Making generational change

Children of prisoners deserve a future like we want all kiwi kids to have – not to be our future prisoners. 

Pillars is a charity dedicated to supporting children of prisoners so they are not our future prison inmates.  Through our programmes of empowerment to support action that make transformational change we are breaking the cycle for these children, their family/whanau and helping build a stronger community that benefits all New Zealanders.  

Find out how having a Pillars mentor helped turn 14 year old Darryn's life around - click here.

Pillars celebrates its 30 year anniversary in New Zealand.  Founded by Verna McFelin, MNZM, her 'big picture' vision today is still the same - that every child of a prisoner in New Zealand will have the opportunity to have a mentor in their lives to help them build a positive future.  Pillars is currently the only New Zealand charity dedicated to supporting children of prisoners with a mentoring programme together with a
wrap-around family/whanau support programme for their parent/caregiver. 

Pillars core objective each day is to build a community that will ensure that every child who has a parent in a New Zealand prison has access to the right support and services. These will be delivered at the right time to help them cope with parental imprisonment, therefore breaking the cycle of inter-generational offending and giving them hope and a positive future.

About Pillars

Pillars swing donationOur purpose is to break the cycle of intergenerational offending in New Zealand by giving children of prisoners access to support they need to live positive lives, at a time they need it.

Pillars was founded by Verna McFelin, MNZM and we celebrated 25 years’ service to the community in 2013. Verna drew on her own life experience of seeing the impact on her four children when their father went to prison. The world changed for her children that day. They became the invisible victims of a crime they did not commit.

In 2014, Verna spoke at the TEDx event in Christchurch about her vision that every one of the over 20,000 children of prisoners in New Zealand will not be judged, but instead get access to support they need to be the people they were destined to be. Not our future prisoners.

Today Pillars is a well-established charity for children of prisoners who are among the most vulnerable children in New Zealand. Each day we work with families and caregivers who have children in their care who have been impacted by their Dad or Mum going to prison. These families want a positive future for their children that is free from crime.

Pillars point of difference is our programme is research-based to ensure it meets the needs of the children and families of prisoners in New Zealand. The core programme is a home-based family wrap-around service to help strengthen the care for these children. This is coupled with a mentoring programme where a volunteer mentor is matched with a child or youth who becomes a stable and positive role model for them. Group support networks allow caregivers to come together and find solutions for challenges they are facing.



Pillars BookIn 2017 Pillars hosted an international conference in Rotorua.  One hundred and fifty people came from around the world to discuss a wide range of issues about the children of prisoners.  This book, edited by Pillar's researcher Dr Liz Gordon, has published a collection of the resulting articles, covering many of the themes raised in the conference.

The book can be purchased here:

Together we are breaking the cycle of intergenerational offending in these families.


Our Vision - Matakite

To eliminate intergenerational crime.

Our Values - Our Kaupapa

Integrity - Pono

We build an organisation that fosters high professional standards and demonstrates honesty, decency and trustworthiness.
Learning - Ako

We embrace the process of reciprocal learning. Through research, we produce new knowledge and deepen our understanding. We learn from our families and our families learn from us.
Fair and Just - Tika

We treat our families / whanau, partners and stakeholders of equal value to ourselves - no more, no less. We respect their beliefs and practices. We work to the Children of Prisoners' Bill of Rights.

Love and Support - Aroha Tautoko

Our every action is underpinned by aroha tautoko. Every thought and action comes from a place of love, compassion, support inclusiveness and empathy.

Leadership - Rangitiratanga

We value effective leadership at all levels of our organisation.  We have a special responsibility to act with integrity, accept accountability, insist on excellence, and support innovation. We motivate and inspire all those working with or making decisions about children of prisoners in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

Relationships, Kingship and Connection - Whanaungatanga

We recognise Maori as tangata whenua. We respect Tiriti o Waitangi and its principles within our work.



Pillars was the recipient of the Champion Canterbury Award for best Charity in 2014. The koru represents new beginnings, something many of the family/whanau we are working with are trying to achieve.

Invisible Victims of Crime

In 2012, Pillars hosted the first nationwide annual Children of Prisoner’s Week campaign and the theme was “Not my Crime, Still my Sentence.”  This sums up what it can be like for children of prisoners who are punished by society for a crime they did not commit.

Pillars large scale research study into the children and families of prisoners in New Zealand revealed that children of prisoners are usually far worse off as a result of parental imprisonment.

Typical challenges for children of prisoners include having to move house, change school, live with somebody else, struggle with friendships, experience effects of post-traumatic stress disorder following often sudden separation from their imprisoned parent, living in poverty, have challenges staying in school and a general lack of access to a range of health services they need to be well.

