Stop the Abuse

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A 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.

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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.

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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 strikes.

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 reporting procedures.

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
work.

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).

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