3 helpful responses when countries close international adoption


Photo: Russian demonstrators with banner read ‘No juvenile justice in Russia!’ on rally in support of U.S. adoption ban. Moscow, March 2, 2013.” Source: Shutterstock

Three years ago, Russia closed international adoptions to Americans. Next week will mark two years since the Democratic Republic of the Congo stopped issuing exit letters for adopted children, effectively halting processes there. Rumors abound about proposed legislation in Uganda that would drastically change and possibly end international adoption there.

For families caught in process, these situations are hard. However, none of these are new stories. Guatemala. Rwanda. Nepal. Ghana. Vietnam. India. Haiti. Liberia. Ethiopia. All of these countries have closed some or all of their international adoption programs.

So how should we, as the church, respond when countries close to international adoption?

  1. Mourn with those who mourn.

Let’s weep with those who thought they were going to adopt a child but then couldn’t. Let’s be heartbroken over the children who were told a mommy and daddy were coming for them, including many who met those prospective parents, only to have that promise withdrawn. Let’s grieve for the children whose options have been exhausted in their home countries when their possible doors to international adoption vanish.

  1. Cheer with those who cheer.

We are a people of justice who follow one who calls himself the Truth. As such, ethics ought to matter to us. When international adoptions halt or end somewhere in an effort to eradicate corruption and child trafficking, let us say together, “this is good.” Instead of fighting against justice crusaders, we should be linking arms with them. This sort of cooperation can also allow us to nurture needed changes so that the adoption closure isn’t just an empty gesture but rather a step toward better outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

  1. Offer light and hope and help wherever you can.

Our friends at 99 Balloons and Joni & Friends have excelled in serving those with disabilities internationally, including work with orphanages and vulnerable families. Invest in projects like Wheels for the World and global therapy training trips. If you plan a trip for your church without working with a reputable organization, please be wise and go where you can help, not just where you can feel good. Holding babies in an orphanage is fun, but it’s often not beneficial. Bringing skills that you can apply to help children, either in offering a service (such as a dental care clinic) or in training workers to serve kids after you’re gone (for example, by teaching physical therapy techniques to caregivers of children with disabilities). Traveling isn’t the only way to help, though, as sometimes money can make a bigger impact. Consider giving financially toward in-country efforts where the same money that would have funded the international adoption of one child can serve many more. Finally, be prayerful in all these things, including where God might be leading you to care for vulnerable children and families right where you live.

So how do we respond when countries close to international adoption? Mourn with those who mourn. Cheer with those who cheer. Offer light and hope and help wherever you can.

And above all, remember that while adoption can be good, it makes for a lousy idol. We don’t exalt international adoption. We worship Christ. As countries may be fickle, our God can be trusted. Always.

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyCheck out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

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Jolene Philo…Ten Common Myths Surrounding PTSD in Children

Myths and Misperceptions shutterstock_208663015Thank you for stopping by for the third installment in the series about PTSD in children, also known as childhood developmental trauma. Part 2 in the series provided definitions of trauma, PTSD, and childhood developmental trauma. With that basic understanding of what PTSD in children is, this post looks at what childhood trauma is not by providing a brief look at 10 common myths surrounding PTSD in children.

Myth #1: Only Soldiers Get PTSD

This is probably the most common myth about PTSD in children. But this statement can only be true if war alone causes trauma and if only soldiers are traumatized by war. But since many other events cause trauma and because many civilians living in war zones are traumatized, this myth is obviously untrue.

Myth #2: It’s Not PTSD: It’s Bad Parenting

Kids with PTSD often behave as though they were poorly parenting. And parental neglect or abuse can cause PTSD in children. So we tend generalize and pin the blame for behaviors on parents. But sometimes only one sibling raised in a secure, loving, and nurturing home exhibits disturbing behaviors. This scenario reminds us that while pinning the blame on parents is easy and convenient, doing so perpetuates another myth about PTSD in children.

Myth #3: It’s Not PTSD: It’s Willful Disobedience

Like the second myth, this one is based upon pinning the blame on someone–in this case on the child. Once again, the behaviors of kids with PTSD look a lot like willful disobedience or naughtiness. But traumatized children are not deliberately choosing to be naughty. Their behavior is an automatic survival response to something in their environment that triggers a traumatic memory. When that happens, they do whatever it takes to get away from whatever triggered their fear.

Myth #4: It’s Not PTSD: It’s Sin

This myth adds a faith-based spin to the previous one. PTSD behaviors look a lot like willful sin behaviors. But children with PTSD are not deliberately choosing to sin. As was mentioned before, their response is not a rational choice, but an irrational fear response to a perceived threat.

Myth #5: Kids Don’t Remember What Happened When They Were Babies

In fact children, and adults for that matter, do remember what happened when they were babies. But they remember pre-verbal events, from birth to about age 3, as implicit rather than as explicit memories. Implicit memories are stored as emotions, bodily sensations, behaviors, and perceptual interpretations. Explicit memory is what most people think of as memory. Explicit memories, the episodic movies of our lives, begin to kick in around age 2. But implicit memories–both good and bad–are present from birth and help build the foundation of a person’s sense of security…or lack of it.

Myth #6: Children Are Resilient

The truth is that some children are resilient and some aren’t. Exactly why some kids are resilient and others aren’t is the million dollar question waiting to be answered. But one thing is already known. Children can’t be resilient on their own. Those who have a loving, secure, primary caregiver early on are much more likely to be resilient than those who don’t.

