The policy guiding the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services (MOLSA) with regard to children at risk whose parents have difficulty raising them, advocates the right of every child to a permanent and nurturing family. Professionals and policymakers alike believe that it is best for a child to grow up with his parents and to be cared for by them, as long as his safety and wellbeing are ensured, and he is provided a nurturing and secure environment at home. Therefore, before a child is taken out of home, it should be ascertained that every effort at parental rehabilitation within a specified period of time has been made.
The Permanent and Nurturing Family pilot program is the leading model of social work practice for social service departments examined by the Division for Personal and Social Services at MOLSA. The program is targeted at families with young children, from birth to the age of six, and its goal is to ensure the wellbeing of the child by rehabilitating his family and providing an opportunity for the parents to raise the child. To that end, the participating families are provided with intensive care and support services over a specified period of time. Only in those cases where the rehabilitation efforts have failed or where there is no parental capacity for rehabilitation, action is taken under the program to ensure a permanent and nurturing family for the child through adoption. The program is based on the poverty-aware social work paradigm. Highly available and responsive social workers are specially assigned to provide each family with a flexible package of interventions that could be adjusted to meet its specific needs so as to promote its rehabilitation. A special care program is developed for each family, specifying rehabilitation objectives, and progress toward the set objectives is monitored.
The Permanent and Nurturing Family pilot program was launched at the end of 2016 in five local authorities: Hadera, Be’er Sheva, Netanya, Bat Yam, and Ashkelon, and involved 50 families. The Division for Personal and Social Services at MOLSA and JDC-Israel Ashalim asked the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute to conduct an evaluation study of the program. The study was conducted from the end of 2016 to 2020, following 46 of the participating families.
The goal of this study was to examine the implementation process of the Permanent and Nurturing Family pilot program, the work practices applied, and the outcomes of the program, and thus contribute to the continued development at MOLSA of policy and social work practice for young children at risk whose parents have difficulty raising them.
The study used qualitative and quantitative research methods and was based on the following: six in-depth interviews with MOLSA headquarters personnel involved in managing the program; a focus group of the social workers assigned under the program; eight case studies of children and families cared for under the program; and the analysis of records of the planning, care, and assessment committees regarding the 46 families and 108 children followed in the study, compiled when they joined the program, after a year of participation, and at the conclusion of the program two years later. In the first round, the information was manually filled in by social workers at the local social service departments, using forms of the planning, care, and assessment committees’ management system. In the second and third rounds, the information was filled in by the social workers assigned under the program, using an online questionnaire created by the NEMALA software on the basis of the indicators specified in the management system of the planning, care, and assessment committees.
In terms of the program outcomes, improvement in the status of the families and children was shown in most of the indicators related to the family and home environment, to parental functioning in the caring adult role, and to the emotional, social, and educational functioning of the child. Most notably, it emerged that at the conclusion of the program, 68% of the children were placed in a permanent and nurturing family: 49% were placed in the child’s biological family, following its rehabilitation, and 19% were placed through adoption. At the same time, temporary out-of-home placement was approved for 32% of the children, whether in residential childcare, post-hospitalization residential care, or ordinary foster care, other than foster-to-adopt care or kinship care.
In terms of the program implementation, satisfaction was noted with the special assignment to the program of responsive social workers, available to the families, and with the provision of a flexible package of interventions tailored to the unique needs of each family with the aim of promoting its rehabilitation and improving its functioning in various spheres. At the same time, it emerged that the program implementation involved challenges yet to be met: the high turnover of social workers assigned under the program; the fact that most of the children already in out-of-home care when the program was launched were not placed in foster-to-adopt families; the lack of adequate support for the fostering families, adapted to their role in the program; the lack of teamwork in some of the local social service departments, leaving the social workers assigned under the program to cope on their own; and the incompatibility of the work practices of the Child Welfare Services, the Foster Care Services and the legal counselling services at MOLSA with the program requirement.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Thanks to the program, a higher rate of children at risk whose parents have difficulty raising them were placed in a permanent and nurturing family within a relatively short period of time, in a streamlined process that should serve as a model for the social service departments. In those cases where the placement or continued placement of children in temporary out-of-home care was approved, the decision was sometimes made in the absence of permanent care options other than the child’s biological family or adoption, when neither solution was viable, for instance, in the case of children for whom an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization had to be found. It is thus recommended that additional models of a permanent and nurturing family be developed and legally anchored – e.g., guardianship or (Muslim) kafala adoption. Finally, given the challenges involved in the program implementation, it is recommended, inter alia, that action be taken to promote the incorporation of the program in the social service departments.