Monday, July 19, 2010

Special Needs FAQ: Will My Child Be With His Age-Group During the Weekend Programming?

For each child who takes part in our weekend programming, we want them to have a meaningful experience.  Our staff and volunteers desire to shepherd all children in our body, but there is a tension between meeting the individual needs of each person, while also doing what is best for the ministry as a whole.  This tension exists throughout our Children's Ministry programming, including how we allocate our resources, how we assign children to their small groups, the focus of the curricula, the crafts and activities we do, and how we minister to children with special needs.  Our goal is not to be "one size fits all," but "one size fits most."  With a ministry of around 1000 children, it will be impossible to meet the specific desires of every family. 

So, to answer the question above, the simple answer is "It depends."  In our experience over the past 6 or 7 years, there have been a number of possibilities, such as placing a child in his . . .
  1. Exact age-group.  As we noted in this post, our ultimate goal is for every child to be with his or her age-group.  We believe that meaningful and long-term peer relationships are a crucial part of spiritual growth, whether for children, teenagers, or adults.  That's why virtually every child is in a small group of children that are in the same grade-level.
  2. A slightly younger age-group.  There are situations when it is best to have a child in a lower grade level.  With school-age children, we typically assign children in our programming to the same grade level that they are in the school system.  For example, we have had children with autism who are in a grade or two lower than their age would typcially dictate.
  3. Own room, temporarily (with a volunteer "shadow," but not with peers).  We have had children with health issues (such as a weakened immune system), for whom it would be dangerous to be in a group of children.  These children were placed in their own room with a shadow, until their health situation changed and their doctors allowed them to be around other children.  In these situations, the blessing for the parents was having the freedom to continue to worship in community, without worry about their children's safety.
  4. Something else?.  We realize that our current weekend programming may not be the right fit for all people who have special needs.  For example, what if we had a 21-year-old man who functions the level of a 6-9 year old?  At this point, we don't think it is best if he was in our Camp Grace (elementary) programming.  As we grow, we realize that we are likely to encounter more and more cases like these, and we will do our best to work with families to find the best possible solution.  All we can ask from families is for grace and patience, as we grow and desire to learn and adapt.
With regards to which small group each child is assigned to, we want parents to know that we don't make these decisions blindly or recklessly.  We want to dialogue with parents about what is best for the child and for the ministry as a whole.  Know that this dialogue is not necessarily a one-time event, but a long-term process and conversation, as we seek to balance the needs and wants of the individual family with the needs of the ministry as a whole.   

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