A Personal Note
Some of you reading this post will be one of the many who have already seen this blog since its launch 3 weeks ago. You “get” what this is all about and have hopefully gained a new idea or best practice along the way. Others of you are reading this post as your first introduction to the blog (see The Premise of The Inclusive Church Blog). Today’s post is a little different than most of the content. Thanks for indulging me as I speak personally and address comments and feedback received since the blog’s beginning. From time to time, I will interrupt the usual flow of content-rich posts in order to speak personally and address specific issues as they arise.
This blog is designed to help church staff and volunteers who serve all children in their congregation. The content of the blog specifically addresses issues pertaining to children with special needs. I have learned that our readers vary greatly in terms of their exposure to religious education, college degrees associated with children’s education, and experience working with individuals with special needs. Our readers include world renowned medical specialists, editors of national journals, credentialed special education experts, policy makers, children’s pastors and good-hearted volunteers. Because the background of each reader is different, please feel free to request more explanation if there is a term or topic that requires clarity. If one person has a question about a certain post, I can assure you there is another reader out there with the same question!
Comments & Feedback
I love it when a family member of a child with special needs offers feedback on the blog. Most understand and appreciate our goal with this resource. However, I have had some questions that I think deserve addressing. While I suspect most children’s ministers can understand the starting point for many ideas and practices offered through the blog, I sense parents may be asking them the same questions I am receiving – so I’ll offer my two cents worth here.
Parent Comment: “It doesn’t require a special form to get into heaven. It shouldn’t require a special form to get into a church’s program just because my child has special needs.”
My response: Because heaven will be free of seizures, medical emergencies and meltdowns, there won’t be a need for paperwork in heaven! Aren’t we ALL looking forward to heavenly eternity when those issues are irrelevant? In the meantime, we do have a few earthly obstacles to overcome. Any intake forms that I would refer to or recommend would serve as a way to ENHANCE a child’s experience in the church, as well as protect the child and the volunteers. Neither I nor any of the individuals and churches featured in this blog advocates using an intake form as a barrier to church entry.
Keep in mind that parents do not always disclose relevant information that can help the church’s staff and volunteers best serve the child with special needs. One reason parents sometimes fail to disclose is because THEY FORGET! Parents of children with special needs typically manage a mind-boggling amount of information about their child. And the intake form is a way of reminding the parent or gently inviting them to share important facts that may prevent a violent outburst, avoid a life-threatening allergic reaction or generate a life-saving response. In my personal view, it is irresponsible of a church not to ask a pre-determined set of questions to every parent of a child with identified special needs. And while an intake form may not reveal anything particularly urgent on one child with special needs, the information conveyed might be life-saving for the next child who enters church programming with a completed form.
SN Ministry Leader Comment: “I don’t always share the special needs programming policies & procedures with our participating parents. It seems so offensive and they already have enough hard conversations in a given week.”
My Response: If you explain that the policies and procedures were designed to ensure that the best care is consistently offered for their child, parents may better appreciate the “extra mile” the church is going to serve and protect the individual with special needs. Indeed the policies and procedures may outline both expectations of the parents and limitations of the church’s programming. But in every sense, the policies and procedures are intended for the safety and protection of every person on the church campus (including typical children, volunteers and staff members).
I recently advised a well-intentioned volunteer that if she wasn’t going to go over the church’s established policies with newly entering parents or ask them to complete intake forms, she would also need to explain to the church’s leadership team why they needed to allocate more money in the annual budget for attorneys fees. She reacted with some shock, but soon understood that by omitting these forms and parent conversations she was increasing the church’s risk significantly of receiving both merited and unmerited legal claims. Similarly, if something were to happen to a child while in church care, I hoped she was prepared to explain why she hadn’t asked the questions that could have best prepared the church team to prevent or plan for the unforeseen.
In the meantime, thanks so much to the readers and fellow bloggers all over the US, UK and Australia (maybe more that I don’t know of?) that are spreading the word about this resource. The blog is not yet 4 weeks old, but has received nearly 3000 hits. I love the personal emails and comments I receive from many of you. To those of you who share my passion for loving and accepting children with special needs, hugs to you!
P.S. Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers of children with special needs – and- to the spiritual mothers that so many of you (volunteers and ministry leaders) represent to these precious children of God.
– Amy Fenton Lee