Key Ministry…When kids and families are impacted by less visible disabilities

We are always looking for partners who inspire us and push us to think outside of our own experience, and it’s a pleasure to introduce Key Ministry as one of those partners. We encourage you to check them out!

Key Ministry logoWhen our team launched Key Ministry in 2002, we did so to help churches serve families of children with  “hidden disabilities”… significant emotional, behavioral, developmental or neurologic conditions that posed major barriers to families connecting with a local church.

Flash forward ten years…the disability ministry movement has grown by leaps and bounds in its’ capacity to help kids with “special needs” to attend church. Churches made great progress including families of kids with intellectual disabilities, genetic syndromes and cognitive impairment. We have successful strategies for inclusion (buddy ministries, self-contained classrooms) and outreach (respite, “proms” or other special event ministries). But kids with “special needs” represent only a small portion of the disabled population struggling to connect through the local church. Most kids and families impacted by disability would NEVER think of themselves as candidates to be served by a “special needs” ministry…they’re reluctant to self-identify and will flee ministry interventions that draw attention to their differences because they desperately want to fit in with everyone else.

Our team pondered this… What need has God uniquely called and positioned us to meet that other ministry organizations haven’t been able to address? We concluded…

Key Ministry provides knowledge, innovation and experience to the worldwide church as it ministers to and with families of children impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities.

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in North America. On any given weekend, the number of Americans attending a worship service is roughly equal to those with a serious mental health condition. Church leaders struggle to develop strategies for ministry to people who are disabled in some environments, but not others. We’re called to come alongside ministry leaders and like-minded organizations seeking to break down the barriers that keep kids and families impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities from fully participating in the life of the local church.

Our team is currently pursuing four initiatives to advance disability inclusion in the church…

Large door imageFront Door Church logo Online ministry: We’ve developed an online platform to deliver free, interactive ministry training to any church with access to high-speed internet service. We host Inclusion Fusion, a free, worldwide disability ministry Web Summit scheduled for November 12th-13th. We’re experimenting with online church as a strategy to help churches connect with families impacted by disability in their local communities.

FREE Consultation: Churches need not just resources, but relationships to effectively minister to families with disability. Key Ministry offers a FREE consultation service to churches of all sizes seeking to minister to families with disabilities, staffed by highly qualified and seasoned ministry leaders.

Inclusion Fusion logoInfluencing church leaders: We’re seeking opportunities to influence influence senior pastors and other church leaders to become champions of disability ministry and reaching out to seminaries for opportunities to train future pastors and church leaders.

Building institutional relationships: We’re seeking collaborations with like-minded ministry organizations (like CLC Network!) with complementary gift sets and interests, publishers, conference organizers, parachurch organizations, foundations and sponsors to optimize our capacity for casting influence with churches.

To reach people no one else is reaching, we have to try stuff no one else is trying. Key Ministry is honored to serve alongside other like-minded Christians and organizations in a disability movement leading to a future when there will be a church for every child.


Steve GrcevichStephen Grcevich, MD is Director of Strategic Initiatives for Key Ministry, after having served as the ministry’s Board Chairman from 2002-2014. He is a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry. Dr. Grcevich is a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Northeast Ohio Medical University, and has been involved with research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medication used to treat children and teens with depression, anxiety, ADHD and schizophrenia. He blogs at Church4EveryChild.


Behavior Management 101

Earlier this week, Phil Stegink shared a review on the documentary, “Who Cares About Kelsey?”, a high school student that struggles with behavior and emotional challenges. In today’s post, he shares how schools can address behavior management and create a positive and supportive school community.

Stegink blog post poster cropKelsey’s story, that of a student who brings challenging behavior to school, is told and retold each day in schools throughout our country. Young students tell the story when they do not follow classroom routines and rules, and when they do not comply with expectations. Her story is told by older students, who, like Kelsey, run afoul of school codes of conduct and who receive frequent suspensions and expulsions. In the documentary, Who Cares About Kelsey?, Dan Habib describes how educators and parents are left to wonder “Who cares about my kid?” and “How can I care about my kid?”

