A recent case in Wylie, Texas, puts a face on abuse suffered by
children with special needs. Gerren Isgrigg, a 6-year-old boy with
disabilities, was found dead on April 15, 2010, in a wooded area.
He weighed only 28 pounds. A shocked community watched as police
arrested the boy's grandmother for murder.
Gerren's life story is a tale of the stress special needs puts on
a family. When the child's parents had divorced three years
earlier, his mother left Gerren with his grandmother and never
returned. Overwhelmed and fearing that no one would or could help,
she apparently snapped.
The sad truth is that families in your community may be barely
coping with the stress of raising a child with special needs. Abuse
among children with disabilities may be as high as 70 percent,
according to the National Research Council. Another estimate says
one in three special-education students is mistreated.
As your church prays for and welcomes these families, you may save
a life at risk. Here's what you can do.
Welcome special needs families. Make every program in
your ministry accessible to children in terms of proper equipment
and a trained buddy for each child. Provide childcare for children
with special needs during ministry activities.
Offer training and support groups. Parents and care
givers often feel alone in the burden they carry. In Wylie, Texas,
after Gerren's death, a concerned citizen organized a candlelight
vigil and an online group for the boy, saying she wished the family
had known how much people cared. Don't wait until tragedy
Educate your church and community. Inform your
congregation about legislation that could impact families with
special needs. Write editorials for your local newspaper to share
your views on just treatment for children with special needs. Ask
your pastor to speak about the needs of families affected by
disabilities. And train volunteers about child-abuse signs and
Provide respite. Plan community events such as baseball
games or picnics for families affected by disabilities. Also,
provide childcare for children with special needs periodically so
families can have a break from the 24/7 care.
Author Charles Colson says, "Christians, living up to the highest
ideals of their faith, have always defended the weak and vulnerable
and eagerly worked to protect and strengthen vital institutions of
civil society, beginning with the family." This is your church's
Pat Verbal is the co-author of Special Needs-Special Ministry
(Group) and manager of curriculum development at the Christian
Institute on Disability (joniandfriends.org).