Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Perceptions on Disability Supportiveness in the Church

Discussion: Perceptions of Supportiveness in their Congregation between Clergy and Family Caregivers of Supports for Children with Intellectual and Development Disability (IDD)

My D.Min research on comparative perceptions of family caregivers and clergy members has yielded a wealth of information.  I will be going through the different data sets for a while, but thought many might like a preliminary snapshot of one of the sections.  Full reports on methodology and further discussion will be available later.

Following the research of Ault, Collins, and Carter on congregational supportiveness,[1]  one section of the survey instrument was developed to measure the caregiver’s perception of the supportiveness of the congregation as compared to the pastor's perception.

This section of the survey was completed by 36 family caregivers (national sample) and compared with responses of 84 clergy members of one denomination (Kansas sample).

The following six questions were asked to caregivers.

  • 1.       Have you found places of worship to be supportive of including your child with IDD in religious activities?
  • 2.       Have you ever changed your place of worship because your child with IDD was not included or welcomed?
  • 3.       Have you ever refrained from participating in religious activities because your child with IDD was not included?
  • 4.       Have you ever kept your child with IDD from participating in a religious activity because support was not provided?
  • 5.       Have you ever been asked or expected to stay with your child with IDD at a religious activity so he or she could participate.
  • 6.       Have you ever been asked by your clergy representative the best way to include your child in religious activities.

Similar questions were asked of clergy representatives of congregations.  The raw results are presented below:

Family Caregiver Perception
Clergy Member Perception
Places of worship are supportive.
Families changing place of worship due to lack of inclusion.
Parents refraining from participating because child with IDD not included in activities.
Children not participating because support not provided.
Parents asked to stay with child so he or she could participate.
Parents asked by clergy member best way to include child in religious activities.

Brief Discussion:
Clergy members and parents of children with IDD are disconnected.  While it is notable that 45% of clergy members and family caregivers appear to be having conversations, a full 55% are not yet.

Even where open dialogues occurrs, there exists a large discrepancy between what local pastors think they are doing and the message that families with children with intellectual disabilities are actually receiving.

Pastors should be particularly concerned that a large amount of congregants are slipping out the back door as their spiritual support needs are not being addressed.  Perhaps it’s time to rethink small groups, worship services, and church events in order to welcome all those that want to be there.

[1] Melinda Jones Ault, Belva C. Collins, and Erik W. Carter, “Congregational Participation and Supports for Children and Adults with Disabilities: Parent Perceptions,” Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 51, no. 1 (February 1, 2013): 48–61.