Myth #7: Children Aren’t Traumatized by Indirect or Observed Trauma

Recent research has made short work of this myth. It has shown that children who watch extensive and explicit media coverage of traumatic events are more likely to be traumatized by it. And children who are firsthand observers of trauma such as war, domestic abuse, and shootings are at risk of developing trauma.

Myth #8: Newborns Don’t Feel Pain

Before 1986 the medical community believed that the nervous systems of newborns weren’t developed enough to feel pain. Therefore newborns and NICU infants received no pain medication during surgery or recovery, though they were given paralytic drugs so infants to keep them immobile during surgery. Research in the early 1980s disproved this misconception. Pain medication is now given to infants undergoing invasive surgery and procedures. But pockets of ignorance remain. Some practitioners still tell parents that newborns don’t feel pain and therefore need no pain medication for minor surgeries and procedures.

Myth #9: An Unborn Child Can’t Experience Trauma

Research studies are now showing that babies of mothers who have experience trauma during pregnancy have higher levels of stress hormones in their blood than do babies of mothers who didn’t experience trauma. Also mothers who developed PTSD during pregnancy are more likely pass on a biological marker to their children that makes it much more likely the kids will develop PTSD later in life.

Myth #10: Traumatized Children Are Irreparably Damaged

Thankfully, this statement is also a myth. Childhood developmental trauma can be treated effectively. Many therapies exist to treat children as young as age 3 overcome and manage their PTSD.

Debunking that last myth should give hope to parents who suspect their children have PTSD. Future installments in this series will discuss effective therapies and treatment models for children. So please come back to learn more about PTSD in children and how to help kids overcome it.


Does My Child Have PTSD?Author Jolene Philo was always told that “”babies don’t feel any pain”” and that her son would not remember the traumatic surgeries and hospital visits he endured as a young child. However, research has shown that when childen experience medical illness, witness violence, or are abused, it can leave a lasting effect. According to recent studies, fifty to sixty percent of children who experience these traumas early in life may suffer from a form of PTSD, leading to issues in childhood, through adolescence, and even into adulthood. Does My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for pre-order at Amazon.

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Childhood trauma, by any other name is still traumatic

Childhood trauma and PTSD shutterstock_268132268Editor’s note: Jolene Philo is serving as a special guest contributor to our blog this fall. Here’s the second post in Jolene’s series on PTSD in children that will be featured on our blog every Thursday until Thanksgiving…

As was mentioned in the first post in this series, my first acquaintance with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children was not intentional. Rather, I stumbled into the world of childhood trauma in 2008 after our son was diagnosed with and treated for his PTSD, the result of repeated, invasive medical trauma that began shortly after birth and continued until he was five.

At the clinic where our 26-year-old son was treated, the therapists devote a considerable amount of time to educating the family members and caregivers of their clients about the condition. The basic information they presented piqued my curiosity so much that, once our son completed his therapy, I began my own research about PTSD in children. That research eventually resulted in a book, Does My Child Have PTSD? What to Do When Your Child Is Hurting from the Inside Out (Familius, October 2015).

Between the initial research and the writing of the book, however, I spent a considerable amount of time swimming in a sea of confusion. Confusion caused by diving into the waters of the relatively new field of study–PTSD in children–where the professional jargon about it seemed to constantly changing. The water teemed with a dizzying array terms such as “trauma,” “PTSD,” “childhood trauma,” and “childhood developmental trauma.” Eventually I created three questions and answers to assist parents like me–and perhaps like you–who want to better understand children who live with trauma.

What Is Trauma?

Dr. Peter A. Levine and Maggie Kline, authors of Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience, describe trauma as an intense experience that suddenly overwhelms a child. In other words, trauma is an event that shocks children and overwhelms them. It takes away their sense of security and control. Without treatment, the “feeling of overwhelm” affects the rest of the child’s life and experiences.

A good friend of mine, Margaret Vasquez is a clinical traumatologist, offers an excellent definition of trauma. To kids, Vasquez says, “trauma is the scary, painful, and yucky stuff that happens.” I love that definition because it shows adults what trauma looks like through the eyes of a child.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Understanding what trauma is in a child’s eyes leads to a second question: what is post-traumatic stress disorder, and how is it different from trauma?

In some ways, PTSD is trauma’s bigger, meaner cousin. Not every child who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. It only develops when kids can’t dispel the strong emotions and energy caused by their automatic physical response to a traumatic event. The original event is trapped in the brain, so when events similar to the original trauma occur, the can trigger the stuck memory and cause more emotional damage. If the trapped memories are never released, they infect a person’s thinking. They can lead to unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns.

Because they are children, kids often can’t dispel those strong emotions by themselves. They need someone to process and release any pent-up energy. Children who get that help–the sooner the better after the traumatic event or series of events–are much less likely to develop PTSD. Also, PTSD is not diagnosed until a child continues to exhibit troubling symptoms and behaviors for three months after the original event occurred. Now that you better understand the difference between simple trauma and PTSD, let’s look at one more important question.

What Is Childhood Developmental Trauma?

While swimming around in my sea of confusion, I made an interesting discovery, thanks to a discussion with another mom friend, Sue Badeau. Sue is also a member of The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) advisory board. She explained that the professional jargon about about childhood trauma and PTSD is not very accurate. Experts in the field prefer the term “childhood developmental trauma” over “childhood PTSD” for an excellent reason. Recent brain research shows that trauma that occurs during childhood impacts the brain differently than does trauma experienced during adulthood. That’s why many articles about traumatized children use “childhood developmental trauma” instead of “PTSD in children.”

