Families with children with disabilities frequently have to cope with difficulties that affect the whole family, including the parents, siblings and others, and affect the family's ability to care for the child. To help these families, JDC-Israel-Ashalim, in partnership with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), initiated an experimental program of family centers for families with children with all types of disabilities. The centers provide community support for the families and complement the individual support provided by the social service departments. The first center was established in Acre in 2008 and by the end of 2016, there were 12 centers in Israel in varying stages of assimilation into the services of MOLSA and the local municipalities.
MJB conducted a two-stage evaluation of the centers. The first stage consisted of the evaluation of the first center in Acre during 2012-2013. The findings from this stage helped to develop the program and establish new centers. The second stage took place during 2015-2016, after the program was expanded, and it included the centers in Ashdod, Modi'in Illit, Kiryat Gat and Ramat Gan. Altogether, the study included telephone interviews with 460 parents who received service at the five centers and in-depth interviews with 49 professionals and 8 mothers.
Among the key findings:
The centers conduct a wide range of activities, including support groups for the parents and siblings of the children with disabilities and, in some cases, for the grandparents too, and recreational activities for the whole family. Another component is the development of leadership groups of parents, who participate in the management of the centers and work on behalf of families with children with disabilities in the local community and with the local municipality.
The parents expressed high satisfaction with the centers' activities and reported its considerable contribution to mitigating their isolation in coping with their children's difficulties. Parents who participated in multiple activities felt that the center contributed to their sense of efficacy as parents.
Most of the parents expressed satisfaction with the multi-disability format of the centers.
Each of the centers in the study succeeded in creating contents and emphases suited to the local population and its unique needs.
The study indicates challenges that continue to face the program, such as how to bring more fathers and siblings to the activities of the center, and how to sustain the parent leadership groups' ability to act once the program is transferred to MOLSA and the local municipalities. The findings from both stages were discussed with the program partners, and contributed to the ongoing improvement of the program.
The study was commissioned by JDC-Israel-Ashalim and funded with its assistance and the assistance of the Mandell Berman Fund for Research on Children with Disabilities. The report is dedicated to the memory of Mandel "Bill" Berman.