Paradigm Shift

Very often we conclude that students who bring challenging behavior to school do so because they lack motivation to change or because they willfully choose to behave poorly. We describe their challenging behavior as “making bad choices.” In this paradigm, our response to challenging behavior is to provide a consequence that will cause a student to avoid, or simply stop doing the challenging behavior. Essentially, consequences are designed to extinguish inappropriate behavior, hopefully leaving good behavior in its wake.

This paradigm is a time-honored tradition. For years we have written rules that we expect students to follow. School rules are common-sense rules designed to promote an orderly flow of educational business. And, in the face of egregious behavior, we establish zero-tolerance policies intended to eradicate negative and dangerous behavior targeted to either oneself or others. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that negative or challenging behavior has not declined; rather, the data suggest that challenging behavior has maintained a robust status or has increased (Boccanfuso and Kuhfeld, 2011; Skiba et al., 2006). Clearly, punishing students for negative behavior is making a limited positive impact at best or is even counter-productive. There is another way.

Lost at SchoolRethinking How We Respond

In the book Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them, Dr. Ross Greene presents an important paradigm shift in responding to challenging behavior. Greene asserts two radical and critical points on which we can re-think how we respond to negative behavior, including the kind of behavior shown to us by Kelsey.

Classroom - FlickingerBradFirst: “Kids do well if they can.”

Greene makes the case that students know they are supposed to behave appropriately. They know they are to follow rules and that they are to comply with social norms that keep society functioning, particularly the society of a classroom and a school. He suggests that students will do well if they can, because

“doing well is always preferable to not doing well, but only if a kid has the skills to do well in the first place” (p. 11; italics added).

For many of us, this is a radical shift in how we interpret challenging behavior.

Second: Lagging Skills    

Greene suggests that students present challenging behavior because they lack skills required to function in a particular situation. Greene calls these “lagging skills” and when we understand which skills a student lacks, we will be better able to

  1. Anticipate situations where the challenging behavior will likely occur;
  2. recite-19096-599400518-1fs31h0Teach the student the lagging skills, thereby equipping him or her to function in the situation. Greene describes challenging behavior as maladaptive behavior, meaning the behavior is not appropriate for the situation. Put another way, challenging behavior is behavior that occurs when the demands of the situation (or the task) exceed the student’s capacity to respond.When that situation arises multiple things can happen, including:
    1. Resorting to a challenging or maladaptive behavior that has been used before, because no other option is known to exist in the student’s repertoire
    2. Or “choosing” challenging behavior, because the student has not other behavior option from which to choose (such as a behavior that adaptive or appropriate to the situation).

Behavior as a Skill Set

Greene tries to get us to see challenging behavior as a lack of skill so that we rethink our response to it. Viewing behavior as a set of skills required to navigate the world of social interactions opens us up to consider that challenging behavior represents a lagging skill set that must be taught or retaught. If we want maladaptive behavior to become adaptive, we must teach the student the missing skills.

Just as beliefs about classroom teaching have changed over the years, so has the idea of teaching associated with teaching lagging skills that lead to behavior.  In Greene’s model of teaching lagging skills, he makes the case that it is essential that students and adults work cooperatively to solve the problem of challenging behavior. While Greene has worked out this model in considerable detail, for our purposes it includes the following elements:

  • Empathy:  Here the adult seeks to find out why the student is engaging in this behavior. The adult starts a conversation with some form of the observation and question, “I noticed … What’s Up?”
  • Problem Definition: In this step, the adult and the student each identify their problem. Both problems must be on the table in order for both participants to own the partnership of problem solution.
  • Invitation: Brainstorming potential solutions to solve both problems. Both problems must be addressed, not solely the problem identified by the adult.
  • Summary: “I heard us say …” and “When shall we begin?” and “Do we think this will work?” are three questions that highlight this part of the model.

Greene’s argument is that if we are to help students make enduring change to their challenging behavior, we must engage them in the process of learning new skills for troublesome situations, just as we teach reading or mathematics in using methods that engage students as active participants and constructors of new learning.

In Kelsey’s story, she reports that she is a “… mean person …” supposing that she is mentally disabled …” I wonder whether and how her teachers or her parents would support Kelsey if they reframed their response to her challenging behavior as a result of “lagging skills.” Instead of suspending and expelling her from school, what would have been the impact if adults who attempted to support her throughout her school career had interpreted her challenging behavior as an example of demands that exceed her capacity to respond, rather than as bad choices on her part? What if they had worked with Kelsey to identify the situations and associated lagging skills that led to maladaptive behavior?

