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06/05/2022

We hear you

 

Parent Buddies

 
When was the last time someone listened to you? Truly listened? For some of us, we wouldn’t have had to reach far back in our minds to remember that moment, but for others of us being properly listened to may feel like a distant memory. For many parents they are the ones listening to, supporting and caring for their families, and as a result their difficulties and struggles can sometimes feel like they’ve fallen by the wayside. Having someone who takes the time to listen and support us is essential for our wellbeing, and at Parent Buddies we are passionate about providing this for parents.
 
Commitment to supporting parents is especially important - now more than ever, as we move out of a few turbulent years. Covid-19 and the lockdowns have been challenging times for all of us, but particularly for parents who suddenly had to juggle day-to-day family life, home schooling, and their own jobs. Save the Children note this in their Life Under Lockdown Report, saying ‘huge pressure has been placed on parents during lockdown and, in the next phase of the pandemic, the resilience and creativity that parents have shown must be matched with much greater support.’[1] The extra stress that the past 2 years have brought means that many parents may benefit from additional support as they begin to process and deal with this. It is not only the parent who benefits, but the wellbeing of the whole family is also enhanced through the parent being listened to when they experience challenges and high levels of stress. The positive effects of an act as simple as listening extend far and wide.
 
At Parent Buddies, our mission is to envision and equip local churches and organisations to provide this listening support to parents, through training volunteers to be a Parent Buddy. These Buddies provide a one to one listening and support service to any parent in need, as an early intervention. We believe that when parents have someone who takes the time to listen specifically to them, they are empowered in their parenting and more confident in themselves, enabling them to provide their children with the best start in life. This in turn strengthens the whole family unit, and when strong families come together, the community is transformed. And this sums up our vision: to empower parents, strengthen families, and transform communities.
 
Parent Buddies logo
To find out more and to connect with Parent Buddies, please visit https://www.parentbuddies.co.uk/ or find them on Facebook and Instagram
 
[1] “Life Under Lockdown Report: Children’s Experience of the Pandemic and Lockdown in the UK,” Save the Children, 15.
                https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/gb/reports/life_under_lockdown_report.pdf

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How can your church connect with your local authority’s
Family Hubs to help families in your community?

Churches stepped up with purpose and energy during the pandemic, serving and building new relationships with people in their community. So where do we go from here? How do we build on what we have achieved? And how do we help disadvantaged families with complex needs, including disabilities? How can we really make a difference?

In October 2021, Care for the Family hosted the ‘Welcoming families – Transforming Lives’ webinar, which introduced churches to Family Hubs and presented case studies of churches, who have built trusted partnerships with local authorities to benefit local families. 

At the webinar, Catherine Barker of the Family Hubs Network, an organisation which supports local authorities and voluntary sector organisations in establishing Family Hubs across England, explained how Family Hubs, a new area of government policy, encourages local authorities to work more closely with local faith organisations and the voluntary sector as a whole, to support families in the community.

A Family Hub approach ensures that all families know where to go to get help when life gets difficult. At a welcoming Family Hub, families are listened to and supported to get the help they need, whether through services provided by the local authority and/or voluntary sector partners.

Churches can become Family Hubs – for example, check out Yeovil Community Church in Somerset – or they can become a delivery partner, where families can access specific services and/or build relationships with people in their community.  Many churches are already playing their part through offering parent/carer and infant groups, running pre-schools and foodbanks, and providing help for the homeless and unemployed. By creating a more intentional partnership with their local authority, churches can encourage families to access statutory help and reach other families in the community who are in need.

Whichever path a church may take, building a trusted relationship with the local authority is the key to working together better and helping families more effectively. However, this can be challenging, and many webinar attendees wanted to know more from those who had succeeded. ‘How to develop partnership between church and local authority’, below, is an essential resource for any church or charity seeking to work and partner alongside their local authority which shares the vision of helping families overcome their difficulties.

The journey of developing family support, and seeking to partner with local authorities, can be a challenge at times, but the benefits of working together can prove life changing for the individuals and families receiving help. If you would like to find out more about Family Hubs, the work they do and how you, your church or organisation can get more involved, please visit the Family Hubs Network website or contact us directly via info@familyhubsnetwork.com.

Church

How to develop partnership between church and local authority
FAQs

Q - I haven’t had much contact with my local authority and understand that every local authority seems to be different. How can I find out about how my local authority is structured, how it operates and who to contact?

  • Try looking on the website, although council websites aren’t the best at explaining their structures to the public.
  • Look at local authorities’ early help strategy. All local authorities have an early help plan of some form, and this can be a great place to start formulating your own strategy.
  • Do you or anyone in your Church have any contacts through your day-to-day work/lives (licensing, building control, planning, social care)? Explain to them what you do and that you’d like to open up a conversation – they will then point you towards the right person.
  • Contact your local Ward Member or Council Leader (Ward Members will be listed on the Council Website). Remember some areas are Two Tier (District and County) so you need to look at both Councils
  • Some government led programmes are looking to support existing community led programmes to better support families, for example the Supporting Families Programme (formerly ‘Troubled Families Programme’). This can be another inroad to partnering if you are struggling to find a good way in with your local authority.
  • Researching and asking questions are vital to success.
Q - Thinking specifically about Family Hubs (i.e. those providing family support), who should I contact in my local authority? Am I looking for a certain job title or team?
  • Write to the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council. All local authorities are structured differently so it’s not always easy to find the most appropriate person. A CEO/Leader’s PA will always pass on your letter or email to the correct officer/councillor
  • Director of Children’s Services, Head of Early Help, Councillor with responsibility for children and families may all be useful start points
  • You can email your local MP as they may well have specific contacts in the Councils that cover their constituency.
  • Look at who you know in your church congregation who may already be connected with your local authority. Relationships are the best way to establish partnership and utilising existing relationships to build new ones is a great place to start.
Q - Can you give me tips about getting started in building a relationship with my local authority?
  • Invite the CEO/Leader to visit. Tell them what you do and what you can offer to the community. Show them round and introduce them to staff, volunteers, members. Show them visible projects that are making a difference (food bank, toddler group etc). Councils are often really stretched so they will always be grateful for any good work going on in their community. Councils love working in partnership, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Look on the council’s website for their Corporate Plan and/or Corporate Priorities. Remind them how your work is meeting these (it won’t be difficult because all councils have priorities around supporting people in their community etc. You may find you meet lots of them). Give them some examples of projects you’re doing or people you’re supporting that meet the Council’s objectives.
  • Highlight issues that you are encountering through your church community (Debt? Poverty? Transport? Access to healthcare?). Councils cover such a wide range of things, and if it’s not on their to-do list they will always signpost you to another organisation who can help. Councils are good for networking.
  • Avoid getting drawn into politics or worrying about pleasing different political parties or certain people. Stick to what you do and tell them positively about it. Council members and officers often change so don’t pin your colours to the mast with anyone, remain neutral but open & flexible to new ideas or ways of doing things.
  • It’s important for churches to appreciate that local authorities have a huge responsibility to the people they are working with in their constituency, often the most vulnerable people and families in a community. It’s not a given that they will be eager at first to work with churches, or that trust will exist from the get-go. Trust has to be built. By being professional, patient and persistent, trust can be established and often it just takes waiting for the right door to open or finding the right person to talk to.
  • At times, your public sector colleagues may feel nervous of church-based initiatives as they may feel it is more about ‘bums on seats’ than serving the community; they may feel the vulnerable could be taken advantage of. If you are willing to engage with the local authority and take onboard some of the probing questions, this will build trust and open doors to serve that would otherwise have been shut. Engaging is the only way to overcome the barriers of distrust that can exist in local and public community settings.
  • Working in partnership with local authorities can be a powerful avenue for change in our communities. Local authorities will likely know you pray about people and situations, within projects, and will probably just not want that written down in public records. Engaging with local authorities doesn’t have to mean stopping spiritual activity. It might just mean being willing to have the conversation as to how this works out in practice. Similarly, when sharing faith, councils will probably only be averse to pushing faith and prayer on visitors to Family Hubs, but should visitors ask about why you do what you do, then tell them.
  • Relationships, relationships, relationships – play the long game!
  • Ask your public sector leaders and council ‘What keeps you awake at night?’ And ask of yourselves, ‘What can we do to help? How can we be part of the solution?’ Do your research and find out what needs are currently not being met, and then meet them.
  • Understand the unique things that your church brings to your community, that your local authority can’t.
  • Stick to your strengths! Ask what you are already offering in your community and then build on that. Local authorities are looking to strengthen established community led support as much as they are looking to start new initiatives.
  • Find out about what is already happening in your community and get involved – this can be a great place to start, especially for a new project.
  • Community Facebook groups can be depressing to read at times, but they can provide real insight as to how your church can help when you hear what people are complaining about.
Q - Can you give me tips about churches and local authorities working together?
  • Churches and local authorities have the same fundamental goal, to help and serve people and families. Partnering is most effective when churches operate in the areas where they are best equipped and refer to their local authority when circumstances require. This can be a very mutually supportive relationship if you’re willing to put the work in.
  • Avoid chasing funding that doesn’t fit with your values – it’s always good to be open and flexible but don’t change what you do to suit short term aims of certain people or funders – you can get blown off course and then have to work hard to get back on track.
  • Establishing your church as a CIO can be one way of maintaining the spiritual oversight of the church whilst also engaging with the community in a more professional capacity. All service level agreements can then be between the Local Council and the church, or the local Housing Authority and the church. It is possible to do both. Make it your priority to get involved with the local authorities to primarily build and strengthen relationships.
  • Not many people like paperwork. But although recording your work can seem daunting at first, after a period of time you can look back at the analysis and assessment you’ve carried out and see that a body of evidence and proof of outcomes has built up that can be an incredibly powerful tool in future work.
  • Rather than running events for the sake of running events, listen to the tune the community is whistling to, and then bring the faith contribution of the church into that tune.
  • Partnering with local authorities can open doors to funding that would otherwise be shut, as need is verified and validated from multiple sources. However, once money and funding are involved so will the need arise for proof of outcomes and tracking of performance, so give plenty of thought to what you provide and whether you seek funding for it. Getting paid for your work significantly ramps up the level of accountability and expectation.
  • Working in partnership may feel as if it could become restrictive but it can be liberating, because everyone knows where they stand and how things work in different settings. Control isn’t taken away but churches need to be open to conversation and some give and take in relation to practice.
Q - From a local authority point of view, what are the benefits of working with churches specifically? And are there any barriers?
  • Access to families who would otherwise be unreachable, and credibility in the community can be gained, as a result of partnership with local authorities.
  • Churches are consistently there. Local authorities need the consistent support churches can provide.
  • Local authorities can look at churches as a ready-made resource in the community, with access to people and families they previously couldn’t reach – a highly cost-effective solution in an area with often limited funding. Plus, this can result in earlier intervention with vulnerable individuals, which can result in more effective outcomes.
  • Partnering with local authorities can open training and development opportunities, plus a wealth of learning and knowledge sharing as to how to deal with the difficult circumstances and conversations that will undoubtedly come up when running a Family Hub.
  • Some councils may be a bit wary of working too closely with specific denominations or churches as councils are publicly funded and have to meet the needs of everyone in their area. However, most councils will recognise that churches can engage with and reach people in their community that the council can’t reach, so there are real benefits of building up that trust and mutual understanding of how each other work. A good council will recognise the positive benefits of working with a range of churches to support different people in their community.
  • Don’t be put off by barriers you encounter! Local Authorities can be a bit bureaucratic but there’s normally a way round them through positive engagement and a bit of persistence.

Olly Barker is Analyst and Client Relationships Manager at the Family Hubs Network.

 



                                                                        
     
                                       

 

 
 
 

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NPI Vision Events
 

You might have noticed on our social media platforms that every month we advertise a regional online Vision Event... You might have also wondered, what one earth one of those is?!

Well, we'd love to fill you in.

Each month we visit (online), a different area of the UK to meet with Christians in that area who have a passion for seeing families empowered and supported.  We invite speakers from great organisations who produce courses and resources to support families to share about what they do, and then we have time in break out rooms for all those joining us to ask questions and find out more.  The events are just an hour in length, completely free and full of encouragement. 

We've received lots of positive feedback about our events, and are looking forward to all those we have planned, so if you see one for your area, please join us! 

For more information on our events contact Kayte Potter at office@thenpi.org.uk.  To sign up for one of our upcoming events for Wiltshire & Dorset, Northumberland Tyne & Wear and Durham and Yorkshire visit our events page



                                                  Wiltshire and Dorset VE               N T&W and D Vision Event       
     
                                       Yorkshire Vision Event

 

 
 
 

ROC

 

Redeeming Our Communities

Redeeming Our Communities (ROC) is a national faith-based initiative with over 250 projects nationwide. Our core work is community engagement and, as such, we have delivered hundreds of community Conversation events across the UK. These events typically bring together people from the across the community including public services, schools, NHS, businesses, local authority, community organisations and churches. The events celebrate the good work going on in communities and identify gaps in social provision. Action Groups are formed to address these gaps and new projects emerge.
One such project is the mentoring scheme which supports families.
 
The ROC Mentoring Scheme, which is fully accredited by COACH, an Australian mentoring programme which now supports over 60 organisations, 800 mentors and 600 participants across Australia and the UK. For those who complete a COACH accredited mentoring programme:
 
*        76% of participants find they achieve ‘significant’ goals they set for themselves at the start of the programme;
*           63% report they are more engaged with their community and many join a Christian community.
 
Here in the UK we have supported over 250 families during the lockdown period by adapting our programme to be delivered online.
 
We define a family mentor as a ‘friend with a purpose’ and this is proving to be a lifeline to many families who need support. The support provided is often very practical such as helping to fill out forms, accessing local services, going to appointments and planning a weekly schedule.
 
We hope to further expand our work in 2022.  Visit www.roc.uk.com to find out more.
 
Debra Green OBE founding Director of ROC
 
 
 

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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how the Church can help

 

Most of us have experienced some sort of trauma in our lives—something that has affected who we are, informing our character and influencing our decisions. Whilst the traumatic experience, in and of itself, might have been negative; with the love and support of family and friends (and sometimes professional support services), trauma can build resilience and strengthen character and resolve. Good can come from bad. But what happens if trauma repeats itself, and there’s no one around to help?

Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACEs”, can be a single event or prolonged threats to, and breaches of, a child’s safety, security, trust or bodily integrity.  The main ACEs currently identified throughout literature and practice are: parental separation, mental health problems, child verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse, child neglect, alcohol misuse, drug abuse and parent incarceration. In some areas, physical ill health and disability in the family is also recognised as an adverse experience that can have long-term detrimental effects on children’s life chances.

Studies show that children who experience multiple ACEs (four or more) in childhood are more likely to have poor physical and mental health and to engage is health-harming behaviours such as drinking, smoking or taking drugs.

Cumulative exposure to adversity causes stress that behaves as a toxin in the developing brain of a child. In the absence of protective factors, this toxic stress can change a child’s neural architecture and result in emotional disorders and cognitive deficits. Childhood trauma is not something you just get over as you grow up; the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer.

Whilst poverty should not be confused with Adverse Childhood Experiences, Dr Morag Treanor (Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at Stirling University) notes, “…when poverty and ACEs coincide, they become more than the sum of their parts. When a child lives with ACEs, and also lives in poverty, the conditions are ripe for long-lasting trauma, or toxic stress, which is devastating to children in childhood, and which continues on into adulthood.”

Before Covid-19 there were 4.3 million children living in poverty in the UK. Executive Director and Clinical Child Psychologist Dr Eli Gardner recently wrote: 
Poverty has an impact on parents’ ability to manage stressful events and can make good family functioning and strong parent-child relationships difficult. Parents who lack a sense of competence not only show less adequate parenting, but also tend to withdraw from interactions with the child and give up addressing problem behaviours altogether. One does not have to think too hard to imagine the psychological impact of pre-existing familial trauma exacerbated by a situation where fraught relationships have no room to breathe.

Then, mix a pandemic into the melting pot of poverty and ACEs, and an already-serious situation amplifies. Buttle UK’s State of Child Poverty Report 2021 is an assessment of the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 crisis on families and young people living in poverty, and highlights the most common ACEs (according to respondents) as:

  • Mental health problems (63% of children and young people)
  • Parental separation (63%)
  • Verbal abuse (61%)
  • Domestic abuse (59%)
Support workers reported that all ACEs have been made worse by Covid-19, of these:
  • Family mental illness was seen having been impacted most, with 48% saying that it was ‘a lot more severe.’
  • Domestic violence was next with 38% reporting it being ‘a lot more severe.’     
In explaining these increases in severity, frontline support workers highlighted:
  • A lack of access to support—both through informal networks (i.e. family and friends) and formal support services.
  • A lack of respite for parents.
  • Reduced time in education, meaning that the issues that schools often monitored have not been picked up.
  • Decreased levels of exercise, poor diets and increased isolation.

When frontline workers were asked what was going to be the most crucial form of support for children going forward, overwhelmingly, their response was mental health support (at 48%).

How can the Church help? Drawing families out of seclusion and into community is of one of the ways that children who are struggling with ACEs can be noticed and prescribed some of the support they so desperately need in order to flourish in life. Strengthening families is a team effort, with the government and voluntary sector working together to support those facing adversity—and when the effort falls short, the Church, whose mandate is to have a conscience for those in need (the poor, lonely, destitute and downtrodden), must step in and bridge the gap for those at risk of falling into it.

Research has shown that the most effective early intervention to help children is group based parenting programmes.  At Kids Matter, we partner with local churches to equip mums, dads and carers facing disadvantages with the tools (confidence, competence and community) to build strong families, thus reducing the impact of poverty on children. Our trained facilitators come into contact with parents and carers trying their best to manage households and bring up children who encounter traumatic experiences on a regular basis. Whilst we cannot fix poverty or erase ACEs, we recognise that confident parenting plays an important part in bridging the gap (between parent and child) created by trauma.

Together, we can build a future where children flourish. 

To find out more about Kids Matter, please contact us at info@kidsmatter.org.uk.
 
Sources:
Poverty as an Adverse Childhood Experience – NCMJ (https://www.ncmedicaljournal.com/content/79/2/124)
State of Child Poverty 2021 – ButtleUK (https://buttleuk.org/news/news-list/state-of-child-poverty-2021/)
How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime Nadine Burke Harris (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk&ab_channel=TED)


 

Every fostering & adoptive family deserves a community of welcome in their church


Father and Child
 
They say it takes a village to raise a child.  At Home for Good we’ve stretched the saying to “It takes a church to raise a care experienced child”
 
When a family in your church become foster carers or adopters, they will need you, their church family, to wrap around them and create a great web of support, encouragement and perhaps the occasional Victoria sponge or curry delivery!
 
Here are some things that you can do which will really make a difference:
  1. Pray
For them, their social workers, the 100s of children in the UK waiting to be adopted.  Keep it high in your eyeline as a church.  Try to keep that command in Psalm 82 to “Defend the weak and the fatherless;  uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy;  deliver them from the hand of the wicked. 
  1. Be a friend who listens
Let them know that you care.  Sit with them in church even if their child is screaming – help the rest of the church family to accept the behaviour as trauma informed not naughty by modelling complete acceptance.  Invite them to dinner, all of them, fostering can be lonely.  Listen, but don’t expect all the information about the child in their care – some things need to remain confidential.
  1. Think creatively about practical support

Sometimes the most obvious support, like babysitting or helping at bath or bedtime, isn’t appropriate or allowed when children are being looked after or have recently been adopted – but there are still many ways you can help! Cook a meal for the family, offer to take away some ironing or clean the house when the family is out, or perhaps you could cut the lawn or the hedge, or even walk the dog for them.
  1. Become a champion for Home for Good in your church

We’re looking for individuals who are passionate about fostering and adoption to be our champions. You will be at the heart of all we do – raising awareness in your church and supporting the vision of Home for Good. Contact me for me more information.
  1.  Make sure your church is safe and secure for vulnerable children
As well as being kind, accepting and welcoming, it is important that your church is prepared with the right safeguarding practices and child protection policies in place. Encourage your church family to do some learning through reading the Home for Good book or taking part in some training.

     6.  Be willing to adapt and change
 
Children who have been looked after will often have suffered trauma, they may have experienced abuse or neglect, and they are usually having to cope in new and scary situations – and their foster carers and adoptive parents are doing all they can to love, nurture and support them. Be flexible and ready to adjust.  What is more important at the end of a Sunday school or youth group session: that children know the intimate details of a Bible passage or that they are loved and accepted by both God and you?

     7. Never, ever, ever give up
 
Foster carers are committed to their children and will faithfully love them even when it is hard. If you can journey with them and support them every step of the way, you will be playing a vital role in providing stability and security, and echoing God’s heart of love, compassion and mercy for these vulnerable children.
 
Written by Clare Walker, South West Regional Lead for Home for Good. clare.walker@homeforgood.org.uk 
 
Home for Good is a UK charity seeking to inspire and equip individuals and families to open their homes to vulnerable children. We resource churches to be a welcoming and supportive community for fostering and adoptive families, and advocate for vulnerable children at all levels of government.
 
 

Parenting Apart

Dad and Boy

I have a friend who often comments that one of the most vulnerable times in our lives is when we divorce...but often, for many reasons, this is when churches step away from families. Why is this? Theological objections? Awkwardness? Fear?  Whatever the reasons divorce is when families need us most and so I trust that the following insights give confidence to be able to navigate this complex time with families compassionately and helpfully.

The first thing to absorb is that divorce leaves an emotionally chaotic wave of pain for a long time. When working with parents who are going through divorce I try to prepare them for at least 18 months of self-focussed and painful thinking; they may have suffered deep rejection, loss of their home, even access to their children. As a church leader it’s no use you asking them to put their children first or be a place of stability, they are very unlikely to be able to think that clearly for some time. It will come, however unlikely it may look at first (and they will find it deeply comforting to find out that there is life after divorce) but it won't happen straight away. I volunteer for a brilliant charity called Restored Lives that works with people who are leaving or have been left and who gently take them through some of the hard decisions...relational, financial, parental that they are going to have to negotiate. This is helpful because it means that some of the difficult truths of divorce can be handled by people expert in their delivery...and it’s brilliant for people going through divorce to meet others and share experiences and peer support each other, so introducing them to Restored Lives is a great first step.

Within my day job at Fegans the messages I give to divorcing parenting is rather like a poop sandwich (and I prepare them for this!!). Keep the poop part short...it’s not helpful to dwell on the damage caused to our own children but rather the hope we can leave behind.

Firstly the positive...well done for looking for support, good job on the courage to share, thank you for trusting me with such personal and painful experiences. Things are going to get better, the pain will ease, hope will return.

Secondly the poop. Divorce is a horrific shock to children as all of their attachment (how we all build our identity and relationship with others) is based on having a secure environment around them. When the person who has promised since your birth to "always be there for you" suddenly isn't anymore, it raises many insecurities that can manifest as anger, silence, petulance, blame....and even hate. In addition, houses, schools, routines all change. And however much we try to say it’s not the child's fault, they simply don't have the capacity to be able to believe this. And so they think it is their fault. If only they have been more well behaved, didn't row or answer back maybe this would never have happened.

Then thirdly hope.  Here are 5 key strategies they can help to rebuild families.

  1. Attachment is rebuildable...but it takes time. one to one, undivided by phone or internet (on the parents behalf!).  Quality, consistent, daily, time. Not much...just 10 mins...but regularly.

  2. Speak well of your ex. This may be like sucking poison from a cess pit...but it’s amazing for the wellbeing of the children. It also means that the parent who speaks well of the other is the most trusted parent which is worth the pain. Check out this 2 minute video of why.

  3. Approval. Divorcing people have often lost any sense of self worth and therefore may struggle to praise their children....but it’s essential for them to know that you don't just love them...you like them, you like being with them, you admire them, their courage, their kindness, their care.

  4. Keep everything as stable as you can...house, routines, school, friends. Even if we want a fresh start...it’s often the last thing children need. Don't bring new partners into a volatile mix until things settle.

  5. Let the children be angry, sad, shout...it’s how they process. Better that they process in front of you than silently and alone...or even worse, in chat rooms.

Try to remind people you are talking with that parenting is a long game; it’s not about who is favourite today, but rather are you a part of your grandchildrens lives. And whatever children say to us now, in the heat of divorce, if we manage it well they will re-evaluate how we did as parents as they older. Just like you re-evaluated your parents when you become a parent.

If you need a little more guidance, Fegans has created a free animated video series aimed at separated families on how to navigate the complex waters ahead...sign up here.

Ian Soars is the CEO of Fegans – a charity providing counselling to children, in addition to parent support, intervention and training.

Supporting Children with Additional Needs in Church


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Think of a 7-year old autistic child who is overwhelmed when greeted by bright lights, a wall of noise, a crowded room and an overload of different smells. Or a 10-year-old with dyslexia who loves sung worship, but finds reading words on a screen impossible because of the background images. Or a 14-year-old who uses a wheelchair and feels left out when asked to “jump up and worship”.

Around 20 per cent of children and young people have long-term additional needs or disabilities of some kind. Many of them, along with their families, feel excluded from a wide range of social activities, including church. So how can we meet their needs?
 
It’s about providing a better way for that 7-year-old. Thinking about when, how and where they arrive, as well as looking at alternative lighting. It’s about providing a screen with plain backgrounds and appropriate text fonts for that 10-year-old, and anyone else who might need it. It’s about changing what we say to include everyone. Perhaps saying “We’re going to worship now, please remain seated or stand, as you prefer…” would make all the difference to that 14-year-old.
 
Inclusion doesn’t stop at wider doors, ramps and disabled loos. It’s about creating places of belonging and developing the faith of everyone.
 
Appoint an inclusion champion 

The most important strategy a church can put in place is to appoint someone who ‘owns’ inclusion. Someone who will look critically at the things the church does through the lived experiences of the children and families you reach. What is hard for them to access? What modifications could easily be made to improve things?
 
Ideally, this role would be held by someone with a lived experience of additional needs or disability, either in their own lives or as a carer, to ensure inclusion is done with and not to anyone being supported. Inclusion champions provide a primary point of contact for those with additional needs, but the rest of the team must also be involved.
 
Build support strategies

Understanding what support strategies are in place in other areas of children’s lives (for example at school or home) and bringing them into church activities offers ready-made ideas, as well as provid­ing consistency and continuity. Asking parents or carers how their child likes to be supported and helped, and what they enjoy doing, is likely to unlock useful and helpful conversations. Remember to ask children themselves about how they like to be supported. Inclusion should always involve the person being included.
 
You could make one-page profiles to help parents or carers and young people describe themselves. You could also use a visual timetable using symbols or photos. This is a great tool to help children understand where they are in the programme, what is expect­ed of them, and what is coming next (including when ‘snack time’ is!).

“Inclusion should always involve the person being included”
 
Recruit one-to-one support

Some young people with additional needs can become anxious if they are left to cope on their own. Providing one-to-one support can help them understand what is happening and what they are supposed to be doing.
 
People who may not see themselves leading children’s talks, songs or games may be happy to sit with and support a child. Seek people who are caring, empathic and nurturing. The grandpar­ent generation can often be great at this. Sometimes other young people can fulfil this role as ‘buddies’, getting alongside their peers or younger children and supporting them (with suitable super­vision). Ideally, this role should not be filled by parents or carers. They need to be spiritually fed themselves in church!

Sensory support
Sensory overload can be a common issue for children with a range of additional needs, so providing ways for them to manage and regulate this is essential. A sensory calm room or zone with calming lighting, relaxing sounds, beanbags and safe things for children to engage with and help them relax will be useful.
 
If this isn’t possible, a pair of ear defenders can make all the difference between someone enjoying the programme and being in physical pain because of the noise. Another useful addi­tion is a ‘fiddles’ box, which contains items that can be, squeezed, clicked or simply fiddled with. The sensory support this provides can aid focus and concentration.

Creative learning
We learn best when our learning is fun, engages us in activities we enjoy and meets our preferred learning style: watch­ing, listening or, in most cases, doing. It’s no different for young people with addi­tional needs. If they enjoy jigsaws or Lego, get them to build a jigsaw or Lego model of the theme you’re exploring. Did you know there is a (Lego) Brick Bible? You could also encourage them to build Bible scenes online in Minecraft.
 
Getting inclusion right makes our church a place of belonging for everyone; a place where people are missed for all the right reasons if they can’t come. There is plenty of support available, so you don’t have to do this on your own. To access training and other services, visit the ‘partners’ section of the Additional Needs Alliance website or join its Face­book group. Take the first step on your inclusion journey today, in prayer.
 
Shalom,

Mark Arnold


Mark Arnold (The Additional Needs Blogfather) is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints’, Co-Founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, contributor to a range of publications, and dad to James a 17 year-old Autistic, with Epilepsy and Learning Disability.  
 

Protecting Women and Children from Domestic Abuse


Restored

The Covid-19 lockdown has seen an unprecedented rise in domestic abuse across the world. The NSPCC have reported that contacts to their helpline about the impact of domestic abuse on children have surged by almost a third since the start of the lockdown, to an average of one an hour.

In the UK, national domestic abuse charity Refuge, which provides specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, has noted that in the early stages of the lockdown, traffic to its website rose by 150 per cent and there was an average 25 per cent increase in calls to its national domestic abuse helpline.
 
Restored, a Christian charity that aims to end violence against women, has put together lockdown resources for victims of abuse, church leaders and men. 
 
Supporting victims and survivors
Isolation is a tool that perpetrators already know how to use as a tactic to gain control. The lockdown can, therefore, appear to legitimise isolation and perpetrators will use it as a cover for abuse.
 
The police can help. If you are being abused call 999 and press 55; the police will recognise you may not be able to talk but can give you instructions.  An alternative is Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline, 08082000247. The charity can help you find specialist services, from a refuge to a lawyer, which you can find out more about on our website, at any time of day or night.
 
Our resources also provide more information on how to make you and your children safe. Children may not be the ones experiencing abuse, but getting to safety will be beneficial for both you and you children, who may be experiencing depression, self-harm or eating disorders.
 
Supporting church leaders
Domestic abuse is hard to see. Many women do not think they are being abused and perpetrators are good at hiding it. But there are signs you can train yourself to look for.
 
Restored’s Church Pack is a starting point to help you understand abuse, and our Covid-19 toolkit will help you apply this to lockdown.  We have also arranged a weekly series of one-hour training sessions via video link. Email info@restoredrelationships.org to book a free place. Visit Teatime Talks for more information.
 
Supporting men
Prolonged periods in isolation and working from home will generate feelings of restriction and make nerves fray. These are not an excuse to take things out on others and find a scapegoat in your partner. These are times to take control, own your feelings and find ways of distressing. Our leaflet for men will give you practical advice on doing this. 
 
For more information contact the Restored team at info@restoredrelationships.org