Missional advocacy on disability in Northern Ireland

On Wednesday, the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland appeared at the Northern Ireland Education Committee alongside the National Autistic Society to advocate for some of the most vulnerable people in society. 

You can watch Donna, head of church and mission, giving evidence here and the BBC news coverage is also available. 

Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, the essential services’ within departments of education, health and social care were permitted to operate under best endeavours’. Children, families and carers living with autism and profound disability rely on these ongoing services. Without school, therapeutic intervention and respite facilities, there have been growing concerns around the impact and effects on this community sector.

David Smyth, head of Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, shared briefly the biblical mandate for the church to care about and for the most vulnerable. We cited our Changing Church research, which showed that 90 per cent of Evangelical Alliance member churches surveyed are providing support for vulnerable people, and around 75 per cent of these are working collaboratively with either other churches, charities or local authorities during COVID-19.

Donna Jennings, our church and mission coordinator, is also parent to Micah, who has autism, a profound learning disability. Donna, who has been actively engaged in advocacy for this community sector, gave evidence, highlighted the weight of the impact, offered policy recommendations, and shared personal experience on behalf of the children, families and agencies affected by the lack of service provision. She highlighted learning from the past seven months as well as concerns which remain as pressures continue to rise. 

This was an important moment of advocacy in terms of our position and posture. We joined alongside other key agencies in calling for voices to be heard and lessons to be learned. We championed the non-statutory services that had responded. We called for essential statutory services to resume, to be protected and to be adequately resourced for a long-term, consistent response. We shared a vision of a creative, whole-community response, where the church has served and continues to actively serve in this area, offering our resources for the good of community and society. 

This is an example of the kind of missional advocacy we are pursuing in Northern Ireland for this time, working alongside others for the common good while maintaining a distinctive biblical edge which points to the whole-life, whole-person transformation of the gospel.

There is currently a cross-departmental consultation on the impact of Covid-19 on a whole range of vulnerable children. We are drafting a guide to help individuals with experience and/​or expertise, as well as faith-based organisations working with vulnerable children to respond. You can read the consultation here and email d.​smyth@​eauk.​org for details of a zoom call where we plan to discuss these issues further and equip you to respond.