However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which mental health clinicians use to diagnose mental health conditions, doesn’t include a specific term for or description of childhood trauma. So at least for now “PTSD is the only trauma-related diagnosis that exists.” It’s the only term available for mental health care therapists for one very practical reason. Insurance companies only pay for mental health conditions listed in the DSM.

Until the DSM language changes, the terms “PTSD” and “childhood developmental trauma” will continue to confuse parents like us and others who care about kids but aren’t mental health care professionals. But childhood trauma, by any other name, is still traumatic. And those of us who love traumatized children need to continue to learn as much as we can. So I hope you stop by next week to learn more as this series continues with a look at several myths and misconceptions associated with childhood trauma.

JoleneGreenSweater.jpgDoes My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Jolene Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for pre-order at Amazon.

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Social agendas, kids with gender discordance, inclusion and the church…


So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

Lila 1Last week, students at Hillsboro High School in Missouri staged a walkout that garnered nationwide publicity after school officials granted Lila Perry, a transgender student who had previously identified as a gay male permission to use the girls’ locker room when changing for gym class.

Attorneys for the school had been advised that districts that refuse to allow students to use a bathroom for the gender with which they identify could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The decision was based upon the student’s membership in a protected class (gender) as opposed to an accommodation resulting from disability.

This topic pushes a number of my hot buttons and leads me to want to be very cautious in separating my feelings for those advancing a social injustice against kids and families with compassion for youth who struggle with gender discordance mental health complications frequently associated with the condition. Here are my hot buttons…

Kids with serious mental health disabilities are being used to advance a social/political agenda. If you’re interested in an eye-opening read, check out this article in the Harvard Law Review from last year. The authors were remarkably transparent about their hopes…

While, as a practical matter, this Chapter’s discussion largely deals with spaces aligned with one side or the other of the predominant gender binary, it also seeks to spark further discussion regarding reasons and methods for deconstructing this binary as society moves forward, particularly as non-gender-conforming children become more visible.


Ultimately, policies like AB 1266 could serve as the foundation for a movement toward neutralizing conventional gender categories by allowing transgender students to chart their own experience of gender at school and by showing both transgender and cisgender youth that gender is not written in stone. These experiences in the educational context could lay the groundwork for a future gen- eration that may be willing to rethink the rigid gender binary in ways that current societal attitudes toward sex and gender do not allow.

We looked at the topic of what we know about gender non-conforming kids this past summer. Regardless of faith or attitudes regarding sexual orientation or behavior, I can’t imagine any parent wanting their child to experience the complications frequently associated with gender discordance. In their review, the authors acknowledge the impact of the media in promoting the development of transgender identity…

To what can we attribute the rise of transgender youth? While it is impossible to say for certain, many experts believe that the in- crease stems from transgender issues attaining a higher profile in popular media, both in entertainment and in news programming. This prominence has sparked the growth of transgender youth in multiple ways. Transgender children who are exposed to trans characters at young ages may recognize their own struggles reflected onscreen, thus allowing them to firmly identify what had previously been only a nebulous feeling that something was very wrong. Meanwhile, parents who see transgender people in the media are more aware of what to look for in their own children and of the increasingly wide array of medical options available for transgender youth.

At the same time, the hypocrisy of the media around this issue is staggering. We know that images of excessively thin models promote body image distortion and increase the risk of anorexia nervosa in young women…another mental health condition with a high mortality rate. Check out this article from Fashion Magazine in which the author manages to call attention to unrealistic beauty standards while praising the proliferation of transgender models, declaring that “beauty isn’t as limited to gender norms.”

Advocates are willing to rob our kids of their privacy and their innocence. I see lots of kids who experience great discomfort when exposed to sexualized images or content. I’m aware of a school in our area that scheduled a field trip for their fifth grade class to the local Gay Pride parade, apparently as a part of their curriculum on diversity and tolerance. While the intentions of the school may have been good, some kids had difficulty processing the experience. In the same way that youth who experience gender discordance may struggle to experience acceptance, kids made uncomfortable by sexualized content may not feel comfortable discussing their discomfort in sharing bathrooms or locker rooms with kids of the opposite sex.

Transgender advocates dismiss such concerns. From the Harvard Law Review article…

Second, opponents of trans-inclusive policies might argue that this inclusion is a zero-sum game: policies that help transgender children come at the expense of cisgender children’s discomfort. Assemblyman Donnelly, who vowed to pull his children from public school in response to AB 1266, argued that the law “will take the normal hormonal battles raging inside every teenager and pour gasoline onto those simmering coals,” adding that “[t]he right to privacy enjoyed by every student will be replaced by the right to be ogled.” He further argued that this loss of privacy might discourage cisgender students from using restrooms or locker rooms, create anxiety that reduces overall academic achievement, or even increase the likelihood of a sexual assault. Even setting aside those whose opposition is rooted in hostility toward transgender people, some might suggest that trans-inclusive policies could be harmful to cisgender girls who are unfamiliar (and thus uncomfortable) with the exposure to male body parts that could result from such policies.

This potential discomfort of cisgender children, however, does not militate against trans-inclusive policies. Exclusion of transgender students from gendered spaces in response to this discomfort serves to re-ify and reinforce the ignorance (and, at times, the intolerance) that spawned this discomfort in the first place. Rather than responding to discomfort with exclusion, schools should seek to educate cisgender students about gender variance, building students’ empathy for their transgender peers while simultaneously eroding their discomfort. This approach — education rather than exclusion — better reflects the civic goals of education, as it fosters community and understanding in a way that simply forcing transgender students to avoid bathrooms aligned with their gender never can.

