Special Needs, additional needs, disabilities, difficulties - what ever you call it, the issue in a lot of our churches is the same, and many children and youth workers up and down the country are struggling with it.
We see the problem, and all the surrounding issues and feel that gut response of “How on earth am I going to cope with that?” All the work of doing week by week youth ministry is hard enough to cope with without this!
There is often an expectation for our volunteers to deliver a level of inclusion that even the most experienced specialist in the area of additional needs would struggle to do outside the church setting, and when it doesn’t work we get disillusioned.
To practice a good level of inclusion is a week by week process, and how it works out in practice will be different for every child. Some will settle in with all the other kids, some won’t. Some will need a mix of time in the group and time alone. Whatever we plan could change at a moments notice and we need lots of flexibility.
To agree to help a child with learning difficulties in our Sunday children’s work at age five is one thing, but to transition them through our children and youth work and into adult worship is something completely different. It is a long term commitment that needs determination, love, wisdom and vision, and is a decision not to be taken lightly - it will be hard work.
Doesn’t that sound awful!
Ok, let’s begin with another way of looking at this? Let’s move our eyes away from the problem we perceive and onto the gift we can give. On to a vision of what God can do, not only in the lives of the children and young people, but in our own lives as we seek to serve them.
Don’t misunderstand me here - we need to look at practicalities, how to make the provision we give work. We need to make sure our volunteers are trained and ready too. But if our starting point is the problem and not God, where is our vision coming from? God needs to be central in the vision - for all we do, and especially in the work we do with these precious youngsters
You will no doubt be familiar the following statement: “Mum has asked if Fred can come to club…. Have you seen Fred?! He can’t sit still, he hates the noise and he’s totally disruptive. He’s always putting the other kids off! We need a one to one for him”. After that comes the conversation with a possible one to one buddy: “We have this child who is a problem. He’s totally disruptive in his class. Would you mind helping us out?” This is what I call “recruiting to a problem”.
Wouldn’t it be better to say “We have a young person who is struggling with club at the moment. We want him to have a positive experience and want to find ways of helping him connect with God and be all that God wants him to be. Would you help us?” This is “recruiting to a vision”
What do I see when I look at a child with autism? Or severe ADHD? Do I see a problem to be solved or a child, made by God, who deserves to be loved and nurtured? Do I have a passion for seeing God work in their lives?
One of our Trustees was telling the story of a friend last week, who got to the point of saying to God “I don’t know what to do!” And God responded with “I know - watch me!”
It was different circumstances, but the lesson is the same.
Even before we start planning - should we be saying “Lord I don’t know what to do! Guide me!”
We need a vision and a passion for these children. It won’t be one vision and one plan for life - it will change and will be constantly moving with the young person. It isn’t a one size fits all - it’s a different long term vision and a different plan for every young person and every family.
The over-riding and central vision will be the same - That they would know and love God, that they would be all that God wants them to be, that they would be filled with the Spirit and serve God with all their heart, mind and soul….. I could go on! But there will be things God lays on your heart for a specific child that goes beyond the basic vision you have for all the kids.
May your vision and your passion increase as you continue to serve God and the youngsters in your care.
Don’t do it yourself if you are the key youth worker - appoint someone whose sole responsibility is ‘Inclusion’. Someone with experience, who is passionate…. and has a vision.
Recruit team to a vision, not a problem.
Be realistic about what you can achieve
Work with the young persons family to achieve the best for them
Remember that what works one week, might not work next week