Salvation Army initiatives allow prisoners to play with their kids, join support groups

SINGAPORE – He did not see his young daughter for three years after he was arrested in 2014 and later jailed over vice offences, as his estranged wife did not want to take the girl to visit him in prison.

It was through The Salvation Army’s Kids In Play initiative that the ex-offender, who wanted to be known only as Notle, 46, was able to see his daughter twice a year from 2017 to 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic halted visits.

Kids In Play gives offenders a rare chance to bond with their children through video calls and in-person visits, where social workers organise activities and games. It supports children aged five to 18 with parents behind bars, as well as the inmates’ family members.

Notle had learnt from other inmates about the little-known initiative, which was launched in 2000, and got in touch with The Salvation Army through a prison officer.

Eventually, Notle’s mother took his daughter to see him, with the agreement of his wife, who had cut off all ties with him after he was arrested.

The girl was just six when Notle was remanded in 2014. He was sentenced to nine years’ jail in 2016, and it was only a year later that he saw his daughter again.

“I couldn’t wait to hug her, and I was anxiously waiting for her to show up,” recalled Notle, now a licensed tour guide and private-hire car driver. “But when she arrived, I almost couldn’t recognise her as she had grown up so much.”

He added: “At first, she was a bit shy and we just sat next to each other. After playing some icebreaker games, she started to warm up to me and even hugged me.”

Ms Audrie Siew, executive director of The Salvation Army’s children and youth group, said social workers and counsellors work with families to “help strengthen familial bonds and reunify families through reintegrating incarcerated parents into their families”.

There are similar initiatives run by other organisations, such as the Singapore Children’s Society and New Life Stories.

Under the Salvation Army initiative, there are also support groups for the inmates’ children and their caregivers, and counselling to help the kids make sense of their parents’ imprisonment, Ms Siew added.

Kids In Play also works with Prison Support Services, a unit under The Salvation Army, to support ex-offenders and their families for between six months and a year after their release – or longer, if needed.

Under Kids In Play, Notle and his daughter, now 15, received counselling and other help for about 1½ years after his release. When he was released on remission after serving two-thirds of his sentence in 2021, he realised his daughter bore some resentment towards him.

“The sessions helped me understand what my daughter was going through and what she was thinking,” Notle said, adding that their relationship has since improved and they are now able to go on outings.

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