The problem of challenging behavior is not new. Challenging behavior has been challenging for many years. Our approach to creating positive and supportive communities of learning for all students reflects our beliefs about students, behavior, and choices. Our practices in responding to challenging behavior will determine whether we give the gift of true change to students or whether we focus our efforts on managing challenging behavior.

How have you managed challenging behavior? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Phil SteginkPhil Stegink is the director of educational services at CLC Network and an assistant professor of education at Calvin College.

photo credit: flickingerbrad via photopin cc

photo credit: Sara Björk via photopin cc

Eye Opening Documentary Addresses Challenging Behavior

WhoCaresKelseyposterIn today’s post, Phil Stegink reviews Who Cares About Kelsey?an eye-opening film that raises questions about school practices and strategies that create a supportive school environment. 

In the documentary, filmmaker Dan Habib (director of Including Samuel) confronts a challenging and critically important issue facing students, families, and schools:  supporting students with emotional and behavioral challenges. In this film, Habib tells the story of Kelsey, a high school student who is significantly at risk for dropping out of school and becoming, in her words, “… a screw up like my brothers and sisters.”

Through this video, Habib confronts the real difficulty of supporting students who, like Kelsey, have difficulty regulating their emotions and modulating their behavior. He shows the raw pain of isolation, abuse, and self-mutilation. In this story, we meet committed school staff who seek to reach Kelsey and we learn about Kelsey’s family, who want the best for her, but who do not know how to consistently support her. The story ends with Kelsey’s graduation from high school and her finding a powerful purpose to move forward with her life.

Who is Kelsey?

Who Cares About Kelsey? opens by introducing us to the players in her story: Kelsey, who lives with her dad and stepmother; her dad; her mother; her siblings; and, her boyfriend, who is four years her elder. Though we don’t know this until the end of the film, if Kelsey graduates from high school, she will be the first one from her family to do so.

Failing Grades + ADHD + Self-Mutilation + Abuse Does Not Equal DropoutThe story begins when Kelsey is a senior in her fifth year of school. She was retained during her middle school years, and reports that she was diagnosed with ADHD in 4th grade,. Kelsey says she is a “… mean person …,” supposing that she is “mentally disabled,” but “… not really disabled. You know?” Teachers and support staff of Kelsey’s high school report that she is, among other things, “… stubborn, obstinate, mature, immature, and a champion of the underdog.” Kelsey says that she usually wins arguments, because she has the “… ultimate meanness.”

Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports

During Kelsey’s first year of high school, the administration decided on a very intentional effort to change the trajectory of graduation percentages. They implemented a program known as Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), designed as a school-wide approach to creating a safe school culture. The goal of this program is to reduce the dropout rate for all students, particularly those who are at significant risk of dropping out. Empowerment, rather than control, is an essential element of this program. At Kelsey’s school, this program was known as “RENEW.”

Kelsey receiving help with schoolworkA team of school staff, including teachers, administrators, and support professionals was created to envelope Kelsey in order to support her throughout her high school career. The RENEW team began with and returned often to visioning and goal setting with Kelsey. As is true for many students who struggle with emotions and behavior in school, Kelsey’s vision of self was grounded on her personal definition as “mean,” which led her to view her future as short term. Before she began to give voice to personal dreams in the context of the RENEW team, her vision for self centered on dropping out of school and finding a job. Through supportive planning and visioning with the RENEW team, Kelsey came to articulate hopes and dreams that including having a home, having an intact family, having kids, and having a job that would fulfill her desire to help others.

The Journey Forward

Firefighter KelseyThroughout Kelsey’s story we journey through the ups and downs of her holding and molding a vision that evolves from the “mean girl” persona, to a time when Kelsey is able to accept the reality that it is OK to seek and accept support from others. This isn’t a smooth, forward motion journey, however; steps forward are balanced with steps backward. Finally, after ups and downs, Kelsey passes a final exam for an Emergency Medical Technologist course, which allows her to graduate; the first person from her family to do so.The film ends a year later with Kelsey returning to her high school to speak with students who are participating in the same program from which she received support.

