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Vulnerable children: the church stepping into the breach 

 


There is a serious crisis among children's mental health, exacerbated by little money and few professionals available to help. Could there be a closer relationship between church and state to address this? Ian Soars believes so




Children
 


Reading headlines like "Vulnerable children facing 'catastrophe' over crisis-hit councils" or announcements like "Poor mental health has become part and parcel of childhood for many children.” (Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner) would cause any right-thinking reader to pause for thought. Indeed, the concerned reader might dig a little and find that 1 in 10 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder, rising to 1 in 5 girls aged 15...and the numbers are escalating. The reader may even find details in the Government's Green Paper on Children’s Mental Health and a number of worthy initiatives, some local, some governmental...but few promising to halt the tide, let alone turn it back.
 
This article offers a response to that demand but first we need to establish the environment. CAMHS (Child and Adolsecent Mental Health Services) estimates that there are around 750,000 children with diagnosable mental health disorders, of whom 75 per cent will never be seen. The government is trying to lower this outrageous percentage to 67 per cent by 2021. Children’s services cannot afford to meet this crisis, so referral thresholds rise inexorably; Early Help is overwhelmed and the numbers keep climbing.

In my job I have watched as directors of children's services have confessed to me that they are not sleeping because of the horrific funding cuts they are being obliged to implement; I have seen Heads of Early Help cry in front of their teams as they confess to being overwhelmed. I have seen the raw anger of commissioners who have been let down by private companies driven by profit. As a result there is a serious crisis with little money and few professionals available.

A non-governmental intervention needs to be found quickly and I believe the Christian church is fundamental to it if we do so in a godly and public way. The contest between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel has some key characteristics that we can learn from.

 

  • Boldness to act, to turn up “As the Lord Lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him (King Ahab) today” I Kings 18:15 

  • To build in the midst of the people. In Elijah’s case an altar, in ours compassion for the vulnerable. “Elijah said to all the people “Come near to me” So all the people came near to him and he repaired the altar” 1 Kings 18:30 

  • To set out a vision for the nation “Israel (Triumphant with God) shall be your name” 1 Kings 18:31 

  • Then to pray like Elijah did in confident expectation, in belief and in love “Hear me O Lord, hear me, that these people may know that you and the Lord God, and that you have turned their hearts back to you again.” 1 Kings 18:36&37  



Christians have responded nationally in such a way in the past. Britain's ancient universities, hospitals and schools that stand in our communities bear testament to almost forgotten eras when Christian churches innovated social solutions to the pressing issues of the day.

Wilberforce used the idea of Christian equality before God to argue for emancipation of slaves. A group of vicars considered the abuse of children an outrage: they formed the NSPCC. Dr Barnardo, Lord Shaftesbury, James Fegan and others, moved by Christian compassion, founded children's homes. The Clapham Sect campaigned for children to be banned from going down mines. Church schools were founded because a group of vicars committed to start a school in every parish, the first serious attempt at national education system. 

Foodbanks and Christians Against Poverty are admirable modern incarnations of this trend.
  
The current problem needs the church to find new solutions to respond strategically to the cry for justice from communities seeing children’s lives being broken as statutory bodies no longer have the resources to meet the overwhelming need. The church has an opportunity, in partnership with the state, to respond to that need in a stunning way. The church has powerful social assets that the government can no longer afford: it is present in every town, its people are motivated, local and engaged, it has buildings, services and expertise…and its second greatest commandment is to 'love its neighbour'.
 
But the Christian church is like an army contained within its barracks; highly resourced, trained, equipped...but not effectively deployed. What if, under the guidance and responsible oversight of the statutory services, vulnerable families at point of breakdown were referred to the local church marriage course? Or vulnerable teenagers to the youth minister? Or hurting children to caring youth groups? Why not create safeguarding and referral structures so that both groups can work in their communities together?  
 
In our work, counselling children and supporting vulnerable parents, Fegans does exactly this; we abide by statutory requirements while working with churches across the south east. Incredibly, we aim to ensure that every vulnerable child or family referred to us in places such as Lambeth, Ramsgate, Eastbourne, Banbury, East Grinstead, Goudhurst, Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere will be seen by an expert. We have proved that Christian agencies, working in Christian churches, can resolve the most complex of needs in partnership with our statutory referrers. The fundamental question is whether Church and State are prepared to do this nationally and comprehensively?
 
If we walk in obedience to His call to love the vulnerable in our communities I believe that our nation will rally behind justice and mercy, and the poor and the vulnerable will be loved and ministered to. As Jesus said “Let your light so shine before people, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in Heaven” Matthew 5:16. 
 
I believe that the church, as a corporate body, is being called to His purpose to love the vulnerable, to be bold, to build and to pray. This is our Mount Carmel, the contest of our generation. I believe that, just as with Elijah, our nation watches silently to see what happens if we, as a body, show up for it.  
 
Our God waits on top of Mount Carmel. Let’s go and join him. 

 

Image | Annie Spratt | Unsplash

 

Ian Soars is the CEO of Fegans. Fegans is a Christian charity that aims to support holistically as many children and families as possible through counselling and parent support



 



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Baptist Times, 09/10/2018
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