In the course of my ministry work, I meet a lot of parents from every conceivable background. Even though most have come to hear me speak in front of a group, it’s not uncommon to have quite a few parents who want to speak with me privately. They often have personal concerns about one of their children. Concerns they are either unsure with whom to share it in order to get the help they need or because they are too afraid to talk with their child’s teachers or doctors about it. As a result, they and their children have been suffering and struggling trying to manage a problem their child is having with little or no outside support.
It doesn’t have to be this way. That are a lot of things churches can do to encourage deeper, mentoring relationships between members. Those things take a lot of time, however, and aren’t always structured effectively. Some children and teens may still slip through the cracks. What your ministries need in addition to any other efforts are student care teams. These teams are specially designed to provide counsel and assistance in a safe, loving, supportive environment for children, teens and parents who are struggling.
To make it work well, it’s probably best to loosely model your care teams after those at universities – particularly Christian Universities. Because churches and non-profit ministries run under different laws than universities, it will be important to have an attorney draw up a release form parents must sign for their children or themselves to be served by the care team. A well written release form should protect the family and the church/ministry.
Children, teens and parents can self refer to the care team or anyone having concerns about the child, teen or family can ask the care team to check on a student or his or her parents. This should be done in a loving, supportive way without a critical, judgmental spirit. The purpose of the team is not to gossip about the problem, but to seek specific, concrete ways your church or ministry can help the family address whatever the issue maybe. Sometimes that may include referring one or more of them to licensed professionals if none are available in your congregation. Many problems can be solved with extra assistance in finding solutions or at least things to try and/or ongoing mentoring.
So who should be on a care team? It will vary according to the backgrounds of the people in your congregation. Larger congregations may choose to have separate care teams for children and teens, while smaller ones may only manage one team and still need help from outside experts to be of much assistance. In general though, here are some standard care team members that should help address the more common parenting or student issues:
- Lay or professional counselor or therapist
- Bible class teacher of the child/teen
- Any mentors of the child/teen/parents
- Parents (some parents may opt to sign the release and not be a part of the team)
- Child or teen (it may not be appropriate for the young person to attend every care team meeting, but in most cases they should have a voice in the solution and the ability to ask questions)
- Medical professional to assess when a professional referral is necessary
- Mediator/lawyer – mainly in cases where there is open conflict between parents and their child, but may also be called upon to suggest when families may need to engage an attorney for other reasons
- Professional educator – many issues involve an academic component so it can be helpful to have someone with a degree in education on the team
- Minister, elder or someone else with strong biblical knowledge that can help address any spiritual or biblical concerns
- Other professionals as needed. A child or teen may have a problem in a specific area or have special needs which may be best met by including additional professionals on the team for that particular young person or family.
It should be noted that everyone on the team should be a volunteer and the professionals on the team should not use the team as a way to find new business for their practice. It should be left to the discretion of the parents as to which professionals they ultimately use, if any. Care teams should not attempt to force or bully students or parents into following their advice. For families with financial struggles, every effort should be made to find them low cost or pro bono services. In many cases, volunteers or other ministries in the church may be able to provide the extra help a student or family needs. It cannot be emphasized enough that privacy should be a top concern. Children, teens and parents should feel that the care team is the safest place in the world to share their struggles and seek godly advice.
Young people and parents who go to a care team for help should not attend one meeting and never hear from the care team again. Various members of the care team should take the responsibility for regular follow ups with the young person and family. Some situations may require more than one full care team meeting. Others will need to have a written action plan to help everyone remember next steps and who has committed to do what. Regular care team meetings should be held when team members review recent referrals and decide whether or not they may benefit from additional assistance. Careful notes should be taken during meetings and kept in a secure place in case they are ever needed.
Don’t wake up one morning to a newspaper article featuring one of your young people because an unaddressed struggle has turned into a tragedy. Be proactive. Catch problems early. Walk beside parents and young people in their struggles. It can be life changing for some families.