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/ 17 April 2018

The Challenge Group: welcoming young children with additional needs

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Celia Webster describes how she got started with the Challenge Group – a toddler group for children with additional needs, and their families. It meets at St James’ Muswell Hill.

When my third daughter was born with learning disabilities, I felt isolated and very lonely.

She didn’t have an identifiable syndrome and my local GP did not know of anywhere I could go for help and support.

I prayed to God to help find me a group, but instead I became aware that he was asking me to set up a group myself.

I did not want to as I was very depressed.

One night I had a dream that I was in a grey stark concrete room and I was fishing from a shallow puddle with a fishing rod with string and no hook on it.

I felt full of despair and said to my husband in the dream: what’s the point? There’s just no point.

Then I felt this hand on my shoulder that I believe was Jesus, and he said:

“You’ve got to change your perspective… step over to the other side of the puddle.”

I did this and began to reel in fish after fish and they were brightly coloured tropical fish!

After this, in November 2009, I set up the Challenge Group.

God sent funding from a Christian charitable trust and seemed to direct me to the people to ask.

Just one mum came the first week, and then more began to come.

Several mums said they had not left the house for many weeks as they had felt so lonely and isolated.

They had lost all their confidence and were worried about other people’s comments.

Health visitors recommend people to the group and we put flyers in local schools, libraries, hospitals and clinics.

The group is free to attend.

People from church bake delicious homemade cakes; a church member who is a florist and gives a bouquet of flowers each week to a different family.

Dads sometimes come and grandparents too.

I have felt so blessed by the group and we fell like a family.

We celebrate every child’s birthday, and value and celebrate each child and their siblings.

Some children have life-limiting illnesses, others medical complications, and so we want to offer a relaxing normal playgroup experience.

I am a child psychotherapist by professional and felt that all the medical appointments can further effect bonding, which can already be more complicated.

Parents and carers have said:

“The group is a lifeline for me,” “I have made my best friends here.”

“I never feel that I or my child are judged here… there is something different about this group.”

Families support one another.

We welcome people of all faiths and none, so we have had Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists and agnostics.

Many of the children have started to come to church as they have felt wanted and valued.

We have developed Promiseland Plus which provides one-to-one support for children with additional needs at Sunday school.

I have got young people from local schools to come – they may be doing their Duke of Edinburgh or just want the experience.

They also may hear the gospel for the first time or in seeing the love and acceptance get a taste of God’s love.

About Alex Taylor

Alex Taylor is part of the children's and youth team at the Diocese of London. He is an experienced children's and youth worker and writer.

Read more from Alex Taylor

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