The needs of children and young people, and the difficulties and challenges that they face, can be varied and complex, including emotional well-being, mental health, and the wide range of additional needs and disabilities many journey with.
Up to to 1 in 5 children and young people in the UK have an additional need or disability of some kind, with the latest Department for Education statistics released in July 2016 showing that 1 in 7 pupils require SEN (Special Educational Needs) support , that’s over 1.2 million in England alone.
How does the church respond to the individual needs of these children and their families? Families who often feel excluded from a wide range of social activities, including church; children who are far more likely to be bullied due to their additional needs or disability . Families like my family, children like my son James who has Autism Spectrum Condition and associated Learning Difficulties. For this isn’t just an abstract problem to solve, this is personal, this matters deeply to each child, to each family.
Over the past few years Urban Saints has responded to this challenge by leading the way for church children’s and youth workers to gain the knowledge, skills, resources and inspiration to make a difference. To be able to reach these most vulnerable, disadvantaged and often excluded children and young people with the love and hope of Jesus.
Though our ‘All Inclusive?’ programme we help churches to look at what they do through the eyes of a child or young person, like James, with additional needs, to build strategies to include him and children like him, to make their church a safe place of belonging, and to understand how every child can be discipled on their spiritual journey.
“Incredibly helpful and informative sessions. Very helpfully structured and went above and beyond my expectations and I’m buzzing with ideas to take back to my placement and feel better equipped to do so.”
“The course was interactive, informative and very helpful for the development of my ministry to vulnerable children. I don’t have any suggestions for improvement.”
(SWYM team – February 2016)
With our team of volunteers around the country we provide advice to churches setting out on this journey through our ‘All Inclusive:2U’ consultancy initiative, and we encourage churches to continue the journey together with others that are doing the same, as well as parents and carers, by linking with the Additional Needs Alliance, a vibrant and lively learning community that we co-founded with our friends at Children Worldwide.
“I love this group because it feels a safe place to share, ask questions and get wonderful and encouraging responses from people who get it.” (Lynn McCann, Included by Grace)
Recently, in collaboration and partnership with Biblica, Torch Trust, and Prospects Livability, we have been developing an illustrated accessible Bible for use by children, young people and adults with learning disability or lower ability reading. This exciting project will launch a specially designed New Testament in May using the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV). It is a privilege to be one of the founding partners in this fantastic project, which will put God’s word into the hands of many who currently struggle to access it.
Through these initiatives, and others, we continue to see hundreds of churches, reaching thousands of children and young people like my son James, taking great steps forward in responding to the needs of these children, young people, and their families. We journey with them and continue to follow God’s calling as we seek to reach and support many, many more.
I’m thrilled to be leading this work, to help the church reach these children and families, children like my son, families like my family, belonging to their churches, being catalysts for change, seeing transformation and inspiring others. Come and join the journey!
Mark Arnold - Additional Needs Ministry Director
Find out more about what Urban Saints are doing to champion inclusion of children and young people with additional needs - as well as training opportunities and your chance to help make a difference: