Reaching Kids at Risk


Friendship and Fun

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Every child craves friendship and fun — and at-risk kids will
often thrive when they experience it.

Make joy an integral part of your curriculum.
Give your kids thousands of reasons to exercise their “smile”
muscles. Use your activities, lessons, games, and crafts as an
excuse to inject joy into kids. Use activities that build a caring
classroom. Celebrate. Intentionally create genuine joy.

Invite kids to belong. Don’t assume that a
welcome sign on your door is enough. Literally invite a child at
risk to become part of the action. Tell the child how important he
or she is in your class. Get on the child’s eye-level, smile, and
encourage him or her. If a child experiences failure or rejection
and retreats or acts out, privately encourage that child. Create
opportunities for success and laughter. Use interactive learning
where kids work together cooperatively to achieve a goal or
complete an activity. This is a nonthreatening way to help kids
connect and it’s one of the most effective methods of education.
Give each child tasks, responsibilities, and a role in the

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French philosopher Jean Jacques Rosseau said, “Far from
disheartening your pupils’ youthful courage, spare nothing to lift
up their soul; make them your equals in order that they may become
your equals.” There’s no question where God stands on our care and
love for little children — especially those facing life-impacting
issues. You’re uniquely equipped to share God’s love with a child
at risk — so risk everything to show God’s love!

The View From Our Shoes

We’ve opened our home to 19 children, many brought to us due to
the scourge of methamphetamine. Since we’re also pastors, we’ve
seen what happens when foster children come to church. Here are a
few reflections and suggestions for children’s ministry

Foster parents have special needs. Foster
parents are part of a team to help children manage their losses and
move on to their “forever” homes. Because time is of the essence,
foster parents are called upon to do more than open their homes to
deprived children. We take kids to visitations with parents and
other relatives. We take them to doctors, dentists, and therapists.
We’re sometimes subpoenaed to appear in court hearings to review
the children’s cases. There are conferences with social workers,
the children’s attorneys, and the birth families. There are
continuing education requirements each year, and written progress
reports to be prepared and medication logs to be kept. And then
there are all the normal needs to meet for children. Consequently,
foster parents are often exhausted and emotionally drained. By
welcoming foster children into the life of your church, you’ll also
minister to the special needs of foster parents. Provide foster
parents with children’s clothing, diapers, furniture, toys, and
games. Invite foster families over to your home so the children can
have play time with other children. Offer child care.

Foster children have special needs. These
children are grieving the loss of the only life they knew. By being
brought into the state’s custody, they’ve lost everything: their
parents, sometimes their siblings, their toys and clothes, their
school, their friends, and their routines. Foster children often
lack the capacity to understand why they’ve lost everything
familiar in their lives. Even if their parents abused them, the
kids invariably love and miss them terribly. We’ve had children
weep for days and beg us to take them home to their mommies and
daddies. They’re uncertain about whom they can trust — everyone is
a stranger. So when new foster children arrive at your church,
realize that chances are very high that they’re intensely sad and
may not be receptive to your warm welcome. They may be withdrawn
and nonresponsive, or they may indiscriminately go to anyone for

Prepare to cry — often. Foster children will
usually blossom when given the love, safety, and boundaries they
need. They get into your heart, the heart of your church, and they
never leave, even when they’ve moved on to their forever home.

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor of Children’s Ministry

Kathryn Sparks is an ordained pastor who is now a full-time
stay-at-home missionary to foster children. Lee Sparks is the
managing editor of Rev! Magazine, a pastor, and a lawyer.

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