Final Notes

This documentary is not an easy movie to watch. It is not a simple how-to video. Though it ends well, it is not a feel good film. Habib and his associates explore the painful life in which many students live. The filmmakers do not presuppose a positive outcome, though by the end Kelsey has made great progress to managing her challenges and in letting down the walls that formed her boundaries for many years. Throughout the film, the viewer wonders, however, whether or how she can possibly “make it.” There are times when the film brings the viewer to the edge of despair as Kelsey struggles mightily with who she is and what she will be. The producers do not expunge harsh language used by Kelsey as she confronts challenges and speaks out her frustrations. If harsh language is upsetting, I suggest a viewer activate the “bleep” function in the DVD settings.

I think this film is targeted to schools that struggle with high dropout rates for emotionally at-risk students and that are looking for ways to include successfully those students in a positive learning community. The content of the film can be used to stimulate discussion about what faculty and staff believe about school culture and climate. Questions will emerge regarding practices intended to promote positive school culture and strategies used to manage students. The producers of Who Cares About Kelsey? partnered with a variety of educators to prepare discussion guides that should be useful to guide school development teams. I recommend this film to schools interested in implementing PBIS for students who bring challenging behavior to school.

Later this week, I’ll share strategies schools and educators can take to help students with challenging behavior and create a positive and supportive school community.

Phil SteginkPhil Stegink is the director of educational services at CLC Network and an assistant professor of education at Calvin College.

Depression in the Classroom

The sun will come out soon…right?

Many of us are still attempting to plow (pun intended) through our historically dark and deep Winter of 2014.  And it gets exhausting.  The grown-ups get exhausted, and eventually, even the kids get exhausted.  As exhilarating as numerous Snow Days can be, the whole thing becomes tiring and starts to feel relentless.  Will it ever end?  For just a few minutes, maybe we should think about how relentless, hopeless, and exhausted it feels…if you are a kid.

Most of us grown-ups find it hard to believe that kids can feel hopeless, but they surely can.  Some students are stuck in families that are dysfunctional due to conditions over which they have no control including poverty, mental illness, physical illness, or domestic violence.  Some students are stuck in a school “job” for which they are not cognitively or emotionally equipped so they struggle with it and come to fear it every day until they graduate, or just stop attending.  Some students are from great families in which they get a lot of support, and they are quick to understand and use all the new information they are presented with in school every day, yet they were born with a temperament or predisposition that makes them emotionally vulnerable.

Here are some of the behaviors these students may exhibit in your classroom or home: 

  • Expressionless face, no smiles

    Bored by john-morgan

    Photo Credit: John-Morgan,

  • Quick to become tearful
  • Reports lots of aches and pains
  • Lose their appetite
  • Stop doing the things they used to enjoy
  • Become irritable and moody
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Express feelings of hopeless, worthless, or guilt
  • Avoid peers at recess and lunch
  • Demonstrate low self-esteem
  • Try to hurt themselves or talk of suicide
  • Have trouble concentrating

Most likely, you are now thinking about the number of times you or your child have demonstrated some of these behaviors.  And to demonstrate some of these behaviors some of the time is entirely normal (especially when the sun doesn’t shine for days at a time and you are stuck in the house all day unless you want to muscle through snow and shimmy across ice in single-digit temperatures).  But when you or one of your students or kids demonstrates several of these behavior frequent or severely, and those behaviors make it hard to remain productive and involved in healthy relationships and activities…you need to find professional help.

In the meantime, here are some strategies that teachers and parents can use in the classroom and at home to relieve the depression.

  • Get to know your students individually early in the year
  • Be consistent with your home/school communication, reporting both strengths and difficulties
  • Remind the student of his or her strengths using genuine, descriptive praise
  • Encourage the student to concentrate on what will happen today rather than looking way down the road when that anticipation may scare or discourage them
  • Rephrase your students’ extreme language (e.g. “They all hate me.” to “Some of these kids aren’t my friends.” or “I’m stupid.” to “I need a little more practice.”, etc)
  • Make sure they have healthy habits that encourage good sleep
  • Continue to encourage their involvement in positive activities, even if it’s just attendance and not participation
  • Supervise unstructured activities (e.g. recess, lunch) to provide support if the student is withdrawing entirely (e.g. assign a “recess buddy”, provide an alternative activity)
  • Model positive self-talk
  • Smile

Everybody gets sad and lonely at times, even kids, but that can be a “slippery slope” for kids if the grown-ups don’t get busy recognizing and addressing it.  So even though we may be exhausted from this whole winter thing, or from any of the other things we deal with every day, let’s be sure to give some of our energy to brightening up our students who are dealing with depression so can do their “job” every day too!