From a CNN interview on the Hillsboro High walkout, Ashley Dye (a senior involved with organizing the walkout) shared a different perspective…

“This protest wasn’t out to bully Lila or call her out on anything or try to make her feel depressed; that wasn’t what it meant to be. It was so the students could have a voice,” Dye said.

“I believe that inside Lila is a female. I believe that she wants to have the female body and wants to be like the rest of females, but I know right now that’s not physically possible,” the 17-year-old said. “The only thing that bothers me is that Lila was in the girls’ locker room. Some girls already have insecurity problems getting dressed in front of other girls as it is, much less having to get dressed in front of a boy.”

Selling churches on the benefits of inclusion becomes much harder when the concept of inclusion becomes so twisted. It’s easy for some church leaders to confuse intentional efforts to reach out to and include families impacted by disability with advocacy for the cause of sexual minorities that pushes ahead with a lack of tolerance for the impact their agenda has on others. In some ways, the concept of inclusion is becoming as contorted as the concept of social justice taught in the Scriptures.

So…what are we to do as Christians in serving kids and families with disabilities that sit smack dab in the intersection of disability and the culture war? Here’s a general principle…

We’re called to extend grace to others and avoid becoming a stumbling block to Jesus for people with little or no faith, but we can’t water down or compromise the essentials of our faith in the process.

Here are three questions to consider…

  • Is gender discordance in kids a disability? I’d argue that it probably meets the criteria for disability, and the concomitant mental health conditions so many kids with gender dysphoria experience certainly represent disabilities.
  • Gender NeutralDo we assign kids to programming by sex or gender? Fortunately, gender discordance appears to be rare and the likelihood that even a large church . For preadolescents, most church programming is sex or gender-neutral, but for the purpose of activities in which kids may have to bathe, use restroom facilities or sleep together, I’d suggest programming on the basis of biological sex if there are no gender-neutral facilities available. Family restrooms suitable for persons with disabilities who require assistance from parents or caregivers available to members of either sex are highly desirable on any church campus. For teens, the issue may be more complicated. I’d defer to the preferences of the teen/parents for involvement in single-sex activities or groups, while respecting restroom/sleeping/changing privacy of kids of the opposite sex.  For teens and adults, I’d consider the thought process Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 8 in which he discussed the importance of not becoming a stumbling block to others.
  • What risks should we subject kids to in the process of implementing inclusion? If we look at education law, the “least restrictive” environment isn’t necessarily the most appropriate environment. Quoting the Office of Special Education of the U.S. Department of Education, factors to be considered in determining the least restrictive environment for individual kids with disabilities include the following…

The degree of disruption of the education of other students, resulting in the inability to meet the unique needs of the disabled student.

If a student with a disability has behavioral problems that are so disruptive in a regular classroom that the education of other students is significantly impaired, the needs of the disabled student cannot be met in that environment.

We wouldn’t think it appropriate to include a child at high risk of behaving aggressively at church without the necessary supports in place to protect other kids from harm. Inclusion doesn’t mean including every person in every environment without consideration of how disruptive their parent might be. The church can faithful in its’ pursuit of including persons with gender discordance without violating the privacy rights of children, teens and adults or disrupting important ministry activities.


shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

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Writing about PTSD in Children Was Not on My Bucket List

Baby in Pediatric ICU shutterstock_114520009

Editor’s note: Jolene Philo is serving as a special guest contributor to our blog this fall. Many of our readers have been blessed by her articles and videos on PTSD. She’ll be featured every Thursday on the blog between now and Thanksgiving. Here’s Jolene…

I have loved to tell stories for as long as I can remember. Show and tell was my favorite subject in school. My second favorite subject was when the teacher read aloud after lunch. The actual writing of stories came in at a distant third, though the gap closed substantially once I quit reversing “b” and “d” and graduated from stubby pencils and flimsy primary paper to pen and wide-ruled notebook paper. As my writing skills grew, I started a bucket list of stories I wanted to write some day.

Over the years, my writing bucket list included the following:

  • Write fairy tales about princesses who have straight hair like me
  • Write a pioneer story kind of like Little House on the Prairie, but better
  • Write a mystery novel

Never, not once in over fifty years, did my bucket list include this:

Write a book about PTSD in children

JoleneGreenSweaterThat unwelcome item didn’t appear on my writing bucket list until 2008 when I was 52. The same year our 26-year-old son was diagnosed with and treated for PTSD caused by the surgeries and invasive medical procedures he experienced from the day he was born until shortly after he turned 4.

In 1982, the year of our son’s birth, the fields of pediatric surgery and neo-natal intensive care (NICU) were just moving from infancy (pardon the pun) to toddlerhood. Therefore, our son endured major surgery before he was a day old according to standard anesthesia protocol of the time. He was given a paralytic drug so he couldn’t move, but no pain medication. Because, as we were told over and over during his 3 week recovery in NICU when no pain meds were given, babies don’t feel pain.

Except, as was proven a mere 4 years after our baby’s birth, newborns do feel pain.

