As more school districts opt for distance or remote learning for the first semester of this coming school year, you may not realize this creates crucial felt needs your ministry can help address. It’s important to remember many families will not call and ask you to meet these needs. Some of them make parents feel ashamed or afraid of getting calls from the local department of children services.
You will have to listen carefully and be aware of warning signs. You may have to minister to them quietly or even in secret. Your ministry may have to get creative in both discovering the felt needs of kids and their families, as well as in meeting those needs.
It will take extra time and effort. Many of these needs, if unmet, will leave the young people you minister to at risk. They will add stress to families that can’t handle any more problems. They may even put some young people in very real danger.
Here are some of the top issues concerning those who work with kids and teens when education becomes remote for young people.
- Lack of food. While many schools in food deprived areas will provide school meals to their students as they have since March, there is one huge problem. The children have no way to get to the school buildings to get their food. We know of one ministry who has traveled to several different schools Monday through Friday for months, to pick up and deliver food to the children who attend their church. It is running them to exhaustion, but they tell heartbreaking tales of the children for whom they aren’t able to pick up their meals looking longingly at the food being delivered to others. Don’t assume the children in your ministry aren’t food deprived or have someone to pick up and deliver their school meals if they are….double check that every child is getting the food he or she needs to stay healthy.
- Wifi and technology. Not every school system is supplying WiFi and/or iPads and laptops to students who can’t afford them. Many public libraries – a backup for technology deprived students- are still closed. Providing even basic WiFi and used devices can make a huge difference for many families. Don’t forget, even middle class families may not be able to afford a device for every child and parent in their family suddenly attending school and working from home. They, too, may welcome a used device.
- School supplies and reading materials. Often children who can’t afford these extras are given them by programs that have scaled back or cancelled due to COVID. Many public libraries are still closed. Providing families with some of these extras can make a huge difference in how well their kids do in school – even remote school.
- Protection from abuse. Many child abuse cases are reported by school teachers. When children don’t attend school, there is no one to notice the signs of abuse and neglect and alert authorities. Foster care agencies are noticing a huge drop in foster children, not because abuse isn’t happening, but because no one is alerting them to potential issues. In many states, ministry volunteers are mandatory reporters. Remember, school teachers won’t be catching the cases you fail to report. (Note: While most parents are not abusing their children, there is another group of parents that is so stressed by various factors, that they are at risk of having an overly harsh or even abusive episode with a spouse or child. These parents need emotional and spiritual support, as well as help with basic needs, to stay in their normal healthy parenting range.)
- Child care. This can impact teens and younger children. Many essential workers aren’t paid enough to hire full time babysitters or use daycare. They count on schools for free daycare. When school isn’t in session, younger children may be left in the care of older siblings or even left alone – even well below the legal age for staying home alone.
- Tutoring. Many students receive free tutoring in after school programs. If those programs are closed due to COVID, struggling students won’t get the extra help they need.
- Health checks. Many schools provide free screening and even care at times for health issues like vision, hearing, dental, height and weight. These screenings often catch health issues in children who don’t get regular checkups.
- Positive, productive free time activities. This can impact teens even more than children at times. Many activities have been cancelled or delayed until at least second semester. Many teens who normally would be busy in sports, music or a host of other productive activities may find themselves with a lot of extra free time and no one to encourage them to use it wisely.
- Mental health screenings and counseling. Some children benefit from the mental health resources at their schools. Children who may not normally need those resources may find the extended stressors of COVID have left them feeling depressed and/or anxious. They may not know who to tell or how to get the help they need.
Ministering to children and teens by helping them meet these crucial felt needs is a great way to show the love of Jesus and introduce them to your ministry and your church. It is a wonderful way to be a light in your community.