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Storybook Dads Connects Prisoners With Their Children

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Storybook Dads Connects Prisoners With Their Children

Storybook Dads, a programme running at Otago Corrections Facility since 2007, has connected more than 140 prisoners with their children - at the same time enhancing their literacy skills.

Delivered in partnership with the Methodist Mission - Approach Community Learning, Storybook Dads runs for ten weeks and is offered three times a year. It results in a DVD of the father reading a book and this, along with a hard copy of the book, is delivered to the children in time for Easter, Father's Day or Christmas.

The big break-through came earlier this year when approval was granted for the prisoners to be videoed reading the stories, says Dorothy Crofts, Programme Manager, Otago Corrections Facility. This means that families can see the men rather than just hear their voices. Music and other sound effects are also added to the DVD.

"Until this year, all the children could see on the DVD was the page of the book as dad was reading it. There were no music, sound effects or special messages," Dorothy says. "Now, we're taking it to another level and encouraging the men to write and illustrate their own books. I'm also pushing for the programme to be run in te reo."

Dorothy describes Storybook Dads as a "very powerful tool" and would like to see it introduced in all New Zealand prisons, and for women as well as men. "The men say to me that it's a way for them to tell their children not to make the mistakes they have made." Two trained tutors work with the men for two hours a week. One has expertise in literacy and parenting, the other has computing and multimedia skills. Arts Access Aotearoa has a partnership with the Department of Corrections to develop a national prison arts strategy. Marianne Taylor, Executive Director, commends the partnership between Otago Corrections Facility and the Methodist Mission.

"Together, they have developed a programme that is achieving fantastic results," she says.

Charles Pearce, Practice Leader, The Methodist Mission - Approach Community Learning, says that most of the men taking part in Storybook Dads are the product of broken homes, violence, drug abuse and gang involvement.

"Some of the men have been in foster care for most of their lives and for some, their parents and siblings were also in prison," Charles says. "Storybook Dads helps them make contact with their children and families. The men know the risk of possible rejection better than most people but they all want to produce a perfect DVD for their children.

"The men know that what they are sending home is much more than a card and a DVD. It is a representation of love and the fact that parenting doesn't stop just because they aren't there."

Anecdotal evidence points to significant benefits when the children receive the DVD and play the stories, following along with the hard copy of the book. For some, it is the first time they have owned a book.

The impact of Storybook Dads as a significant literacy tool is measured at the beginning and end of each programme, using Tertiary Education Commission evaluation tools. Statistics show that all the men who have completed the programme have improved their literacy.

The Methodist Mission is hoping to collaborate with the Crimes and Research Department at Victoria University in Wellington to gather research on the impact of Storybook Dads.

The long-term goal is to use the research to inform the expansion of Storybook Dads to other prisons throughout the country.

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