But my husband, son, and I didn’t know any of that in 1982 during our baby’s first surgery. We didn’t know any of that during the next 4 years when he had 6 more surgeries, as well as countless painful and scary invasive procedures and tests. We didn’t know any of that when our son’s behavior became increasingly erratic during adolescence, when he ran away for the first time at age 18, when he joined a religious community 2 years after that, or in 2008 when he called and said, “Can you help me figure out what’s wrong with me. I can’t move forward in life without help.”

We didn’t know any of that. But God did.

And within days after our son’s momentous phone call, God used several family members who are mental health professionals to lead us to Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc. (ITT) in Morgantown, West Virginia. Their assessment showed he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he went through a week of intense, 1-on-1 outpatient treatment. When I picked him up after his second-to-last day of treatment, he said, “Mom, for the first time in my life I don’t hear voices in my head. And I’m not looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to take me into surgery.” At that moment, a new item appeared on my writing bucket list.

Write a book about PTSD in children.

I didn’t want to write the book. Because reading about and researching the subject would lead to dark places where children are abused and traumatized and in pain. Where undiagnosed and untreated children grow into adults who think they’re losers. Worthless. Crazy.

But I knew I had to write the book. Because, as our son’s therapy proved, PTSD is highly treatable. The chances of a good recovery are greater for children treated soon after the onset of PTSD. Therefore, I will do whatever I can do to raise awareness of childhood PTSD so more children receive early diagnosis and treatment.

Like write a book about PTSD in children. And blog about the subject here at Key Ministry. In the next few months, this series will acquaint readers with the basics about PTSD. It will define childhood PTSD, review myths and misconceptions, share how diagnosis and understanding of the mental illness has evolved, explain causes and symptoms, look at how it’s diagnosed and misdiagnosed, outline treatment and prevention options, discuss strategies to help parents and caregivers stay mentally healthy, and consider where faith and the church fit in.

As the series unfolds, please remember that I’m not a mental health expert. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a mom. A mom who watched her son struggle both physically and mentally for 26 years, starting on the day he was born. These blog posts, like the book Does My Child Have PTSD: What to Do When Your Child Is Hurting from the Inside Out (to be released by Familius in October, 2015), are not the final word about PTSD in children.

Rather, this series is a starting place for parents and teachers and churches who want to help traumatized children. Use what you read here over the next few months as a springboard as you seek wholeness and mental healing for the traumatized children you love.

If you have questions about what you read, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer or refer you to resources and people who can.

Does My Child Have PTSD?Research has shown that when childen experience medical illness, witness violence, or are abused, it can leave a lasting effect. According to recent studies, fifty to sixty percent of children who experience these traumas early in life may suffer from a form of PTSD, leading to issues in childhood, through adolescence, and even into adulthood. Does My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Jolene Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for pre-order at Amazon.

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On Ashley Madison, Christians, and sloppy statistics

Statistic GraphicEarlier this week, Ed Stetzer wrote a post worth reading titled ‘My Pastor is on the Ashley Madison List.’ In it, he wrote, “Based on my conversations with leaders from several denominations in the U.S. and Canada, I estimate that at least 400 church leaders (pastors, elders, staff, deacons, etc.) will be resigning Sunday.” In the article, he is clear that this is a guess, though given his research background, it’s definitely an educated one.

Yet in the past two days since, I’ve lost count of the number of blogs and social media posts that have shared that 400 pastors are definitely resigning this weekend, as if these are confirmed figures rather than an estimate and as if the original number was just pastors instead of a wider net of church leaders.

Should we be talking about how to respond when church leaders (and members) are caught exploring or engaging in adultery? Certainly. Christian leaders presenting themselves as biblically qualified to lead while persisting in secret sin is a problem we need to address.

But should we also be concerned with whether or not we’re holding ourselves to a high standard of excellence in the figures we use when we talk about this issue? Definitely. When we present numbers as facts without even checking to see if they’re legit, we’re saying that making a point matters more to us than telling the truth.

I’ve seen this happen before, especially among Christians. We skim an article or half-listen to a speaker. Then we repeat a slightly different version of the facts. Then we do it again and again and again. Occasionally a prominent Christian speaker or pastor repeats the rumored yet inaccurate statistic, and then it spreads even more quickly. It’s like the childhood game Telephone. Then we laugh at how the message changes as little ones whisper it from ear to ear, but this adult version isn’t funny at all.

This is not a game. As Christians, we are the people of the Message. We follow the one who calls himself the Truth. Yet we are prone to repeat half truths (that is, lies) without checking them out.

I see it in disability ministry often. We say 80% of special needs parents divorce. (Not true.) We say somewhere between 80 and 90% of families affected by disability are unchurched. (Nope, though research does show they are slightly less churched than other families.) We say 90% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted. (Not quite.)

I’ll be writing some posts about the real figures we can use – ones based in research and backed up with citations – but for now, let’s just commit to do better. Let’s stop repeating “400 pastors” and 80% divorce rates and other incorrect numbers. We claim to stand in truth and we worship the one who embodies excellence, so let’s start holding ourselves to a standard of truth and excellence in the statistics we use.

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyCheck out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

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5 Practical Tips for Young Adults with Autism Seeking Employment…Ron Sandison

Autism world-workAfter I graduated from Oral Roberts University with a Master of Divinity, I was employed four years as a youth pastor and helps minister. When Metro Detroit experienced harsh economic conditions due to the automotive industry I found myself unemployed. For the next two years I struggled for steady employment and sank into a finical sinkhole. Unable to pay my bills, I was forced to live with my parents.

My Asperger’s added to the burden and stress I experienced in seeking gainful employment. My dad would yell, “You have a masters degree, why are you working only part-time at Corky’s Skate Shop making $5.50?”

