What training for missions should I get to serve people with special needs?

“Consider social work.”

Everyone working in a social field should study basic areas as well as areas of specific interest and expertise to bring into a project. You do need to understand trauma issues and its impact on children developmentally, socially (including discipline, attachment, boundaries), spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. 

A degree in social work (at least in most programs I know) is better suited to trauma care than are psychological programs. It’s hard to define, but the Western psychological approaches generally aren’t helpful for crisis care. They rely on formal methods of measurement and testing. Trauma care, however, depends more on observation, such as studying a child’s play and emotional responses.

Counseling courses can be helpful. Social work should also give you the skills needed for project development. In any program, there are three aspects of need to address: children, projects, and caregivers. Caregivers often need care, too, due to the stresses and demands of crisis care. 

Other areas of expertise that are needed in social projects, according to your interest and ability, could include vocational-training skills, sports/play therapies, non-formal education, medicine, or music therapy.

Answer from Phyllis Kilbourn, founder of Rainbows of Hope and Crisis Care Training International.There are endless skills needed to work with people in crisis, but one person doesn’t need to have them all.

“Look for opportunities all around you.”

Spending time with the people God has already placed around you is number one. I believe we have opportunities daily to serve those who need special assistance. Ultimately our first job is to love one another. Just respond to the need at hand. God will work through the compassionate heart he gave you. 

So help that parent with a special-needs child. Provide the much needed break. Befriend that special-needs adult and treat them to a meal out with you. Make them feel useful, needed, accepted by giving them some responsibility they can handle, or just spend time with them. God will redeem that time and use it as your training ground.

Answer from Nancy, who has served with Harvest Time Church International as missions outreach coordinator.

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