What does it mean to care for the "whole" child? What does that look like? It seems counterintuitive in some ways. If we're caring for a child, we're caring for the whole child, right? Roof over her head. Shoes on his feet. Books for school. At World Orphans, we see a distinction between caring for a child and caring for the whole child. We use the term "wholistic" a lot, but what does that even mean?

Wholistic Care at World Orphans

  • Physical Care: Protection, shelter, food, nutrition, access to clean drinking water, and medical care
  • Mental Care: Access to and support of education and vocational training
  • Emotional Care: Ongoing care through counseling and home visits
  • Spiritual Care: Discipleship toward a relationship with Christ, transformation, and a restored image of dignity and true identity in Jesus Christ.

To get a better understanding of what wholistic care looks like for children, we invite you to learn from Sr. Director of Wholistic Care Kathy Davis and Sr. Director of Global Partnership Kevin Squires. 


Kathy has served with World Orphans since 2010, and in her current role, she inspires and equips the church through the coordination, participation, and execution of Wholistic Care Training. She has experienced firsthand that real hope and lasting wholistic transformation comes through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With World Orphans, Kathy has traveled to Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, and Nicaragua. 


The term "wholistic" gets thrown out a lot when we talk about caring for children in our program, but what does that term really mean?

Kathy having coffee with Home Based Care (HBC) coordinators in Ethiopia

Kathy having coffee with Home Based Care (HBC) coordinators in Ethiopia

Wholistic is the philosophy that all parts of a person are interconnected. Wholistic care is an approach to ministry that engages the "whole" (entire) makeup and development of a person—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.  Hope, restoration, and development are the aim of this approach to ministry. Given the degree of hopelessness, poverty, hunger, abandonment, injustice, and sin in our world, there is the bright hope of transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ for those who believe. 

For the parent who's struggling to just make it through a day, how would you encourage him or her to care of their child in a wholistic way?  

Kathy: I would seek to empathize and acknowledge that the responsibility of parenting may be challenging on any given day. Children need intentional and loving engagement. Children also need structure and protective boundaries. Desperation and despair that result from poverty and hardship exacerbate daily challenges and often leave parents in survival mode and disengaged. The problems, challenges, and pain that children face are real and often result in a lack of loving connection. I would encourage parents to cultivate an awareness and willingness to engage the child wholistically. This requires that they take the time that is necessary to be mindful of the child's physical health, mind, and emotions as they go about daily life. I believe that children need loving connection and gracious correction. Caring for children in a wholistic way will provide the gift of real hope—an opportunity to both heal and continue to become whole.  

How do you measure—programmatically like World Orphans or on an individual family basis—success in this area? How do you ensure that your intention to care for a child in a wholistic way is being fulfilled?

Kathy: This is a great question! There are clearly markers of quantifiable wholistic successes like progression in school, ongoing physical growth, increased emotional stability, and spiritual growth. As an organization, we are seeking to quantify the impact of our programatic success in our family-focused programs. The provision of food and education are clear markers of positive impact. The impact of wholistic ministry through Church Partnership and as parents will extend beyond what is quantifiable. Clearly, some things cannot be measured! The measure of success for children who have been abandoned and displaced may be best expressed in the child being removed from harm and connected in a family where he is increasingly aware that he is valued and loved. Along with the provision of food and education, we desire to help families recognize their value and true identity in Christ. We desire for them to understand that their past does not determine their future. Our hope is that they come to know that they are created in the image of God and have been created with great purpose.

Kathy praying with a child in Kenya

Kathy praying with a child in Kenya

With 140 million orphans in the world, it seems there should be a frantic effort to just get kids off the streets. Why go through the effort to guarantee the "whole" child is receiving care? Why is it so important?

Kathy: Certainly it is important to get as many kids off the streets and into a safe environment as possible. A wholistic approach to ministry through the local church reaches beyond rescue and relief into the next steps of intentional development for the whole child. World Orphans family-focused programs are resourced and executed through Church Partnership, where they are positioned to best understand that ongoing wholistic care and development is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty and bondage. Children are not an inconvenience and burden, but are clearly a precious gift from God. Compassion and mercy for the wounded, oppressed, and less fortunate are markers of what God expects from his people. I am immensely grateful for the engagement of the church and the many parents and caregivers who are devoting themselves to such love. 


Kevin has served with World Orphans since 2010. In his role, Kevin oversees all our church partnerships—partnerships that represent thousands of people from various churches around the globe. Kevin provides leadership, discipleship, and ongoing support for the churches that choose to work together to care for orphaned children and vulnerable families. 

Kevin assisting with Haiti Ninja Warrior Camp

Kevin assisting with Haiti Ninja Warrior Camp

When I say, "Caring for the whole child," what does that mean to you? How do you picture that?

Kevin: I kind of picture that as a hub-and-spoke image with the spiritual well-being of the child being the hub and each extension of the child being the spokes. The hub is the identity of who they are in Christ, so loving them, caring for them, and discipling them at their hub (their core) is the best way to start. Unfortunately, so many people disconnect that part of ministry from the rest of the child. In reality, when we love, care, and disciple people, we join them on their journey. We enter into their spokes—their emotional world, their social network, their thought life, and their physical landscape. In other words, caring for their spiritual self opens the doors to their broader world and allows us to care for them wholistically.  

How does your view on caring for children wholistically impact the way you oversee Church Partnership? How do you cast vision for this with our international church partners?

Kevin: Christ set the bar high for the church when he called it to be a "City on a Hill." Its very nature is to provide wholistic care for those in need, whether it be food, rest, peace, health, etc. I often remind churches around the world just how Christ defined love in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan didn't care for the person in need by simply stopping and praying for him. He didn't care for him by having an empathetic heart. He cared for him by scooping his beaten and bloodied body up off the ground, transporting him to a place where he could find rest, peace, food, and health, and then covered the cost of it all. Church Partnership simply follows the steps of Christ and how He challenges us to love and care for one another. We start by loving them as God loves us, and in doing that, we join them in their emotional, mental, social, and physical journey. 

What kind of challenges do we face—as an organization—by focusing on wholistic care rather than merely getting children off the streets?

Kevin meeting with church partners in Haiti

Kevin meeting with church partners in Haiti

Kevin: At its core, wholistic care is relational and developmental; whereas, "getting children off the streets" is primarily relief and has an end game. Although both are important, wholistically caring for people invites us deeper into their mess and deeper into their journey. It's a commitment to the long haul. Getting children off the streets is a short victory, but getting them into a family that will care for them through life's challenges is our hope and desire.

What challenges do you face as a father when it comes to wholistically caring for your own children? How do you and your wife overcome those challenges?

Kevin: Our challenge as parents is always to care for and speak into the hearts of our children—to get into the hub of who they are in Christ. Caring for them emotionally, mentally, physically, and socially (the spokes of who they are) is much easier than leading their hearts to Christ. So, we teach them about grace, about why we love, about why things matter, and about who should matter the most. From there, we pray that those lessons, as well as our own imperfections, are made perfect by the power of God.


We understand that sometimes just getting food on the table or every child to bed at a decent hour is hard enough. Parenting is challenging, joy-filled, exhausting, amazing work. We hope these resources—all recommendations from Kathy and Kevin—are an encouragement to you on your journey. Below are resources (books, blogs, websites, podcasts, webinars, etc.) for both parents and churches that want to pursue wholistic care, but aren't sure where to start. 

Do you have questions or comments for Kathy, Kevin, or Tacy? We want to hear them!

Please leave them below.