Happy New Year! It’s that time of year that offers us an opportunity to take stock, review what we do, and make changes to improve or develop what we are providing. How about thinking about whether our children’s and youth work, as well as our church provision as a whole, meets the needs of children and young people with additional needs and their families? One great way to check where we are at with that is to do a simple audit to understand what we are already doing well, what is a ‘work in progress’, and what might need a bit more attention.
In some cases we need to check the place that we meet in, does it provide an accessible, inclusive environment for everyone; we can also check the programme that we run, can everyone take part equally and join in with everything; and while we’re on we can ask some honest questions about ourselves and our teams, do we need to improve our understanding of additional needs and are there some views that need to change?
To help you carry out an additional needs audit, I’ve included an ‘Additional Needs Belonging Checklist’ that I’ve developed in my role at Urban Saints, and in partnership with Youthscape, for the ‘Invited to Belong’ resource that we provide (see www.urbansaints.org/invitedtobelong for more details about this programme and the associated training session).
Ideally you should work through the checklist with someone (or even several people) who journey with disability or additional needs themselves, to ensure their perspective and input is included. The checklist identifies 25 potential barriers that can make it hard for children and young people with additional needs to fully belong in church groups. Examples include practical, building based, issues like fixed seating, loud noise, strong smells (e.g. a coffee machine) and steps without a ramp; programme barriers like unpredictable programme content, only spoken language (instead of e.g. offering visual information, captions, or signing where needed), and activities that exclude (e.g. games where no adaptation has been thought about); as well as ‘people’ based barriers like ableist language (“let’s stand to worship”), negative theology (“if they had more faith they would be healed”), and negative culture (those who ‘tut’ and stare when a child is having a meltdown).
The ‘Invited to Belong’ resource pack (www.urbansaints.org/invitedtobelong) provides further information on each of the 25 barriers, as well as ways to break these barriers down, and as you carry out your audit you may find additional barriers to add to the list. Once you’ve finished your audit you should have a list of areas to work on; again, include people with experience of disability and additional needs in helping to put a plan for change in place. Some changes might take some time to plan (e.g. putting in a ramp or a lift), but there might also be some ‘quick wins’ that can be put in place quickly and easily (e.g. providing large print resources if these aren’t already available, or providing a ‘safe space’ for children and young people to use if they are struggling).
The ‘Additional Needs Belonging Checklist’ is something that it is good to review on a regular (e.g. annual) basis, to help you to assess what progress has been made, take stock of what still needs to be done, and make plans to continue to bring about change. The New Year is a great time to do this! I hope this New Year will be a time of positive change for your children’s and youth work as you explore how to help everyone to belong.
If you would like more help with this, please do contact me at email@example.com and I will be happy to share a few more thoughts about this with you, including how you can access the ‘Invited to Belong:2U’ associated training programme!
Happy New Year!
Invited to Belong
All text © Mark Arnold/The Additional Needs Blogfather; the ‘Invited to Belong’ resource and images © Urban Saints and Youthscape; header image © unknown