The way in which your children’s ministry connects with your community will many times be dependent on the philosophy of inclusion that is widely used in your geographic location. Most communities have embraced full inclusion for most programs. However, there are some which still do not maintain the least restrictive environment for services.
While most people recognize the term “special needs” it has become so overused the meaning has become blurred and in some cases offensive. Understanding a person with a special challenge as a person first should be a motivator that enables success to your program’s connectivity. People First Language should be used in all your communication.
Also important, keep in mind the name of your ministry may not be well served using the connotation of “special needs” if this has become an issue in your area. Reaching out for something more inclusive to suggest “All Are Welcome “or “Divine Design” may be a more successful approach.
Connecting with special programs that promote advocacy, self-help and specific disability awareness may assist you in making your community aware of your commitment to serve all children without labeling in a way that could cause some pause in acceptance.
Of course the local school system is a key connector network since in many cases they have early intervention programs which would allow the connection with your ministry from birth, allowing the children’s ministry and child to grow together. All children within local school system programs will have an annual support planning meeting your ministry can become part of when you connect with a child. A representative of the ministry team should become part of the team and attend these meetings at the invitation of the family as they see you walking with them in supporting and nurturing of their God-given treasure. An Early Intervention Plan, (EIP) Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), 504 Modification and Accommodation Plan (504) are all available through individual state school systems. The Individualized Person-Centered Plan is part of the state disability plan in most state and takes on many names and formats around person-centered thinking. When these planning meetings happen, a family can ask for someone from the ministry to attend their meetings and become part of the team which supports them and their child. This is a great outreach and will serve to provide vital information that will be helpful in understanding how to meet individual needs in your ministry programs by learning what other programs are doing to meet their needs.
Within your church family you may find other families that already have relationships with families who have children with special challenges and have a willingness to serve in this ministry due to that existing relationship. They may also have been specifically trained in the disability, or at least have a greater awareness, and can assist in providing full inclusion for all individuals through various activities of the ministry. Truly supporting individuals according to their level of ability through volunteers and natural support, such as peers, will assist your connectivity through networking that will be amazing with many God moments in team building for those expressing a desire to partner and serve. Since many school systems utilize full inclusion, it is very probable that some children will be friends from school. For this reason, you may find peer-to-peer understanding of the ways in which they are able to support their friends in a group process helpful. There isn’t a better way to train leaders for this ministry than to grow them as they love one another and accept differences as God’s perfect plan.