Stress Awareness and Support for Special Needs Families

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...

Whether this is a school, club, church, sports centre etc., to be able to work more effectively with all children and young people during the times they are there, including those with additional needs, is important.

But that is really just scratching at the surface of what these organisations, and indeed all of us, could and perhaps should, be offering to families that are often experiencing daily stress.

In many ways, it’s an ‘organisation focused’ approach… “We have some children/young people/families that we struggle to support, we need some solutions to help us to do this better”.

It’s putting the needs of the organisations at the heart of the matter, rather than the needs of the children/young people themselves and the families that they come from.

And these two sets of needs may be very very different indeed!

A story from last summer really helps to illustrate this…

It was the beginning of the school summer holidays and a family that includes twin children with additional needs was facing the six-week school break with no respite care available for them at all.

Six weeks of constant 24/7 care for their two children, and the parents were finding the prospect pretty stressful and daunting!

They had tried all avenues to get some respite or support but nothing was available, or there was no budget that would pay for it.

So… they went to their local church and asked if there was any way that they could help…

Did they ask if their children could be included in Sunday School for an hour on Sunday mornings?

Or if they could bring them to the mid-week kids club?

Both of these settings are incredibly important, and to make them accessible, inclusive, and places of belonging for everyone should be a priority for every church, school, club, or similar venue, but that isn’t all that this family needed…

They needed help!

Real honest-to-goodness practical help!

Did the church turn them away?

Did the church say they didn’t have enough resources, volunteers or training?

Did the church say, "This is really a Social Services matter?"

No… they immediately saw the need, recognised that here was a family in crisis, experiencing real stress, and rolled up their sleeves ready to serve.

They took the children out on trips, they made meals for the family, some of the women took mum for a pampering session while the guys took dad out for a round of golf.

They did loads of practical things to support and serve this family.

They loved them, and by showing their love in this way it made an enormously positive impact on this family…

They were literally loved through the six-weeks of the summer holiday, and support has remained in place since, greatly easing the stress that this family experiences.

Every church, club, school etc. that has children and young people in it is going to have children and young people with additional needs, and their families, of all shapes and sizes.

Looking for ways to serve those families, both in their venues and where appropriate at the family home, is vital to families who regularly struggle, who are finding parenting a child with additional needs really stressful.

Helping families like the church in the story above did makes the headlines, but there are many other ways in which families can be helped through stressful times on a week-by-week basis.

Here are just a few suggestions:

- Don’t make a parent of a child with additional needs be the one that cares for their child in clubs, church, etc.

- Parents need a break, and they won’t get that providing 24/7 childcare.

- Look to provide one-to-one support to give these parents the opportunity to be refreshed, ready for the next challenge they will face!

- Offer childminding to parents so that they can come along to a social event etc. together.

The opportunity to just come to something is rare, so help them with this.

Over half of couples with a child with a disability say that it causes major relationship difficulties or breakups…  it’s a stressful life, so let’s also help these couples get some quality time together to invest in their relationship.

Think about holding a monthly drop in style event for parents with children with additional needs where they can come, share coffee and cake, make friendships, share stories.

Parenting a child with additional needs can be really lonely and isolating; schools, churches and clubs can help here.

Contact ‘Take 5 and Chat’ for ideas… Offer pastoral support to parents of children with additional needs.

There is so much to celebrate and enjoy in parenting a child with additional needs, but there are only so many times that you can clear up poo before you really just need to just talk to someone about the hard stuff (no pun intended…).

Maybe linking to Care for The Family’s befriending service might also be a good start?

Recognise that many families with a child or children with additional needs struggle financially…

Much needed benefits are being cut back or withdrawn leaving families facing real financial hardship and stress.

How can schools, churches and clubs help here?

Maybe linking to Christians Against Poverty (CAP), or starting a food bank could offer practical help?

And don’t forget to just ask…  Among all of the practical things that can be done, and there are many, let’s not forget to just let these families know that they are not forgotten, and to ask how we all can help…

The smallest of gestures can make such a difference and mean the world to a stressed-out additional needs family!

These are just a few ideas, there are a great many other ways that schools, churches, clubs, and indeed all of us, can get alongside families with children/young people with additional needs.

If you are a school, church or club leader reading this, what will your organisations response be?

Or as an individual, what will you do?

Then let’s make a difference together…


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