Often the starting point for a church looking to be more inclusive of children and young people with additional needs is to seek out some training to help them to do this better during their Sunday morning sessions, or during a mid-week club night. To be able to work more effectively with all children and young people during these times, including those with additional needs.
But that is really just scratching at the surface of what the church could, and should, be offering. In many ways, it’s a ‘church focused’ approach… “We have some children/young people that we struggle to support, we need some solutions to help us to do this better”. It’s putting the needs of the church at the heart of the matter, rather than the needs of the children/young people themselves and the families that they come from. And these two sets of needs may be very very different indeed!
A story from last summer really helps to illustrate this… It was the beginning of the school summer holidays and a family that includes two children with additional needs was facing the six-week school break with no respite available for them at all. Six weeks of constant 24/7 care for their two children, and they were finding the prospect pretty daunting! They had tried all avenues to get some respite or support but nothing was available, or there was no budget that would pay for it.
So… they went to their local church and asked if there was any way that they could help… Did they ask if their children could be included in Sunday School for an hour on Sunday mornings? Or if they could bring them to the mid-week kids club? Both of these settings are incredibly important, and to make them accessible, inclusive, and places of belonging for everyone should be a priority for every church (see www.urbansaints.org/allinclusive for ideas), but that isn’t all that this family needed… They needed help! Real honest-to-goodness practical help!
Did the church turn them away? Did the church say they didn’t have enough resources, volunteers or training? Did the church say this is really a Social Services matter? No… they immediately saw the need, recognised that here was a family in crisis, and rolled up their sleeves ready to serve.
They took the children out on trips, they made meals for the family, some of the women took mum for a pampering session while the guys took dad out for a round of golf. They did loads of practical things to support and serve this family. They loved them as Jesus loves them, and by showing their love in this way it made an enormously positive impact on this family… They were literally loved through the six-weeks of the summer holiday, and support has remained in place since.
If a church has children and young people in it, it is going to have children and young people with additional needs, and their families, of all shapes and sizes. Serving those families both in church and at home is a vital ministry to families who regularly struggle. Helping families like the church in the story above did makes the headlines, but there are many other ways in which the families that we serve can be helped on a week-by-week basis through church. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Don’t make a parent of a child with additional needs be the one that cares for their child in Sunday School. Parents need to be spiritually refreshed and fed too, and they won’t get that providing childcare. Look to provide one-to-one support to give these parents the opportunity to be discipled.
- Offer childminding to parents so that they can come along to a Bible study, growth group, evening service etc. together. The opportunity to just come to something as a couple is rare, so help them with this. Over half of couples with a child with a disability say that it causes major relationship difficulties or breakups… it’s a stressful life, let’s help these couples get some quality time together.
- Think about holding a monthly drop in style event for parents with children with additional needs where they can come, share coffee and cake, make friendships, share stories. Parenting a child with additional needs can be really lonely and isolating, the church can help here. Contact ‘Take 5 and Chat’ for ideas… take5andchat.org.uk
- Offer pastoral support to parents of children with additional needs. There is so much to celebrate and enjoy in parenting a child with additional needs, but there are only so many times that you can clear up poo before you really just need to just talk to someone about the hard stuff (no pun intended…). Maybe linking to Care For The Family’s befriending service might also be a good start? careforthefamily.org.uk
- Recognise that many families with a child or children with additional needs struggle financially… Much needed benefits are being cut back or withdrawn leaving families facing real financial hardship. How can the church help here? Maybe linking to Christians Against Poverty (CAP) capuk.org, or starting a food bank www.trusselltrust.org could offer practical help?
- And don’t forget to pray… Among all of the practical things that can be done, and there are many, let’s not forget to lift these families up into God’s presence and ask him to bless them and help them too… We can do plenty to help, but God can do even more!
These are just a few ideas, there are a great many other ways that churches can get alongside families with children/young people with additional needs. If you are a church leader reading this, what will your churches response be? What will you do? What do you think Jesus would do?
Then let’s make a difference together…
25th May 2017
Image rights: specialneeds.com