I have talked before about the importance of special needs ministry intake forms. Creating written intake documents is paramount to the success and safety of everyone involved. Over the past month I assisted a church in developing a VBS inclusion plan for kids with special needs. We decided to create intake documents for each participant by interviewing parents according to a “script” of sorts. At the bottom of this post is a link to the template we used for our parent interviews. After the church representative (me!) completed the parent interview and typed a summary of answers into the template, the parents were emailed a draft of our intake form for their child. The parent then reviewed the draft document. If changes were needed, they emailed us those corrections. When the document was accurate and complete, the parents returned a signed copy to our church staff. Requiring parents to read and return a signed copy of their child’s intake form prior to VBS participation serves several purposes:
- Permits parents to approve info being communicated about their child.
- Encourages parents to fully disclose their child’s needs and abilities.
- Allows the church to adequately prepare for the child.
Here’s what we learned from the interview-intake process:
Parent conversations allow the church to convey intent to accept. So even though difficult subjects were broached in our conversations that required parents to be vulnerable about their child’s challenges, we could provide assurance during the dialogue. Voice tone and the interviewer’s response can help the mother or father understand that the church volunteers are willing to work through challenges.
The intake process requires notable time for a designated coordinator. The person tasked with the role can expect 5+ hours of intake and coordination time for each participant with special needs. We budgeted 1 hour for the parent interview, 1 hour to complete a write-up (actual intake form), 1 – 2 hours to contact and coordinate the child’s placement, and 1 – 2 hours to coach and train the child’s buddies and teachers. And sometimes based on other discoveries during the intake conversation, additional follow-up was required by offering tour of the VBS environment or perhaps an introduction to other ministry leaders (e.g. Stephen Ministry).
Familiarity with special education or disability accommodation is helpful. While it is not necessary for a church to hire a special needs coordinator who is credentialed, it is tremendously helpful for the person leading the intake process to pick up on terms used by parents and to know where in the conversation to interject important follow-up questions.
Information should be documented factually and dispassionately about the child. It is important to keep records where a family’s dignity is preserved and where no assumptions or opinions are offered about a child or their family. The intake document should capture and convey information that wouldn’t be received as an attempt to label a child or issue judgment for how parents are processing or addressing their child’s disability.
A documented intake interview benefits everyone serving the child. Because of busy schedules and unexpected illnesses, there was never a time our ministry team could meet with every buddy or volunteer who might serve a specific child. However, we were able to provide a copy of the intake interview (even at the last minute), to the relevant ministry servants. (Be sure to note the privacy guidelines on the attached intake form.) Repeatedly, we saw where the teachers who were provided access to the information about a child were enabled to show extra grace, modify a lesson, or encourage a peer to interact with the child.
The signed intake form becomes part of the church’s risk management policy. Following a standard intake process reduces potential problems and risk. Because issues are addressed in the intake interview about a child’s medical needs, allergies, and behaviors, the church has the opportunity to prevent or appropriately respond to an undesirable situation. In 2011 I included a child with autism in the kindergarten class I was teaching at VBS. I used the intake questionnaire to interview the mother before our friend attended VBS. During the conversation the mother revealed that the child was prone to seizures and described a behavior that would surface as a warning just before a medical emergency. I asked several followup questions and then documented how our team could prevent injury and respond appropriately to that situation. Because the child’s buddy had read the intake questionnaire I had prepared, she responded beautifully when she recognized the seizure warning behavior and sat the child down on the ground.
In the following document, I have taken the intake form that many of you have seen before and explained in red why each question is important to ask during the parent interview and what type of follow-up questions may be needed: Intake Conversations from WWWdotTheInclusiveChurchdotcom – Amy Fenton Lee – June 2012
Note: Pardon the request at the top of the above linked document. It is my intent to provide free information and content to help individual churches. Like many writers, I appreciate a request for permission before others use the material to teach their own workshops or develop content for their own websites and para-church ministries. Many of the posts on this blog have content that I use in other websites and publications, becoming copyrighted and providing an income to sustain my ministry.
I’d love to hear from you. How does your church document and share information about participants? How often do you require parents to update their child’s information/form? Have you ever seen where the intake process benefitted a child or a ministry servant? ~ Amy Fenton Lee