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The ‘big picture’ of additional needs ministry

Creating a place of true belonging for every child and young person with additional needs, church become better for us all.

THE ADDITIONAL NEEDS BLOGFATHER AUTOR 242/Mark_Arnold 06 DE OCTUBRE DE 2023 15:00 h
Photo: [link] Ben White[/link], Unsplash CC0.

The ‘Big Picture’



When thinking about how to support children and young people with additional needs, it is important that we first understand and acknowledge what we mean by that; what are additional needs, and what are the experiences of children and young people with additional needs, and their families?



What is the ‘big picture’?



In this blog post, I’m going to share some stories, some statistics, some tips, and some resources, so why not grab a cup of tea or coffee, settle in, and let’s go on this journey together.



First of all, let’s hear from a young person and his mum as they share a little of their experience. Listen out for the important challenge Kieran gives us at the end.



This is a ‘big’ picture; 20% of children and young people have additional needs of some kind (source: UK Gov.), that’s 2.5 million of them.



Additional needs covers a wide scope encapsulating disabilities, health conditions, differences and diversities, anything that means a child or young person needs extra support to engage effectively with things.



Over 90% of families with young people that have additional needs don’t come to church at all (sources: Baptist Press, and Children’s Ministry) so there are many of them in our communities around us that we need to reach.



They often find themselves on the margins, excluded and overlooked, and it’s not just the children and young people with additional needs that can find things hard, although according to recent research, as many as 94% of Autistic children and young people are victims of bullying, for example. (source: Anti-Bullying Alliance).



[destacate]Over 90% of families with young people that have additional needs don’t come to church at all[/destacate]Siblings and parents often also feel excluded from a wide range of social activities, including church (source: Mumsnet)


Those pressures can build up, with US publication ‘Psychology Today’ writing recently that “Surveys show that the rate of divorce in families with a child with disabilities may be as high as 87%” and it is unlikely that UK figures will be very much different (source: Psychology Today). 



There are strong links between disability and poverty too, with more deprived communities twice as likely to include families with young people with additional needs (source: LKMCo/Joseph Rowntree)



 



Barriers



Children and young people with additional needs, and their families, face many barriers as they navigate their way through life. Often it is society that places these barriers in the way of children and young people with additional needs, effectively ‘disabling’ them.



These barriers typically fit into three categories:



1. Places – are the places they go to accessible?



2. Programmes – are the activities they do inclusive?



3. People – are the people they meet understanding?



[destacate]Often it is society that places these barriers in the way of children and young people with additional needs, effectively ‘disabling’ them[/destacate] Often, the answer to these questions can be ‘no’, resulting in children and young people with additional needs struggling to cope, having to try to fit in, and being badly treated.


 



Top tips



So, having said ‘Yes’, what can we do to make a real difference, to ensure that we go above ‘accessibility’ and ‘inclusion’ and create a place where everyone can truly ‘belong’?



Here are some ‘top tips’, strategies that we can all put in place to transform church for children and young people with additional needs:





  1. Appoint an ‘Inclusion Champion’ – someone who can help us all keep our focus on making sure that everyone belongs, providing a first point of contact for families too.Watch this video for more help.




  2. Build relationships with families/carers: What support is working at school? What is helpful at home? How can we adapt these ideas in our church or group context?




  3. Find out more about the children and young people we are journeying with; one-page profiles can help here What do people like and admire about them? What makes them happy? How do they like to be supported?




  4. Using the responses to the one-page profiles, use what they enjoy doing to help them learn. Whether it’s LEGO, Minecraft, sport, crafts, unicorns, whatever it is it can provide them with opportunities to engage and learn.




  5. A ‘fiddles box’ can be a useful addition to the kit list, providing children and young people with the tools they need to either (a) calm their senses when overwhelmed, or (b) wake up their senses to help them focus and concentrate. Watch this video for more help.




  6. Visual timetables can help a child or young person with additional needs to know what is going on in the programme, what’s happening now and next, and when their favourite part of the programme (snack time?) is coming! Use symbols if a young person already uses them, or photos if not, to create a visual overview of the programme.




  7. One-to-one’s or ‘buddies’ can be a huge help for children and young people with additional needs, providing stability, a helping hand, a friendly face, and understanding when it’s hard. Other children or young people can be ‘buddies’ with appropriate supervision and support. This is a pastoral care support area.




  8. Always ask children, young people, and their families, what support they would find helpful. We must always do inclusion ‘with’ people and not ‘unto’ them. As the saying goes ‘Nothing about us without us’.





With this last tip in mind, let’s watch a video of some young people sharing their advice and suggestions with their teacher (and us!) You will recognise many of the children in this video in the children and young people you journey with.



 



Resources



For more help to create ‘belonging’ in your group or church, here are some more resources that can help you:



Urban Saints Additional Needs Ministry – information about training, support, articles and more.



The Additional Needs Alliance – a collaboration of over 3,000 children’s and youth workers, families, practitioners and more.



 



Getting it right



When we get this right, creating a place of true belonging for every child and young person with additional needs, church become better for us all.



There are 2.5 million children and young people with additional needs across the UK waiting for us to reach out to them and create belonging for them and their families too. Now you’ve got some tools that can help you on the first steps to get it right for those you journey with.



If you would like me to join you on the journey, please contact me, I would love to walk alongside you and help you.



Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.


 

 


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