Pillars is the lead agency working with children and their whanau who have been affected by the imprisonment/incarceration of a parent. Pillars provides programmes of support to children, their caregivers, and their whanau with a strengths based and collaborative approach to ensure that the voice of the child and their whanau are heard. Relationships are vital within our programmes and with those that receive our services, and also with other services in the community.  We work collaboratively with our community in consultation with our children and their whanau throughout all processes to ensure that they are able to lead with guidance towards reaching their goals.

For more information about our locations and contact details click here.

If you are needing support, or are a community agency referring a client for support, in the first instance contact our toll free Helpline on 0508 PILLARS or 0508 745527.

For more information about the Pillars Children's Mentoring Programme visit the Mentoring page.



Programme Overview

The Helpline

A  vital point of call for both clients and industry professionals to gain resources, support, and information. We receive many enquiries around children visiting the prison, Department of Corrections’ policies, mentoring for children, counselling, and transport to visits. Many referrals are received for our Family Wraparound, our Pals support group in Christchurch and Roopu Awhi in Auckland.

Family Wraparound
The Family / Whanau Support and Children’s Mentoring Programme work together to provide Family Wraparound.
Family / Whanau Support
Qualified social workers provide confidential and non-judgemental support so families can cope with the many complex challenges they face when someone in the family goes to prison. The team provides positive intervention and assistance on navigating the justice system, accommodation, parenting, budgeting etc or working with government organisations such as Housing NZ or Child, Youth and Family.
Children's Mentoring Programme
The mentoring service is crucial to providing positive futures for the children of prisoners. Children and their mentors engage in pro-social, fun, developmental activities aimed at making strong and supportive relationships.

Pillars in conjunction with the CDHB continues to address the high health needs of our Pillars clients in Christchurch by offering free health assessments in our Infant2teen health clinic. Every family is encouraged to receive a free health assessment, including those who are not eligible for our other programmes.
Pillars Family Pathway Centres - Christchurch and Invercargill
The Pillars Family Pathway Centres, with the support of the Department of Corrections continues to thrive. Families regularly visit the centre, finding the child friendly environment conducive to strengthening the bonds between the incarcerated prisoner and their whānau.
Support Groups
Pals support group in Christchurch and Roopu Awhi in Auckland offers support for those who may not fit the criteria of our other programmes or prefer group support. The members share common experiences including: Visiting a prison, visiting abroad, Department of Corrections policies, how to communicate with your loved one, and local community groups and networks. The group has provided a non-judgemental environment where real support and understanding is provided from people who have ‘the lived’ experience.
Family Start
Using our innovation in Dunedin and South Otago, we are addressing a gap in the Government's Family Start programme who have found our client group difficult to engage.  We are trialing a new way to work with Dads and Mums through the establishing of a whanau centre at the Otago Corrections Facility.
WAF Programme
A second innovation is working alongside Emerge Aotearoa in Auckland and Hamilton providing mental health services for whanau who have a family member in prison whilst their clinicians work directly with the family member in prison and on community probation.
Invisible Sentence Training
The Pillars “Invisible Sentence” training package is available to various stakeholders involved with children of prisoners.
Family Resources
Parents and professionals working with families are able to access the 15 Pillars Family Resources Fact Sheets from our website, from a New Zealand prison or directly from Pillars. Often these resources are the first point of contact for professionals and families. A child’s website www.justus.org.nz provides education, support and activities for the children.  For copies of these resources or for helpful links and contact information Connect with us.

Research & Evaluation

Dr Liz Gordon from Pukeko Research is the principle researcher and evaluator for Pillars and conducted the three-year research project ‘A Study of the Children of Prisoners'. This project was funded by the Lotteries Community Research Fund, with a grant to Pillars.  Pillars programmes are underpinned by this research and evidence base.

Our policy is that programme evaluation is conducted by an external evaluator.  Considerable attention is paid to the continued development of quality control mechanisms in order to provide evidence of service efficacy.

For copies of Pillars research and evaluation reports go to the Connect page.

In 2016 it was confirmed by the New Zealand Treasury that the children of prisoners were among the most disadvantaged groups of youth in society. In particular, parental involvement with the justice system was a key indicator of poorer outcomes.

While the Treasury analysis provides new data, and a new opportunity to examine the potential impact of Pillars’ programmes, the findings confirm and strengthen our own research analyses of 2009-2011 in terms of the effects of parental imprisonment.

Pillars has been challenged that we had over-estimated the effects, in stating that the children of prisoners are 9.5 times more likely to be incarcerated themselves. But Treasury’s data based analysis estimates the effect as 10 times more likely, which supports our findings. 

Our urgency to extend our programmes, especially into Auckland, comes from the evidence base and the reality that we deal with only a small proportion of the need. We need to be offering high level services to thousands, not hundreds, of young people and their whanau. 

For Pillars to meet its expansion targets there must be increased investment from the wider community into these research-based programmes. Find out how individuals, businesses and social investors support the work that Pillars does and the impact we are making together.



Community Networks & Training

Judy Powell

Constable Judy Powell and Lana McCarthy, Ministry of Social Development attend the Invisible Sentence training in Dunedin - read their news story: ODT June 2016

Invisible Sentence training

The Pillars “Invisible Sentence” training package is research and evidence based. This is delivered to various stakeholders in the community involved with children of prisoners who make decisions that impact them.  In 2016 the training was delivered in Dunedin, Auckland and Gisborne to participants working with the Social Sector Trials, and to the Christchurch community sector.

