The input of children and young people with additional needs, and their families, can help us know the best way to journey with them and to support them.
One in five of the 13 million children and young people in the UK have additional needs of some kind, that’s approximately 2.5 million children and young people.
Yet many people, including lots of professionals, people running children’s and youth work, and more, struggle to understand the best ways to be inclusive when engaging with them and their families.
That’s more true than ever as we gradually emerge from the last 18-months of lockdowns, shielding, etc. Here’s a great model to follow as we explore together how to engage with and include families with children and young people with additional needs:
A starting point for engaging with families with children and young people with additional needs is to work ‘with’ them and not ‘for’ them.
So often, children, young people, and their families, can have inclusion ‘done unto’ them poorly by well-meaning people who could have done things much better if only they had asked.
By using the simple ASK approach below, the input of children and young people with additional needs, and their families, can help us know the best way to journey with them and to support them.
It recognises that helpful phrase “Nothing about us, without us.”
Simply ask. Get in touch with families of children and young people with additional needs and ask them to help you to get this right. Tell them that you really value their input and that together you can make a difference.
You might have to apologise if you haven’t sought their input before or have ignored their previous suggestions. Ask them what barriers they have experienced, there will probably be some you haven’t even thought of, and agree to work on removing them together.
Other adults with additional needs or disabilities in your church might also provide useful pointers to help here too.
What support strategies can you think of together? Are there ideas that have been helpful for them/their child or young person in other settings, e.g. school, home, other clubs, etc. that could be adapted to work in your context?
We don’t have to invent the wheel, there is likely to be a perfectly good one rolling along elsewhere in a child’s life!
Learn from the families and from the children and young people themselves. They are subject experts in this area, about their child, and know most about their child’s best ways of experiencing and navigating a safe and successful way through the world.
They will have a wealth of knowledge to share that can help us in our context, let them be your guide!
So, whether you are a professional, a children’s/youth or families worker, a family member or friend, another parent/carer, or someone else who is looking to journey with and support children and young people with additional needs and their families, let’s recognise how difficult the last 18-months in particular have been for them, let’s apologise for when we’ve got it wrong, let’s ASK them to help us to get it right.
And let’s journey ‘with’ them in the future!
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.