Social isolation and deprivation as a result of parental imprisonment can lead to pathways of criminal offending. Children of prisoners are over nine times more likely to go to prison as adults than other kiwi kids. Take a look at our online forum Invisible Children where we expose the vulnerability of children of prisoners in our community.

Pillars is the New Zealand expert in addressing the crisis occurs through incarceration of a parent. We provide advice and support via our helpline, training and best practice guides for people in our community who make decisions about their outcomes. We have information and resources for families in every prison in New Zealand.

Each year in September Pillars hosts the annual Children of Prisoner’s Week campaign to raise awareness of the support these children need to live positive, crime-free lives.

James and Grant Britomart
Grant Robertson MP for Wellington Central and Pillars volunteer mentor James Buchanan at the Breaking the Barriers Exhibition for Children of Prisoner’s Week, 2014. Grant shared his personal story of having a parent in prison as a youth.

Nga Kaupapa Maori

Committed to supporting whanau to make generational change

Pillars are committed to being a bi-cultural organisation with values underpinned by kaupapa Maori that respect and provide support for all cultures.  Pillars are committed to culturally competent practices and cultural training is given to all staff and volunteers who work with our whanau and tamariki.

We are working with engaged whanau to break the cycle of intergenerational offending.  In South Auckland our team are working with whanau of which over 80% identify as Maori.  Our team is supported by South Auckland-based cultural advisor Hori Naera and community development specialist Lois Rangi Naera to work effectively with whanau.

Mentors and children doing wall art cop week
Pillars cultural advisor Hori Naera supports the mentors and tamariki with their art project at Pillars whare in South Auckland.







Iwi support

Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu
Pillars - Ka Pou Whakahou has held a close working relationship with Te Runaka for well over two decades attending hui and supporting kaupapa to build connectedness for whanau affected by imprisonment in Otautahi.

Te Upoko, Rev. Maurice Gray and te whanau have been all embracing to Pillars Ka Pou Whakahou and have strongly supported the Pillars kaupapa.

A canoe upon which everyone may embark.

“He waka eke noa"

He mihi nui tenei ki a koutou ka ratoka tautoko e pa ana ki tenei kaupapa, ara, whakamana takata me whakamana whanau hoki.  He wero hoki tenei mo tatou katoa, ki te whakamahi tenei kaupapa mo te oraka o ka takata, whanau katoa.  Kia kaha ai tonu tatou ki te awhi ka takata mouhere, takata whaitika ranei me o ratou whanau."

Ka tautoko hoki taku Runaka ki tenei kaupapa o Ka Pou Whakahou, no reira, ka tika te korero, Nau mai, haere mai koutou katoa ki ruka ki tenei waka , ara, he waka eke noa.  Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

Rev. Maurice Manawaroa Gray
Te Upoko Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu

Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu support us in the following ways:

  • Established a vision, mission and strategic pathways
  • Provide cultural advice
  • Gifted our name Ka Pou Whakahou and mihimihi
  • Blessed our premises
  • Established a Maori Advisory Group and its terms of reference
  • Gifted Uncle Ray and Aunty Mary Kamo, our kaumatua who assist Pillars at every level of its activities and attend Board meetings
  • Recommend whanau workers
  • Provide ongoing cultural supervision


Kaumatua Kai Tahu

Our kaumatua, Uncle Ray and Aunty Mary Kamo, CNZM ensure that the dignity and views of tangata whenua are recognised in the Otautahi / Christchurch area of Ngai Tahu right across Pillars. They have a vital role in ensuring the partnerships developed between Maori and non-Maori can evolve effectively.

Kaumatua Tainui iwi

Our kaumatua Brownie and Pare Rauwhero are appointed by our patron Ta Pita Sharples to support the staff and kaupapa in South Auckland.

Mary and Ray
Pillars kaumatua Uncle Ray and Aunty Mary Kamo (Kai Tahu) visit the Children of Prisoner’s Week exhibition opened by their daughter, Pillars ambassador Miriama Kamo.

Pillars Patron

A message from our Patron Dr. the Honourable Sir Pita Sharples, KNZM, CBE

Kei nga mana, kei nga reo Tena koutou katoa.
Greetings to all from the family of Pillars.

Ko a tatou tamariki nga rangatira mo apopo.
Our children are the leaders of tomorrow.

There many proverbs, in many languages and cultures, that remind us to nurture and respect our children and youth of today -  for they will most certainly be our leaders of tomorrow. At Pillars we believe that such proverbs apply equally to all children and to all youth within our society.

For the children whose families receive help from Pillars, there is access to services and support that can make a big difference to the outcomes of these young people. But this covers only a fraction of the over 20,000 children who have a parent in prison at any given time.

We hope you will join with us in preventing the next generation from ending up in prison.

Kati mo tenei wa, noho ora mai
Stay well and take care.

Pita Sharples
Patron, February, 2016

Photo Credit - Michael Bradley.