During this season I emailed over 400 churches who were hiring only to experience further frustration. I traveled twice to Indiana and to New York for pastoral candidate interviews. I can’t complain about the New York interview; I received an expense paid trip and saw Niagara Falls.

Finally, I received gainful employment in the medical field where I currently been employed for 7 ½ years. Through my occupational struggles I learned five valuable lessons helpful for people with disabilities seeking employment.

Twenty-six million Americans with disabilities are of working age. Every year an additional 50,000 young adults with autism diligently search and struggle for employment. Many of these young adults experience chronic under-employment and unemployment. These practical tips can empower your child for employment and independence.

  1. Most people find employment by personal connections.

While working part-time for Comfort Keepers I overheard one of the staff at the nursing home state, “I work at Havenwyck Hospital.” I told this staff, “I submitted my résumé to Havenwyck four months ago and never heard back!” She advised me, “Tomorrow go and ask for my supervisor and he will hire you. I’ll call him tonight.” The next day, I went to the hospital and asked to meet with her supervisor—he hired me.

  1. Employment comes through experience.

I can guess what you’re thinking how can my child ever gain experience—if no company will hire him? Kerry Magro, a young adult with autism states, “Getting experience as a volunteer or an intern may open the door to entry-level employment within organizations or companies.”[i] I volunteered at Oakland Christian Church for a year before they hired me.

  1. An employer hires based on their company’s needs.

In job interviews focus on your strengths and gifts not your disabilities. A couple positive traits many individuals with autism and Asperger’s possess are faithfulness and attention to details. When I am interview by a potential employer if he or she asks about my having autism, I use humor and state, “I am like Superman, only my kryptonite is electronic noises and bleach. I have a few super powers. I can quote over 10,000 Scriptures and run the mile in 4 minutes and 25 seconds. I also have never missed a day of work.”

  1. Employment comes to those who diligently seek.

Encourage your child to never quit or become discouraged in his or her quest for employment. As the old proverb advices, “The only difference between a successful person and a failure is a successful person rises one more time then he falls.” Charles Spurgeon said, “By perseverance, the snail made it on the ark.”

  1. When all else fails create your own job.

As an entrepreneur declared, “It’s not work when you love what you’re doing.” I learned this final principle from my interview with Rhonda Gelstein whose son (Tyler) is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and autism. [ii] Rhonda was determined to help her son gain independence. After high school, Tyler searched three years unsuccessfully for employment.

Rhonda contemplated what things were of interest to him that he could develop into a business offering gainful employment. The idea that kept coming to her mind was Tyler’s love of returning cans. Rhonda helped Tyler start his own business, Tyler’s Bottle Service. She helped him access resources from Community Living Supports, including a driver who provides transportation when he collects or returns cans. Tyler’s business has enabled him to fulfill his dream of becoming self-employed and living on his own.              

[i] Magro, Kerry. “5 Tips for People with Autism Finding Employment.” Autism Speaks, 14 Oct. 2013.

[ii] 8/4/14 interview with Rhonda Gelstein.


105C 1 1Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is a task force member for the Autism Society’s Faith Initiative. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and Charisma House is publishing his book on 4/5/16, A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with their pet rabbit, Babs, and cat, Frishma. You can contact Ron on Facebook or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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Becoming emotionally healthy…

shutterstock_147253073Many of our readers are aware that I took 2 ½ weeks off last month to work on a book for church leaders on outreach/inclusion of families impacted by mental illness. Seventeen days represented my longest time away from my day job as a physician since 1986 (when I graduated from med school). During the time away, I time to think and rest and to find myself being challenged by God in ways I hadn’t planned.

The emotionally unhealthy leader is someone who operates in a continuous state of emotional and spiritual deficit, lacking emotional maturity and a “being with God” sufficient to sustain their “doing for God.”

Peter Scazzero

IMG_1070Near the beginning of my break, I ran up to my office to grab some paper and printer ink only to find a big package sitting on my desk chair. Someone had arranged for me to receive an advance copy of The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero along with the accompanying workbook. Since one of the promises I’d made to myself for the break was to take time every day over my break to be available to listen to God, I thought the arrival of these books “out of the blue” with no indication of how they got to me wasn’t a coincidence. I put aside my other reading plans to focus on the books that arrived mysteriously.

While neither of our daughters has any condition resulting in significant disability, I concluded that my personal experiences may give me me some insight into the experiences of the families served by our practice and the families impacted by disability our ministry seeks to serve through resourcing local churches. It’s very easy for a physician/ministry leader to become spiritually unhealthy and I share lots of risk factors for poor spiritual health with the parents we serve. Here are three…

Chronic hopelessness/discouragement: One evening last winter, a father of a kid who was being seen by another of our clinicians was berating a member of our support staff for not doing enough to get their insurance company to agree to pay for their child’s medication when I stepped in to intervene. His comeback to me was “You signed up for this!”

His comment just about put me over the edge. I never signed up for this! My life (and the lives of many of my fellow physicians are very different than what we envisioned during the weeks and months of studying 18-20 hours/day and working for 36 hours at a time as residents. We didn’t sign up to mindlessly enter lots of useless data into computers to fulfill the tens of thousands of pages of regulations governing how bills should be sent to insurance companies , or to pay a member of our office staff to spend thirty minutes on the phone with a high-school educated clerk to get a family’s insurance company to pay for a prescription selling for $3.99/month at the drug store up the street. When I started out, 80% of my time was spent with patients…it’s now under 50% and the majority of my time spent at work isn’t compensated financially. For me, the most draining issue with practice has been the lack of hope that things will ever get better. It’s a month to month struggle to keep the doors open. Three of our best people have left in the last five years for other opportunities that offered better compensation.

