Handle with Care

The breakfast devotional on child abuse reminded me about the vulnerability of children in our present society. Although that author’s statistics were from the 1980s, the situation is worse today.  The National Children’s Alliance reports that in 2015, well over 300,000 child victims of abuse were served by Children’s Advocacy Centers throughout the United States, and the actual number of child abuse incidents is close to 700,000.

Moreover, the more vulnerable the child, the more likely the abuse.

  • This applies first to age: Children under 1 year old are the most likely to be abused above any other age group.
  • It also applies to children with disabilities: While solid statistics are hard to come by, there is enough evidence to state that children with disabilities are far more likely to be abused than their non-disabled peers.

Leigh Ann Davis, in an article entitled “Abuse of Children with Intellectual Disability” on The Arc’s website, discusses this situation in more detail. Among other points, she notes that there are various forms of abuse: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. She goes on to discuss whether children with particular kinds of disabilities are more susceptible to particular forms of abuse.

Faith communities should be at the forefront of the movement to keep all children safe. Faith communities can be involved in two primary ways:

  • Making sure that the buildings and activities in their own faith community are safe for the children who are a part of their community.
  • Providing support for families who are at risk for child abuse.

Resources are expanding for faith communities who take child protection seriously.  One organization leading the way is Dove’s Nest, an organization which began in the Mennonite tradition but which is expanding to serve other faith traditions as well. Among the most helpful features of their website:

  • An extensive Resources page which includes guides for creating child and youth protection policies, faith denominational statements and guides, worship and pastoral resources, and curricula.
  • Circle of Grace – Christian safe environment curriculum
  • Sample church policies.

The intersection between child protection policies and ministry to persons with disabilities and their families is one to be explored more deeply. Congregational Accessibility Network (CAN) has now started a topic page on Protection & Safety to further this discussion. In addition to the background offered on that page, let me simply suggest several specific things that faith communities can do at the intersection of disabilities ministry and child protection:

  1. Leadership policies.  Churches with disabilities ministries should have clear guidelines for selecting and orienting leaders who work with both children and adults with disabilities.
  2. Abuse awareness.  Churches with child protection policies and training should be sure to include material for awareness of the prevalence of abuse among persons with disabilities.
  3. Education. Many times abuse occurs out of the frustration of parents and other adults about behavior issues. Educating those who live and work with children with disabilities on how to both avoid and respond to behavioral challenges is very important.
  4. Respite. Parents of children with disabilities need respite from their constant 24-hour-a-day challenges. Consider a ministry which regularly cares for children so that parents can get a break.

Keeping all children safe involves a particular awareness of those who are most vulnerable. “Handle with care” may not be a sign visible to our physical eyes, but should be evident to our spiritual vision.


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