As lockdown restrictions gradually ease, in line with Government guidance, churches across all four nations of the United Kingdom are beginning to put serious thought into what this means for the opening of church buildings and the resumption of in-building activity, including children’s and youth work.
Over the past year, some children’s and youth work has stopped altogether, and the thought of meeting with children and young people again is rightly being greeted with great enthusiasm. For many, children’s and youth work has continued online, with a variety of approaches having been taken to create environments that are engaging, interesting and fun. Much has been learned over the past 12-months, and many of us have become Zoom ‘guru’s’!
But as we start to plan for a resumption of in-building children’s and youth work again, albeit initially somewhat different looking to when we last were able to do this, let’s not lose all of the learning and experience we’ve gained from the last year. Let’s not abandon the progress we’ve made in reaching children and young people through Zoom that we wouldn’t have reached through in-building activity, many of whom have additional needs or disabilities.
Like many children’s and youth workers, I love a good Disney movie, and that well known quote from ‘Lilo & Stitch’ keeps coming to mind whenever I think about a return to in-building children’s and youth work:
So often, families of children with additional needs or disabilities can find themselves forgotten, overlooked, not considered when plans are being made. After a year it is unsurprising that many church leaders and children’s/youth teams are excited about the prospect of the doors being opened again and in-building work restarting, but I’ve personally been saddened to see many people posting on social media about how thrilled they are to not have to run Zoom sessions any more. For families who cannot, for all kinds of reasons, attend in-building activities, this is so harmful; another form of exclusion.
So let’s not choose between in-building or online children’s and youth work; let’s not create exclusion by cutting off families who have been able to connect to church like never before over the past 12-months. Let’s make sure that no one gets left behind or forgotten.
Here’s 5 ‘C’s’ that you can do that will help with this:
Ask families what they prefer, what they are able to access, what resources they need to join in. Make sure you are including them as you plan, remembering that phrase used by the disabled community ‘Nothing about us without us.’
Recognise that your community includes families that come to the building and families that connect from home. Structure your activities in ways that link both parts of this community together so that they can enjoy being involved wherever they are and can feel the ‘togetherness’.
A ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ offering isn’t about providing an in-building programme and broadcasting it via a static camera at the back of the room to anyone else. It’s about interaction, giving families at home a chance to contribute, share and lead; having the camera moving around to see what is happening in-building and broadcasting on a screen and sound system what is happening at home, making it a truly interactive experience for everyone.
Are you doing something ‘crafty’ or ‘creative’? Have you thought about how to equip families that are taking part from home? Maybe drop a bag of resources round to them so that they have everything that children/young people in the church building have, enabling them to all join in together. Is there a programme or timetable that you could include? For children/young people with additional needs, make this visual by including symbols and photo’s.
We generally chat with families as they collect their children from in-building sessions, so why not do the same for families that are connecting online? Don’t just drop them an email but pick up the phone or pop round for a (socially distanced) chat. How did the session go for them? What worked and what didn’t? What do they need from us next time? How would they like to take part?
I hope these tips and ideas will help you as we emerge from lockdown and plan for the ‘new normal’. Let’s make sure we all remember that “family means no one gets left behind or forgotten”. Let’s ensure that whether families are getting involved in what we are offering in-building or at home that they all feel connected and all experience the same sense of community that this brings.
All content © Mark Arnold expect references to the movie ‘Lilo & Stitch’ © Disney
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