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Recently a friend took a small group of preschoolers and
volunteers to a local indoor pool for a day of fun. Everyone had a
blast — except for the 3-year-old boy who frantically paced the
ledge of the pool, screaming obscenities and flipping off anyone
who approached him. The boy, red-faced and frenzied, was finally
restrained and calmed, but not one of the adults present had a clue
about what had just happened — or why.
After the incident, my friend discovered that the boy’s mother
was addicted to methamphetamine. The boy’s home life included
neglect, drugs, and rampant sexual abuse — not only from his
mother, but also from the string of boyfriends and houseguests who
frequented their home.
• • •
If you minister to more than five children, odds are that at
least one of those kids is considered “at-risk.” Regardless of how
large or small your children’s ministry, it’s likely that a child
facing significant challenges is in your ministry or will be soon.
As teachers with limited time to connect with children each week,
it’s our challenge to transform limited-quantity time into
In 2000, more than 500,000 kids were in foster care due to
repeated abuse and neglect, parents’ drug use, and other problems.
Today that number is growing exponentially with the epidemic of
methamphetamine use spreading and fracturing families. Millions of
children today are considered at risk. Statistics tell us a lot
about the issues kids face, and they’re helpful when we need a grim
shot of reality. But the truth is, no statistic can ever quantify a
child’s heartbreak. At-risk children often come with a loaded
knapsack of barriers they face daily, ranging from habitual neglect
to drug addiction to social problems and more. As an influential
adult demonstrating God’s love to children, it’s important to know
some basic keys for relating to at-risk kids and how you can
maximize your time with them.
What Is “At-Risk”?
The short answer to this question is a child who’s vulnerable to
life-impacting social, psychological, and educational problems.
This includes — but isn’t limited to — children who’ve
experienced repeated abuse and neglect. At-risk children typically
live in high-risk family environments that may include drug and
alcohol dependence; don’t have stable homes either emotionally or
physically; and don’t experience healthy, nurturing relationships
with adults or peers. Kids at risk don’t come only from low-income
families — they come from all backgrounds and socioeconomic