angel Tree, a subsidiary of the now-defunct Prison Fellowship New Zealand (PFNZ), previously worked with prison chaplains and Whanganui churches to arrange for Christmas gifts to be purchased, wrapped, and delivered to children with messages from a parent in prison.
The organisation started that project after noticing how children of parents in prison can experience judgment, shame, and bullying.
Their remaining caregiver can also be going through financial hardship, it said.
Corrections prison chaplaincy leader for the region Pona Solomona said some Whanganui charities had stepped into the void left by the Angel Tree initiative with continued support from churches.
"We still arrange it where we can," he said.
"It is very important to foster and continue those family connections as much as we can."
Corrections recently initiated another way to support children with a parent in prison - the Kea Project.
Launched to coincide with World Children's Day on November 20, the project aims to help ease anxiety for children visiting a parent in prison.
"The Kea Project is designed to serve the needs of children who are impacted by the experiences of a parent's incarceration," said Corrections national commissioner Rachel Leota.
"It makes visiting a parent in prison more friendly for children and encourages valuable bonds between whānau to be nurtured and strengthened. 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 Whanganui and Hawke's Bay prisons now 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. Whanganui Prison has the ruru (morepork), while Hawke's Bay has chosen the kāhu (swamp harrier), and Otago Corrections Facility the hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin).
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.
The kits include 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 focuses on the needs of these children and also begins to break down cycles of reoffending and generational youth offending," Leota said.
The original concept for the Kea Project was developed by Corrections' High Impact Innovation Programme lead designer Kelsey Gee during her Honours year of a Bachelor of Design at Massey University.
"I wanted to curate an experience for children that helped them feel empowered," said Gee.
"Empowerment comes down to having a sense of self, a sense of trust, and a sense of purpose."
The kits include a link to an animated video developed to help children understand what happens during a visit to prison.