Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Story Behind the Forum

On 1st February there will be a forum for any one who works with, or has an interest in, children who have additional needs and their families. (Details Here - Book Here)

Anyone who knows me knows I am passionate about facilitating children who have additional needs.  I want to make a difference. I want things to change. The thing is - I’m getting impatient and I want things to change more quickly.

I want people to catch the vision. Not a vision for tackling a problem but a vision for facilitating children who have additional needs to find faith, to grow in faith and be all that God has created them to be. 

And I’m impatient for more people to catch that vision and spread it.

I have story upon story of faith from children who have additional needs, I have stories of parents in tears because of the gratitude they feel when people ‘get it’. I have the written vision of a parent who wants their child who is severely autistic to walk with God and serve Him - a powerful missive!

Yep - I’m passionate about this….

It all started when I was 14 years old and helped on a camp for children who had physical disabilities. It was run by the church I attended at the time and children were turning to God. But - it was difficult to link them to churches local to them as those churches just couldn’t cope.

It also occurred to me at that time that when you looked at how many children had an additional need in our communities, it was obvious that this was not reflected in our churches and ‘The Church’ was poorer as a result. It is still the same today over 30 years later.

From that point on I knew what I had to do, I trained as a nurse and specialised in caring for children who have additional needs of every variety. There was an urgency to what we were doing on the camp I helped on as a teenager, as many of the children had a very short life span. Later, as a nurse I had the ‘privilege’ of being with some of them as they went to meet their creator - sad for me, but what was more troubling was those children we just couldn’t reach in time. 

I’ve held too many dying children for me to just sit back and do nothing.

21 years ago…. God called me to be a Children’s evangelist, and He left in my heart that burning desire to do something.

Whilst there are pockets of excellent work with these children and lots of organisations doing bits and pieces, it still isn’t enough. I still hear stories of children and their families turned away from churches, I still hear of evangelism policies and plans that don’t include intentional outreach to children with additional needs. I hear of schools work set up, but no one even thinking of going into the ‘special’ schools. I still hear of children treated as a problem rather that God’s creation. These children are in our communities, are in our schools and have families who are often in crisis with no help in sight.

I want that to change. 

This year the damn finally burst. At the Children Matter forum in May I poured my heart out about this. I wanted to pull together every one who would listen so we could do something. I want the best for these children!

Are you with me?

Well that’s why we are organising this forum. We want to start a conversation that will begin a process of change, not just for the children but for their families too. Yes, there are people out there doing some great stuff but we need to be talking together and working together to achieve even more… spread the word and make a bigger impact.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The church, Savile and Child Protection

The newspapers, TV and social media have been alive with information about Jimmy Savile. We all agree it’s terrible, and we’re all wondering how he managed to get away with so much for so long. 

In the early days of this news breaking some people pontificated about why the “Alleged Victims” waited until after he was dead - that comment on it’s own shows how many people just don’t understand the issues facing those who have been abused by a high profile person (Will I be believed? They are so powerful, I’ve been threatened etc). 
As it turns out, a few of his victims did speak up - but sadly, for many reasons, nothing was done.

But I’m not writing here about the failings of all those involved in this, people and policies that should have kept so many young people safe. I want to talk about how “The Church” is going to respond to it.

The temptation is to shake our heads sadly and assume it only happens “out there” and not in our nice comfortable churches.
I commented on social media last week that ‘The Church’ in this nation should “...sit up, listen, take note and learn. Most importantly... Act.”

By act I mean three things: 
  1. Act - have a safeguarding policy, it will go a long way to preventing abuse. 
  2. Act - If someone makes an allegation, do something about it. Your safeguarding policy will tell you what to do. 
3. Act - If you have a survivor of abuse in your church family, support them. If you don’t  know how, then get some training.

I want the church in this nation to learn from the mistakes behind the whole Savile saga.. 
It’s wrong to think it wouldn’t happen in a loving church community - it can. To think that is wrong. Sadly, I know all too well how people in leadership in churches can ‘get away with it’ and how the victims can be left feeling they have no voice. I know survivors...and those who didn’t survive.


It could even happen in a church with a very good safeguarding policy - CRB checks are good, but not foolproof. We always need to be on our guard. I’m not saying we should view everyone with suspicion before we’ve even welcomed a child into our churches - that would be wrong. What I AM saying is - be aware and be ready - just in case.

Church - please listen. 

Make sure you have an up to date safe guarding policy, and then make sure you use it. Don’t just leave it on the shelf gathering dust. 

Make sure everyone in your church knows about it. Do safeguarding training regularly for those involved at any level with children and young people.

Inform the parents of children who attend your clubs that you have a policy - put a statement about it in all your information.

Display the child line phone number at child eye height in your church buildings, and if any one says you should’t do this because it encourages false allegations - ignore them. I’d rather see the complainer ignored than a child who has been abused. (Aside from that - it’s just not true)

As well as the usual checks, use supervision as one of your main safeguarding tools.

Have a clear and simple whistle blowing policy

Don’t brush things under the carpet - shine God’s light on stuff and act (Whilst still maintaining confidentiality for the child/young person) 

Don’t use this as an excuse NOT to do children’s work or youth work. If it stops your children and youth work - you’re doing something wrong.

If you know nothing about safeguarding, have never heard of child protection but want to do do something - contact the professionals for help - they’ll be happy to help you.

I’ll say it again:  Church, please...sit up, listen, take note and learn. Most importantly... Act.