Should the Church Suggest Special Needs Testing or Treatment for a Child?
This post is part 5 of 5 that began with the post Handling a Child that Bolts During Church Programming. This post follows post #4, Conducting a Parent Meeting After Safety Compromising Behavior. This particular situation involves a child who exhibits safety compromising behavior and the parents have not disclosed any special needs diagnoses or issues. While the examples below may pertain to the specific question asked in the first post , many of the pointers apply to situations and parent conversations involving any type of concerning behavior.
Avoid Discussing the Need for Testing or Treatment
Keep in mind that the purpose of a called parent meeting is to address the safety compromising behavior. And a church’s policies regarding such issues should be behavior driven, irrelevant of a special needs diagnosis. It is rarely, if ever, appropriate to approach a parent to initiate a discussion regarding a child’s potential special needs diagnosis. Dr. Cynthia Zierhut, Clinical Psychologist with the M.I.N.D. Institute and Director of Capital Christian Center’s “Champions” Ministry (Sacramento, CA) explains:
“It is not uncommon for me to be pulled into a typical children’s ministry environment to quietly observe and help the children’s ministry staff with a particular child. I may see signs of problems that warrant a diagnostic evaluation. But even with my credentials, I would never approach a parent to share my thoughts and alert them to a potential need for testing or treatment.”
If a parent openly expresses concern about their child’s behavior and asks questions of the children’s ministry team (such as to weigh in with their observations), then the staff person or caregiver may answer the questions honestly. But in cases where it is sensed that the parents are hesitant to engage in candid conversation regarding their child’s behaviors, it is safe to assume the family is not ready to address the issues, possibly even with themselves. The goal of the church is to walk alongside a family on their journey with their child, keeping the church’s focus on safety and spiritual development. Initiating conversations regarding a potential developmental or medical disability is more likely to yield irreparable damage to the relationship between the church and the family. As hard as it may be for ministry team members to refrain from sharing their worrisome observations, this is one time prayer is generally more effective than candid conversation.
For more on this topic see the posts
What if the family leaves the church?
Dr. Zierhut candidly shares,
“Yes we have had families offended after we have initiated conversations about a child’s safety compromising behavior. And in fact some parents have then left the church. The good news is that they nearly always return to our church.”
Zierhut goes on to explain that in these difficult meetings with parents, the church representative passionately makes it clear that the child is wanted in programming. And proposed steps to making his or her experience successful in the children’s ministry are laid out. While parents may leave the meeting embarrassed or resistant, they often do return to the church after trying other congregations. Zierhut continues,
“Some time later a family may return to our ministry further along on their own journey and realizing that their child may in fact need some unique accommodations. We always tell the parents that the doors will remain open for them to come back. And they often do. These parents know our church is willing to do some incredible things to help their child be successful and safe.”
– Amy Fenton Lee
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