Getting started: Policies and procedures from the inside out

I filed into the posh conference room, along with other new-hires at the psychiatric hospital. This was my very first job, and I was excited to get started: I’d be teaching in the acute care classroom, as well as helping to design a new unit for young children. I helped myself to a cup of coffee, and found a place at the polished mahogany table.  My new colleagues and I  anxiously looked around and made polite small talk in hushed tones. The Director of Human Resources finally entered the room. Our chit-chat was silenced as he regarded us, a smile pasted on his face. He then said…

“Welcome to Leland!” (**name has been changed!)

This was quickly followed by “Anyway…” and then a litany of policies and procedures that would guide our behavior at work. We watched a video that showed thin, pretty, tanned actors portraying staff and patients.  Scenes in the video showed laughing families, therapists and patients engaged in meaningful dialogue, and a staff-patient volleyball game, complete with laughter and applause. After watching it, I couldn’t wait to get started!

However, I never experienced anything remotely similar to the lovely infomercial while I worked there.

As I reflect on that experience, I realize that the hospital was very high on policies and procedures that would sustain the infomercial. We were instructed on what to wear, how to speak, what to say in public about the hospital. Groundskeepers were the busiest folks, making sure that the gardens and exteriors remained pristine and welcoming. My shining, first-year-teacher, idealistic images of changing the world were shattered. It was rather like biting into a mouth-watering, chocolate frosted, cream-filled donut, only to discover sour jelly inside.

You know what I mean.

So what does all of this have to do with starting a special needs ministry?

Simple: Your policies and procedures must be developed from the inside out.

Too often, we belabor the formation of policies, and become mired in the minutiae. We need to avoid this in order to formulate policies and procedures that will make sense. We can do this by identifying the heart of the ministry: its mission.

With your team assembled, discuss mission of your ministry…it’s rather like choosing your destination for a trip. Until you do this, it’s impractical (and frustrating!) to pack up the car and drive! It will be important to review your church’s mission statement, as well as the mission statements of the church’s children’s ministry and youth ministries. Savvy special needs ministry planners will also consider the mission statement for the adult education ministry as well, knowing that kids with special needs will transition to adulthood one day.

Here is a sample mission statement from a church with which we’ve worked:

 Our Special Needs Ministry has a two-fold mission:

  1. To help our church become a place where children with special needs and their families are welcomed and included as full participants in the life of the church
  2. To help children with special needs know, love and share the Lord

Interested in more information on policies and procedures? Visit Shannon Dingle at The Works of God Displayed. Her post today is brilliant (and so is she…) While you’re there, be sure browse around at her other posts, too…you’ll learn a lot! (And, as long as you’re clicking between Shannon’s place and mine, pray that she and her family would somehow magically be transported to a home in my neighborhood…’cause I’d really like that…)

Coming up? We’ll talk about safety, behavior, and communication policies that build rather than break down.

AND, while I’ve got your attention, I’d like to send out a big HOORAY to my darling husband, Tom, to whom I’ve been married for 21 years today. I’m a lucky girl.


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