Sherri Rozema photoSherri Rozema, Ph.D. is a School Psychologist at CLC Network where she enjoys working with individual students to study their strengths and difficulties, and THEN working with parents and teachers as a team to improve their school experiences. 

ADHD in the Church

Because October is both ADHD and Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Making Us Whole will focus on addressing concerns and raising awareness of both of these disabilities. Regardless of your connection with ADHD or Down Syndrome, our hope is that these posts will leave you more informed about the unique joys and struggles families touched by either of these disabilities encounter.     

“ADD can make it tough to be a Christian. Two major components of a typical worship service are the sermon and the prayers. Participation in either takes major concentration. Most of the Christians with ADD with whom I have talked feel guilty about how little they participate in traditional worship. Many have abandoned the regular practice of their faith, not because of disbelief, but because of a sense of being ‘out of place’ in a worship service.” (Oren Mason M.D., Reaching for a New Potential, 2009, p. 171-172)

It’s important for churches to realize the reality of an individual with ADD/ADHD and their experience with faith. It’s likely that someone in your congregation has ADHD. (In the US, 5.4 million children aged 4-17 and about 4% of American adults are influenced by it.)

As a church, how can you best accommodate the needs of this individual?

  1. Start with getting to know them. Talk about their strengths & interests. And then dive into what they struggle with. (For help with this conversation, check out the G.L.U.E.  Training Manual & DVD.)
  2. What are their strengths? Brainstorm ways to implement their God-given gifts and abilities into the body of the church.
  3. Understand medication issues. Medication is often taken in the morning and run out within 12 hours, making it difficult to sit attentively or focus during evening programs. Some persons with ADHD don’t take medication on the weekend so they might need different accommodations during the worship service and church programming.
  4. Empower them. Provide seating choices.
    1. Would they focus better in a 1:1 setting? Invite this person to sit in the front of the church.
    2. Do they need to move around during the service? Perhaps they’d enjoy sitting in the back of the church so they can rotate between sitting and walking.

      Image of a Wiggle Seat & Theraband

      Wiggle Seat & Theraband (

    3. Is their chair restricting? Try a wiggle seat, an exercise ball or a Theraband on the chair legs. (Inclusion Tool Box)
    4. Interactive lessons that utilize images, analogies and fill-in-the-blank worksheets (or sermon notes) to engage visual learners. The more senses you involve, the more learning styles you accommodate.
    5. Visual references, like an order of activities, let both children and adults with little sense of urgency know what is coming up next.  This list can help them know what to expect and when they need to wrap up a current activity. Find more tips for creating visual references here.

      Fidget Pencil Image

      Fidget Pencils

    6. Engage the mind while the hands fidget. These pencils are great for that! 
    7. Maybe this person needs a buddy gifted with strengths that complement his or her weaknesses.

FriendsWhen welcoming any individual into the church, it’s important to remember that they have both strengths to contribute and areas of need. The church is not complete without this person, regardless of their level of ability or disability. Additional resources on ADHD and accommodating your church programs for those with disabilities are listed below. We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences with welcoming the entire Body into the church in the comment section below.

Additional Resources:

Reaching for a New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults with ADD From a Fellow Traveler
by Oren Mason, MD

G.L.U.E. Training Manual and DVD

Inclusion Tool Kit

Inclusion Tool Box: 52 Practical Ideas to Include Individuals with Disabilities DVD

Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities by Erik W. Carter   

Kids in the Syndrome Mix by Martin L. Kutscher, MD

Inclusion Handbook: Everybody Belongs, Everybody Serves, Edited by Terry A. DeYoung and Mark Stephenson

Doug Bouman Photo Barbara J. Newman photoContributors: Doug Bouman, Director of Evaluation Services, and Barbara J. Newman, Director of Church Services, at CLC Network contributed to this article. Many of the above ideas were adapted from the G.L.U.E. Training Manual DVD.