SN Policies & Procedures (+ Link to example)
Setting Special Needs Policies & Procedures
Special Needs ministry is often a case-by-case undertaking. However, by setting some uniform guidelines and in-print policies, the long term investment of time and emotional energy may be dramatically reduced for both the church staff and the children’s ministry volunteers.
This post is courtesy of Lanette James, Minister to Children at Green Acres Baptist Church (Tyler, TX). The information in this post is invaluable to a church of any size!
Develop and Disclose In-Print Guidelines
Create some structure and develop formal policies for how the church will accept and accommodate children with special needs. Develop special needs related guidelines and objectives by considering unique qualities of your church (strengths, weaknesses, existing special needs population, current programming challenges, etc.). If that master guide prevents future heartache for one student, one family, one volunteer, or even one staff member, it has been worth the effort of developing the policies.
In the meantime, be up front with parents about those policies and what the church’s expectation is of them (the parents). Green Acres Baptist Church lists their guidelines for accommodating children with special needs on the church’s public internet site. Many questions are already answered and hard conversations avoided by stating openly “this is what we can do….this is what we cannot do…” And by providing a pre-determined set of guidelines and publicly revealing those policies, parents are far less likely to feel their child or family has been singled out. In-print policies are typically better received than personal conversations. To see the guidelines for children with special needs participating in Green Acres Baptist Church’s children’s ministry go to: http://www.gabc.org/specialneeds
Keep in mind that the policies may need to change from time to time. As the population and needs of participating students changes over a period or the capabilities of the congregation evolve, the framework may require alterations in order to better accommodate the children and/or protect the church. The children’s committee (who sets and administers the policies) considers the special needs policies somewhat fluid and is prepared to address unique issues as they arise.
Set Everyone Up for Success
For self contained special needs designated classrooms or for children requiring intense one-on-one help, determine what settings and times the church will strive to offer accommodation. Accept responsibility for providing such care during one or two pre-selected environments in the beginning of the ministry. Give the church the opportunity to recruit volunteers and gain experience before offering special needs accommodation for the full breadth of children’s programming or childcare. If the church is not yet prepared or equipped to offer consistent and quality care for children with significant needs, do not be afraid to say “at this time, we are not equipped to accommodate during those activities (e.g. choir practice, Wednesday evening), however we would be delighted to have your children participate during our 9:30am Sunday morning programming.” Remind parents that the policies and procedures are in place to promote the best possible experience for everyone involved, including the safety of the children with special needs.
Utilize a Children’s Ministry Committee
Employ the children’s ministry committee to help determine and administer the appropriate policies. If a church lacks such a formal committee, consider recruiting mothers, fathers and grandparents from the congregation to offer a set of helping hands and mind-share for working through challenging ministry issues. Very often these same committee members function as volunteer recruiters among their friends or their Sunday school class/adult fellowship groups. The advantages of utilizing a committee to share responsibility for the guidelines is tremendous. Green Acres Baptist Church’s children’s committee meets once a month with the children’s minister. At that time, among many children’s programming issues, situations pertaining to children or families with special needs are discussed and collectively decided upon. By creating and administering the goals of a children’s ministry through a committee, solutions are often more easily determined (with the group’s combined networking and resources) and pressure is removed off of any one person from being a “bad guy”. In addition a healthy accountability and ministry ownership emerges for both children’s ministry staff and volunteers.
– Lanette James is the Minister to Children for Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX.
For more on policies and procedures see General Children’s Ministry Policies & Procedures.