How To Start A Special Needs Parent Support Group At Your Parish
Do you feel alone as a special needs parent in your community or parish? Do you need to connect with other parents who understand your unique struggles and joys as the parent of a child with disabilities? Chances are there’s other parents at your parish who feel the same way. Although it may seem overwhelming, it's actually pretty easy to start a support group for parents of disabled children at your parish.
As the mom of two children with physical disabilities, I thought for along time that I didn’t need to connect with other special needs parents. I had supportive family and friends, and I found useful advice through some diagnosis specific national organizations that helped me navigate my sons' care. However, many times when things were hard, my family and friends didn’t know what to say or how to help me. In trying to be well-meaning, they often inadvertently said hurtful things. And while the national organizations connected me with lots of great information, trying to find other parents I could relate to was a challenge because of my strong Catholic faith.
If you’re wondering how to connect with other special needs parents who share your faith so that you can uplift each other in a prayerful community, the good news is it doesn’t take too much work to set up an in-person support group for yourself and other local special needs parents.
First, approach your pastor about your idea, maybe start with an email and then meet in person to discuss specifics. Let him know why you feel there is a need and what your ministry aims to do (i.e. give parents a safe space to talk and connect). Decide where and when would be a good time to meet, and how often. Will people bring food? Will children be welcome? Are their other ministries or volunteers at the parish who can provide childcare?
Promote your meetings in your churches bulletin, and maybe even at surrounding parishes who don’t have a support group but most certainly have special needs parents. Ask if your pastor will announce your group from the pulpit during Mass when other announcements are made. If your pastor knows of other families who might be interested, offer to email or reach out to them directly with your plans.
Once you start having meetings, be patient! Don’t be discouraged if only a few people show up. Continue to meet, and invite members to bring their special needs friends.
You may also want to consider adding an online component for families who cannot attend in person. If you start a private Facebook group for your support group, you can live stream your meetings there for anyone who wants to join in from home. You can also use tools like Google Meet or Zoom.
If you continue to struggle to find other special needs parents locally, be sure to check out Accepting the Gifts Facebook group. We offer monthly online support group meetings. You can also visit the Facebook group Catholic Parents Raising Special Needs Kids for an active online community.
If you want more ideas on how to set up an in person support group at your parish, be sure to download our free guide on this topic from our Shop. And if you need tips for how to build up a relationship with your pastor in preparation, download our free advocacy toolkit, too. This post is also available as a YouTube video.
Let me know in the comments below if your parish has a support group, or ministry, for special needs parents that you’re proud of!