At the same time, with a cursory glance at our ministry’s Facebook page you’ll be introduced to dozens of parents who never signed up for their current lives either! Having a child with a disability is a 24/7/365 proposition all too often lived without the ability to see a light at the end of the tunnel. They’re working as hard as they can to find the money to provide the basic necessities of life to their kids and pay for the treatments their kids require with nothing left over to provide for retirement or to enjoy the fabulous experiences their friends and neighbors routinely share through social media.

shutterstock_202204480Mental/physical fatigue: At one point a year or two ago, I calculated that I’d gone at least two years since taking an entire day off for either my practice or Key Ministry. I’ve discovered it’s very easy for folks in ministry to justify working all the time because of the eternal significance of the mission. In my case, pursuing the mission was one factor that drove me. I also recognize that I threw myself into the ministry work as a coping strategy for my sense of frustration and hopelessness with my day job. As anyone with a disability (or a child with a disability) can attest, the healthcare delivery system is in the midst of a radical transformation. We have so much paperwork to complete during our visits that I’ve caught myself (or had parents catch me) making mistakes on prescriptions or in writing down the correct time for an upcoming appointment. The end result is that I’m spending far more mental energy and effort to treat the same number of kids and families compared to five years ago. Burnout has become a big-time problem. I’ve found myself turning down patients I would’ve accepted a few years ago when too much time would be required outside of office appointments.

My fatigue is very similar to the fatigue I see in many parents by the time they arrive at our practice. They’re always “on call” for any and all emergencies. They’re carrying out their ministry at home in many/most instances after a full day at work. They may recognize the importance of addressing their own spiritual growth and development, but they’re too tired to do anything about it when they have time to read the Bible or attend a small group, and they’re frequently too tired by Sunday to face the prospect of getting themselves (and their kids) out the door to a worship service.

Withdrawing from God and the people around us: In my situation, my wife and I typically reserve Saturday night as our “date night” when we either go out to dinner by ourselves or get together with other couples. Saturday is also our busiest day of the week in the office. Over the last year or two, we’ve had more and more Saturdays when I’d come home from the office too tired to talk. As a result, we find ourselves doing less and less with other couples. I’d been part of several men’s Bible studies over the years, but stopped attending a few years ago because I was too tired to get up in the morning. I’ve always gotten to church on Sunday morning, but there have been more and more mornings over the last year or two when I’ve gone because I needed to without the anticipation or enthusiasm I used to experience on Sundays. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.

While I’m wrestling with what it means to become a more emotionally healthy leader, I know lots of my colleagues in ministry and lots of parents and family members who follow this blog are wrestling with becoming emotionally healthy in the face of challenges that grow by the day. I thought we might wrestle with some of these issues together this coming fall. We’ll look at some topics out of The Emotionally Healthy Leader to explore how we might become more healthy for our respective ministries…regardless of whether your ministry takes place in a church, an office or in your home.


shutterstock_118324816Key Ministry has put together a resource page for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents with interest in the subject of depression and teens. Available on the resource page are…

  • Links to all the posts from our recent blog series on depression
  • Links to other outstanding blog posts on the topic from leaders in the disability ministry community
  • Links to educational resources on the web, including excellent resources from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a parent medication guide, and excellent information from Mental Health Grace Alliance.
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Don’t judge us by our “professional” Christians…

Ashley Madison

We haven’t even begun to experience the fallout from the publication of data from Ashley Madison, promoted as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” Josh Duggar is the most prominent “celebrity” identified in the data dump at the time of this post, but I have no doubt that many pastors, church leaders and prominent volunteers will be experiencing very painful conversations at home and at work during the days and weeks ahead. I fear that most of us will be praying for at least one friend or family impacted by the website’s security breach.

You Lost MeMy current workout reading (on a stationary bike) is You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman from the Barna Group. As sad as I am about the impact disclosures of infidelity will have on millions of American families, I’m equally sad about the hit to the reputation of Christianity likely to occur among those outside the church as the hypocrisy and moral failures of those in positions of leadership and influence are exposed. The teens and college-age students I spend much of my day with at work aren’t very impressed by a faith that doesn’t make any difference in the lives of the people who profess it. The folks who dislike Christians and Christianity will have ample opportunity to revel in the fall of those who have publicly assumed responsibility for advancing the Gospel.

If you’ve managed to read this far, you may be wondering what Christian leaders being outed for subscribing to a website that facilitates marital infidelity, young people turning away from Christianity and disability ministry have in common.

Allow me to preface what I’m about to say by noting in the course of my work with Key Ministry I encounter church leaders every single day who truly walk the walk in addition to talking the talk…people who indisputably demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit at work within them and have an immeasurable impact upon the world. But Christianity… and the church have a very big problem with people who make their livelihood by representing Christian culture (in the case of Josh Duggar), leading churches or ministries (fill in the blank with the name of a church leader whose dirty laundry has been exposed in recent years) or serving in church leadership with spiritual struggles or a lack of giftedness that render them unfit for the positions in which they serve.

They’re killing the “brand” of Christianity with those outside the church.

