Advocates despair at lack of support for kids with imprisoned parents in wake of Malachi Subecz's death

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

With inadequate support, the 17,000 Kiwi kids with parents in prison are at an increased risk of offending themselves, suffering abuse in care or simply slipping through the cracks, advocates say. 

"We're failing children who have parents in prison," Auckland University Professor Tracey McIntosh told Newshub Nation.

Children like Sharn Te Whiu, whose father was imprisoned when he was 8 years old for a serious violent crime. 

Those with a parent in prison are nearly 10 times more likely to be jailed themselves and it wasn't long before Sharn was also incarcerated for inflicting violence. 

Upon release, Sharn struggled to turn things around and eventually attempted to take his own life. He is now in rehabilitation recovering from a broken back.

When asked if things would have gone differently had his father been around, Sharn responded "definitely".

Orla Angi's father was also incarcerated. She said the process of denial and acceptance is something she still struggles with today.

"I think it's taken a while, and it's still going. People can ask me about my dad and I still find it hard to talk about it, but I think I'm slowly getting there."

Both Sharn and Orla now receive support from children's charity Pillars.

"Pillars has played a major role in the opportunities I was able to be a part of and providing me and my siblings with mentors. That's helped a lot," said Orla. 

But Pillars only operates in Auckland and Christchurch and options in the rest of the country are limited. Pillars Senior Mentoring Coordinator Corrina Thompson said "we wish that we could be in every base throughout New Zealand but we just don't have that resource at the moment." 

Aphiphany Forward-Taua advocates for justice reform with JustSpeak. She's also a child of prisoners herself. 

"If it wasn't for organizations like Pillars and rūnanga and iwi [organisations] there would be almost no support," she said.

Children's Minister Kelvin Davis has admitted on Newshub Nation, "We've got to make sure that we plug these gaps".

A solution put forward by Children's Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers is when a parent is likely to go to prison there should be "an automatic referral to Oranga Tamariki".

Forward-Taua instead believes "the Government needs to recognise that Oranga Tamariki and other organizations are not the answer - rather they need to listen to the communities and whānau so that solutions and things can be changed so our tamariki don't feel like this".

At times, the lack of support is fatal. 

Malachi Subecz was killed by his carer after his mother was sent to prison. No one went to check on his welfare - despite repeated warnings from family.

Malachi. Photo credit: File

He was murdered within 5 months. 

McIntosh believes "it's absolutely critical that we have resourcing at a hapū and iwi level particularly, I think, at the hapū level, where communities know the whānau".

Whether it's iwi - or Government agencies - all agree something needs to be done.

Watch the full video for more.

Where to find help and support: