Inclusion of Children of All Needs

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

Inclusion of Children of All Needs

‘Ohana’ Means Family. Family Means No One Gets Left Behind or Forgotten.

As lockdown restrictions have eased and we continue to navigate a safe path out of the pandemic, children’s and youth work including clubs, uniformed organisations, and play centres, have been gradually resuming in-building activity.

Over the past couple of years, some children’s and youth work has stopped altogether, so meeting with children and young people again is rightly being greeted with great enthusiasm (not least by families!). For some, children’s and youth work has continued online, with a variety of approaches having been taken to create environments that have been engaging, interesting and fun. Much has been learned over the past couple of years, and many of us have become Zoom ‘guru’s’!

But as in-building children’s and youth work resumes, albeit initially somewhat different looking to when we last were able to do this, let’s not lose all the learning and experience we’ve gained from the last couple of years. Let’s not abandon the progress we’ve made in reaching children and young people, and their families, through Zoom and other online solutions, that we wouldn’t have reached through in-building activity, many of whom have special needs or disabilities.

Like many children’s and youth workers, I love a good Disney movie, and that well known quote from ‘Lilo & Stitch’ keeps coming to mind whenever I think about the return to in-building children’s and youth work:

“Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”

So often, families of children with special needs or disabilities can find themselves forgotten, overlooked, not considered when plans are being made. After so long it is unsurprising that many children’s and youth teams are excitedly opening the doors again and getting in-building work restarting, but I’ve personally been saddened to see many people posting on social media about how thrilled they are to not have to run Zoom sessions anymore. For families who cannot, for all kinds of reasons, attend in-building activities, this is so harmful, another form of exclusion.

So, let’s not choose between in-building or online children’s and youth work; let’s not create exclusion by cutting off families who have been able to connect like never before over the past couple of years. Let’s make sure that no one gets left behind or forgotten.

Here’s 5 ‘C’s’ that we can all do that will help with this:

1. Communicate

Ask families what they prefer, what they can access, what resources they need to join in. Make sure we are including them as we plan, remembering that phrase used by the disabled community: ‘Nothing about us without us.’

2. Community

Recognise that our community includes families that come to the building and families that connect from home. Structure our activities in ways that link both parts of this community together so that they can enjoy being involved wherever they are and can feel the ‘togetherness’.

3. Camera

A ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ offering isn’t about providing an in-building programme and broadcasting it via a static camera at the back of the room to anyone else. It’s about interaction, giving families at home a chance to contribute, share and lead; having the camera moving around to see what is happening in-building, and broadcasting on a screen and sound system what is happening at home, making it a truly interactive experience for everyone.

4. Creativity

Are we doing something ‘crafty’ or ‘creative’? Have we thought about how to equip families that are taking part from home? Maybe drop a bag of resources round to them so that they have everything that the children and young people in the building have, enabling them to all join in together. Is there a programme or timetable that we could include? For children and young people with special needs, make this visual by including symbols and photos.

5. Check-in

We generally chat with families as they collect their children from in-building sessions, so why not do the same for families that are connecting online? Don’t just drop them an email but pick up the phone or pop round for a chat. How did the session go for them? What worked and what didn’t? What do they need from us next time? How would they like to take part?

I hope these tips and ideas will help as we continue to open up our children’s and youth work, and plan for the ‘new normal’. Let’s make sure we all remember that “family means no one gets left behind or forgotten”. Let’s ensure that whether families are getting involved in what we are offering in-building, or at home, that they all feel connected, and all experience the sense of community that this brings.



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