Life’s tougher for people who occupy positions of prominence in the church. They essentially walk through life with targets on their backs for the enemy. The enemy recognizes the impact if those with the greatest capacity for influence can be incapacitated.  Scripture is clear in setting out a higher standard of personal conduct, self-discipline and spiritual maturity for those who seek to be leaders out of recognition for the challenges and temptations facing those in leadership. We often fail to demonstrate grace and compassion when leaders fall short, overlooking the reality that we all fall short of God’s standard (absolute perfection) and all are sinners in need of a savior…Jesus Christ. At the same time, we all too often enable leaders and church staff by turning the other way when we observe unhealthy patterns of behavior or a lack of giftedness for their current behavior. Note: My definition of enabling is keeping someone sick through “love” and “understanding.”

Josh DuggarIn the case of the Duggar’s, where else are they going to make the kind of money they made through their TV show if they don’t maintain the charade? Where is Josh going to find a job with the potential for influence (and salary) he received through the Family Research Council? And what do we do with clergy and church staff who are ineffective in their ministry but lack the necessary training or skills to support their families in some other occupation? Where does the pastor turn when they have a wife and kids to feed but struggle with moral failure or relationship issues that should disqualify them for their present positions? They cover things up as best they can and pretend.

I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve encountered in the last few years with a heart for disability ministry and a high capacity for service who have been discouraged or turned away from local churches where they sought to use their gifts and talents because they represented a threat to the people currently serving on staff. Most churches operate on very tight budgets. High capacity volunteers are very threatening to underperforming staff  in churches that operate from week to week on the money from the Sunday offering.

When I think of the team members I’ve met at churches having a great impact for the Kingdom, I’ve been struck by how many are serving after having achieved success in other vocations or are making a fraction of what their talent and ability would bring in the work world. Looking to the future, the church will bear lots of fruit in those places where everyone is encouraged to contribute their gifts and talents to the mission Jesus has called us to.

Before my dad went home to be with the Lord, he occasionally observed that Jesus should sue some of the more prominent people serving in his name for defamation of character. It greatly bothers me that people are rejecting Jesus in all too many instances based upon a misrepresentation of who he is.

I’ve personally been very reluctant to take money for doing ministry because of my own fear that mixing livelihood with ministry holds great potential for doing the right thing for the wrong motives. Many people in ministry handle it well. Lots of “professional Christians” don’t.

We are all ministers. Those of us who profess to be Christians need to assume the responsibility for representing Jesus to a broken and hurting world, even if we lack a seminary degree or professional credentials.

The first leader of the church (handpicked by Jesus) put it like this…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:9-12 (ESV)


shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

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How kids with disabilities are challenged when a new program year begins…

shutterstock_305145821As a new school year is beginning here in Northeast Ohio, many kids and families will face a daunting challenge at church.

Transitions are highly anticipated by most kids and families. At the church we attend, preschoolers entering kindergarten start to attend elementary school large group worship next Sunday. Kids entering sixth grade begin middle school programming and small groups. Ninth graders have their own Sunday evening worship and start “house groups” the following week.

Kids with “hidden disabilities” and their families may not look forward to these transitions with the same anticipation as their peers at church. Transitions from one ministry environment to another all too often result in kids and families falling away from church programming. With a little understanding of how transitions may impact kids with specific disabilities and some advance planning, church staff, volunteers and parents can help most to have positive experiences as they progress into their age-appropriate ministry environments at the start of the new program year.

shutterstock_173700593Some kids may have more difficulty transitioning into environments with more sensory stimulation than they’ve been accustomed to. Kids with sensory processing difficulties (common in kids with autism and ADHD) may experience distress when exposed to very bright lights, loud music and more noise than they’re accustomed to. Ministry leaders aware of kids with sensory issues may consider adjusting lighting and sound amplification in advance of the child’s transition to a new ministry environment. If such adjustments aren’t practical, alternative arrangements can be made for kids during times of excessive sensory stimulation…offering opportunities to serve elsewhere in the church, use of videos or prerecorded worship music or other alternative worship activities.

Kids with anxiety may have more difficulty transitioning into large groups when many older kids with established peer groups and friendships are present. Imagine being a shy, reserved sixth grader walking into a room with lots of older (and more physically mature) kids hanging out with friends in pre-existing groups, or a high school freshman walking in on a group of 16 and 17 year-olds who drove to church. Designating leaders to personally welcome kids who appear to be alone can be helpful. Planning in advance for friends or acquaintances to join kids who are more shy or withdrawn until they’ve made solid connections with peers and group leaders is another useful strategy. Another approach involves having trusted group leaders “loop” for two year commitments…following kids through the transition from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school ministry.

shutterstock_47556007Kids of middle and high school age with less well developed social skills may have difficulty transitioning into small group environments with more sophisticated peers. Transitions become easier when ministry leaders and parents can create a peer culture accepting of kids with differences.

Be on the lookout during transitions between age-appropriate ministries at the beginning of the program year for kids who have regularly participated in your church’s programming for children and youth but are suddenly missing from ministry activities. They may be kids with “hidden disabilities” struggling outside of their familiar (and comfortable) ministry environments.


shutterstock_118324816Key Ministry has put together a resource page for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents with interest in the subject of depression and teens. Available on the resource page are…

  • Links to all the posts from our recent blog series on depression
  • Links to other outstanding blog posts on the topic from leaders in the disability ministry community
  • Links to educational resources on the web, including excellent resources from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a parent medication guide, and excellent information from Mental Health Grace Alliance.

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Ministry Environments, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment