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Greenwich Parent Voice

Embracing diversity 

BOOKING NOW: GPV and the Diocese of Southwark have partnered to present a special service especially for families of children with special needs and disabilities on March 3rd at 12-2pm, Woolwich Polytechnic SE28. 

This is a Christian service but families of all faiths and ethnicities are welcome and encouraged to come and share in the message of love, togetherness and inclusion. It will be hosted by the Rt Reverend Dr Woyin Karowei, the Bishop of Woolwich. 

Flier and full details below, click on the image below to print, download and share. Booking Essential at  GPV-embracing-disability-service.eventbrite.co.uk

About the Embracing Disability Project

Participation of BME families in government 
It is essential that all parents and carers of disabled children can participate in decision making, including those of minority ethnicities and cultures. Over 50% of children with disabilities in Greenwich are in BME families (figures provided by the local authority) and yet these ethnic groups are the least likely to engage with service providers such as health, education and social care.

Non-acceptance of disability in BME communities
Parents tell us that there are problems with accepting disability in some BME communities.  Disabled children can be a source of shame, a sign of insufficient faith or a curse. Parents are told that their children can be 'cured' through prayer. Disabled children are not always welcome at their church services. Parents are fearful of taking their children to church services if the child presents challenging behaviour, is noisy or just appears to be different. They are shunned by their communities.

The church is at the centre of the community so from this comes a general feeling of rejection and stigma which causes the family to withdraw. Isolation creates further problems including stress, poor health and family breakdown.

Head teachers report that parents will not engage with the school and may not accept a diagnosis. This obstructs support for the child at a time when budgets already under pressure from funding cuts and increasing numbers of students with SEND in the classroom. Without the parent-school partnership in place, the outcomes for children are bleak.

Young people who with the right support could have gone on to find rewarding jobs or enter further education and be happy, valued members of society end up excluded, isolated, with metal health problems or even in prison. This is a tragic waste of potential and life.

As a response to this under-reported problem, Greenwich Parent Voice is working on a project to promote a positive message about disability specifically in BME communities. We hope to engage and inform parents, bring them together in their communities and put them back in control of getting the best support for their children and families.

Step 1: A safe space for parents and carers to come together

The first step has been to identify a school in Thamesmead, Bishop John Robinson Primary School, with a largely BME cohort and a welcoming SENCO. Josephine Tontoh (see photo) is our Parent Leader in this school and holds a regular coffee morning for parents in the area. For some parents this is their first contact with other carers of children with special needs. Parents are able to talk freely and without judgment about all the issues facing them such as challenging behaviour, sleep difficulties, getting respite, and securing the right support in school for their children.

We consult and speak with Anne Christopher who is a Parent Leader for GPV and also runs the highly valued 'We Listen' support group for BME carers of children with autism in Greenwich. Anne provides insight from her work talking to and supporting parents. Also involved is Joyce Brako-Amoafo who is a friend of GPV, a member of Lewisham Parent Carer Forum and on the committee of the National Network of Parent Carer Forums. Joyce is committed to changing perceptions of disability in BME communities.

Step 2: Getting the support of church leaders across all faiths 

As a starting point, GPV has approached the Diocese of Southwark for help in reaching members of the faith community in Greenwich. We are working with Hugh Ridsdill-Smith, Consultant working for Diocese of Southwark: Children and Young People’s Mission and Ministry in developing a message and communicating this to church leaders in the area. 

On 28 November 2017 we presented the project to the Church Leaders Network Meeting hosted by Borough Dean, Mike Leader. The Royal Borough of Greenwich kindly allowed us to use the beautiful Gallery space at the top of the Woolwich Centre.

Jo Tontoh and Vivien Davies from Greenwich Parent Voice alongside Hugh Ridsdill-Smith of the Diocese of Southwark presented this pioneering project to the Greenwich church leaders at their network meeting in November. We brought along representatives from the local authority: Joan Lightfoot, Head of Integrated Children’s Services for RBG, Bola Obode, Social Worker for Disabled Children RBG as well as reps from community groups and organisation working with these communities: Nskian Udofia, NEMFLA (Meeting the Needs of Ethnic Minority Families Living with Autism), Mat Ray, Church Partnership Lead at Livability and Barbara Wilson, Child and Family Support Services Manager at Welcare.  Jo Tontoh of GPV is mum to a young girl with cerebral palsy living in Thamesmead. She described the problem from her own experience. 

Attendees were also given a letter written by Kenneth Maslin, Headteacher at Bishop John Robinson Primary School in Thamesmead. This was an impassioned plea for action from faith leaders in promoting positive messages about disability so that schools can make sure that disabled children reach their full potential. You can read this letter here, click on the letter image to read a full size version. 

As a take-home gift, everyone was given a GPV pack with useful information about sources support for parents.  We will be taking this presentation to other faith leaders in 2018.

Step 3: Embracing Disability Service, March 3rd at Woolwich Polytechnic School, 12noon until 2pm. Hosted by the by the Bishop of Woolwich, Karowei Dorgu.

This will be a celebration of our children and their families, their stories and the value they bring to their communities. It will have a powerful message of acceptance and inclusion. It will be multi-sensory, short and engaging. Children and young people with special needs and disabilities and their parents and carers will participate in the service and contribute with images, artworks and poetry. At the end of the service, families will enjoy a free celebratory lunch together. This is where families can meet and chat with each other and form new social networks. 

If you would like to book free seats for the service you can do so here: GPV-embracing-disability-service.eventbrite.co.uk

Step 4: Making a film to share widely
We are planning a short film, based on the special event, and with testimony from parents and from community leaders, to share the message more widely online and on social media.

We think this pioneering initiative could help families not just in Greenwich but in any community where this problem exists.

For this project to work, we need your help! If you are a journalist, charity, politician, teacher, community leader or an interested parent/carer, please get in touch.


Thank you
Vivien Davies and Joanne Delap

Further Reading

Diverse Perspectives
An NAS report into the challenges for families affected by autism in Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority families.