The Adroit Insurance Group Fund with the Community Foundation has granted $3,000 to the Read Along Dads project. This innovative project by the Friends of Castlemaine Library supports the children of prisoners in nearby Middleton Prison. The project records dads in prison reading bedtime stories, which are then sent to their children, along with the matching book.

“I’ve always loved reading to my kids and have seen the benefit they get” says Adroit Insurance Group Director Noel Whitfield “and that’s why I’m delighted that our Fund supports the Read Along Dads program.

Pic of Noel with kids book

Noel Whitfield Director of Adroit Insurance Group

Following the grant from the Adroit Insurance Group Fund, the Community Foundation was invited to make an observational visit to at Middleton Prison to see the Read Along Dads project in action.

As you might expect, it is pretty tricky to get in to prison. We passed through numerous ID checks and body scans and had to surrender our jewellery, phones and watches.

Once we made it through reception, we were suddenly in prison and found the design similar to some of the new schools built around our region. The colour scheme is exactly the same as my son’s secondary school so the place felt strangely familiar.

visit to Middleton

Friends of Castlemaine Library and Community Foundation Directors visit Middleton Prison

Walking across to inspect living accommodation, we passed a group of large, fit, tattooed men working out on the outside gym equipment whilst a ghetto blaster played rap music – I recalled every clichéd American prison movie I’d ever seen. It suddenly brought it home that I was most certainly not at a secondary school.

Bill* one of the block coordinators showed us around the living accommodation for six prisoners. It consisted of six separate bedrooms each with TV, and a shared living, dining and kitchen space. The space was surprisingly pleasant; not spacious, but not cramped. Bill explained that they had a weekly budget of $40 per prisoner, which they use collectively to budget for their weekly shop. Groceries get delivered to the block on Monday and they have to cook all of their own food. This system means that those with cooking skills are particularly in demand. Bill also showed us the weekly block roster of cleaning, cooking, washing up and other household chores etc. He told me that he takes responsibility for new arrivals, particularly those with intellectual impairments. I naively commented that it looked like he was busy. “No, not really” he replied

read along dads

After we had looked around, we moved on to see the Read Along Dads program in action.   Lisa D’Offronio, who delivers the program at the prison, was doing craft with eight dads around the table. They were personalising the blank CD covers for their child’s story recording with stencils, pictures and stickers. We were introduced and our group was invited to sit and observe the craft from seats around the edge of the room.   After a couple of minutes hoovering on the periphery, we plucked up the courage to introduce ourselves individually to the blokes.

First I met Bob*, he has eight children and two grandchildren and tells me he has made 18 recordings so far. He loves the program and explains that it creates a library for his kids so they can listen to him reading them over and over again. He likes to be a reading role model and encourages other dads to join the program.

The second man I met was David* his daughter is six and he was making a cover for his recording of The Very Hungry Bear.

the-very-hungry-bear

David had only been in Middleton for four weeks and this was his second book to his daughter.   He was so happy to be able to give her something she would enjoy and to be able to maintain positive contact with her. We then got the chance to listen to him making his recording for his daughter. It must have been unnerving to make a recording in front of an audience – I felt nervous and I was only listening. Allen rose to the challenge masterfully and his message at the start of the recording was touching, he said, “”Hi sweetie, it’s daddy here reading you another story, I love it and I hope you do too”.

Allen and I then compared notes about our daughter’s favourite books and the other books in the “bear” series. I personally don’t think you can get better than The Very Cranky Bear and David is a big fan of Peppa Pig.

Our guide John* confided that this was the program that got the best retention and involvement from the prisoners.

The visit was moving as these absent fathers worked to create something positive for their children. The program sets up a positive contact and supports children with books and recordings helping them to develop reading and literacy skills. Bedtime reading is something it is easy to take for granted but the research shows us how important it is to set up the foundations of success in education. The Dads also gain a lot from the program by maintaining contact with their kids and getting the chance to contribute something positive and tangible to them. The Friends of Castlemaine Library should be proud of the wonderful scheme they have created.   Adroit Insurance Group are demonstrating their commitment to education and reducing educational disadvantage by funding this project.

I know that I took a little bit more time and care with bedtime stories for my kids that night and hugged them a bit longer.