When South Dunedin Social Sector Trial coordinator Lana McCarthy attended the training she revealed when she was a child her father was jailed in Dunedin Prison and she had nowhere to go for advice. So she was passionate that other children like her know about the support that is available. 

"There was a lot of social stigma around it. I remember feeling like you couldn't talk to anyone or tell anyone and when you are young you don't know how to cope. Being able to talk to an adult who was really experienced would have helped.''

To find out more about Invisible Sentence training available in your region please contact us.

Community Networks & Partnerships

The Vulnerable Children’s Act is requiring Government and NGOs to put more focus on the needs of children. We have also worked to update policies relating to programmes including ensuring children get a stronger voice in decision making.  Pillars champions the Children of Prisoners Bill of Rights within our community networks.  You can view this here:  Bill of Rights

Pillars collaborates with community partners to achieve efficient use of social services and form partnerships and memoranda of understanding that benefit the families we support. Our key partners are currently:

Canterbury Children’s Teams - Pillars was selected to be a Lead Professional for the new Children’s Teams in Christchurch. Children’s Teams bring together professionals from health, education, welfare and social service agencies to work with vulnerable children and their families.
Plunket - collaborating to bring parenting support into the Pillars Family Pathway Centre at Christchurch Men’s Prison.

Fairway Resolution Ltd - dispute resolutions for families to positively impact relationship between a child and their parent in prison.
Emerge Aotearoa New Zealand - collaborating to support mental health issues of prisoners/offenders and their families.
Serco - South Auckland Men’s Corrections Facility (Kohuora) - support for children and families / whanau during visits and refer them to services in the community that can support them.

Canterbury District Health Board - free health assessments in our Infant2teen health clinic on site at Pillars in Christchurch.

NZ Fire Service - supporting Pillars families with fire prevention and fire safety in the home.

Kiwi Harvest – delivers fresh produce on a weekly basis for distribution to Pillars families in high need in South Auckland.

Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu -  supporting kaupapa to build connectedness for whanau affected by imprisonment in Otautahi.


Family/Whanau Programmes

It is not easy for families when a parent or family member is sent to prison. The separation, finding your way through the justice system, coping with the children and dealing with the huge changes in circumstances often leaves families feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Families often say that they are serving a prison sentence themselves – on the outside.

Do you need support?

Pillars provides a family support service which is free and voluntary.  If you live in Christchurch or South Auckland and can answer “yes” to the following questions then feel free to call us for a chat - 0508 PILLARS (0508 745527).

This service is for you if:

  • You are parenting a child or children who have a parent in prison? (Note: There is no requirement for you to be in a relationship with the imprisoned parent)
  • The parent has at least one year left to serve their sentence?
  • You are residing in Christchurch or South Auckland?
  • You are willing to work alongside a Pillars worker to assist with the wellbeing of you and your children?

Our team can provide advice with challenges such as

  • Court / Prison Systems
  • Government organisations eg. Work & Income, Child Youth & Family, Housing NZ
  • Grief / loss separation
  • Parenting
  • Self-esteem/assertiveness
  • Budgeting

We can arrange for a family/whanau worker to meet with you to discuss your needs and any difficulties you may be experiencing due to the imprisonment. All our friendly, professional workers specialise in issues of children of prisoners and their families so you can work alongside them with confidence. This includes providing a confidential, non-judgmental service to you and ensuring that your privacy is respected.

If you live in other regions of New Zealand unfortunately you are not eligible for the service but you can use our information and advice service on www.justus.org.nz.

At the first contact our family/whanau worker will introduce themselves and the Pillars services. You are free to voice any concerns or ask any questions before agreeing to be involved. You may decide that you would like to think further about receiving support; therefore our worker will suggest that you phone in, or they will phone you within the week. If you decide to go ahead with our support, the family/whanau worker will make another time to meet with you the following week.

Various levels of support are offered depending on your family's needs. If your children are aged 5-16 years, you may refer them to the mentoring programme at the second visit. You will be asked to sign a consent to be on the programme if you have not already done so.

Pillars believes in planning to achieve. Our families have had huge success in our service by setting goals.

If you would like to make a referral phone our Helpline on 0508 PILLARS (0508 745527) and they will help you with making your referral. (For privacy reasons we do not collect referral information via this website).

You can find helpful information, links and resources on the Connect page.

Support Groups

Pillars facilitates regular groups for caregivers of children who have a parent in prison or just if you have a family member or loved one in prison. Our family members meet together in a supportive environment. This is an opportunity to talk with other people on a similar journey who are seeking empowerment to cope and move forward with renewed confidence.

In Christchurch: PALS Support Group - Currently unavailable

Where: 136 Springfield Road, Christchurch
When:  Fortnightly meetings, contact us for times
Phone:  03 377 3990.or toll free 0508 PILLARS (0508 745527)

In South Auckland: Roopu Awhi
Where: 6A Jack Conway Place, Manukau
When:  Weekly meetings, contact us for times (day and evening options)
Phone: 09 262 2639 .or toll free 0508 PILLARS (0508 745527)

"I would have been lost without this group."
"The friendship has been really good to me at this time."
It has been great for me not to think about my partner in prison for a while."
"I'm sick of feeling bad and crying, I need a laugh for a while."
"Nobody understands like others that are going through the same things as me."


Pillars provides support at critical times like school holidays and Christmas which can be sad and stressful for families coping with parental imprisonment. This child's Mum was grateful for the gifts for her children and a hamper of treats all made possible by the generosity of Pillars charity partners. Without our support, many children would struggle to celebrate the festive season.