Evaluation of Child-Parent Centers

Child-Parent Centers (CPCs) were developed by the Children and Youth Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services and by Ashalim as an innovative service for children at risk and their parents. The centers serve children aged 5-12 with emotional or behavioral problems stemming from problematic parenting. Their goal is to improve the children’s emotional, social and behavioral functioning, the child-parent relationship and parental care. The centers are operated by local Social Service Departments (SSDs) and NGOs. Center staff includes social workers, psychologists, expressive therapists (e.g. art or drama), housemothers and counselors. Each family has an individual treatment plan, which may include different types of therapy (e.g., art or animal-assisted) for different family constellations (a parent-child dyad, an individual family member or the whole family). Spending quality family time together at the center is a key treatment element. The centers are designed to feel like a home and the staff receives families with a warm, accepting attitude. Center work principles include focusing on the child-parent relationship; viewing the family as an integral unit; involving the family in designing its own treatment program; use of creative and expressive therapies; continuity of treatment with the SSDs and regular contact with schools.

The evaluation aimed to provide policymakers and service developers with information to help with the implementation of centers and decide on expanding the service. It examined the nature of the population served, the way that the centers operate and the services they provide, the effect of the treatment on the children and parents and the participants’ feedback. The study population consisted of 153 families treated at the first nine CPCs in 2002-2005 and of a comparison group of 138 families from localities without a child-parent center. Follow-up of the families was conducted approximately one year after CPC treatment ended. Study findings indicate a significant decrease in two out of six indicators of the children’s social and emotional problems: children treated at the CPCs showed a decrease in anti-social behavior and school behavioral problems. In the comparison group none of the indicators registered improvement and moreover, there was a rise in the children’s sadness and anxiety. As for parental care, in CPC families three out of 10 indicators showed positive outcomes: the percentage of children suffering from physical or emotional violence decreased; there was a drop in the percentage of children with problematic relations with their fathers; and there was an increase in the mothers’ sense of competence. In the comparison group, no significant changes were observed in parental care.

At every stage of the evaluation, the findings were discussed in depth with policymakers and service developers as a basis for improvement and further development of the service. For example, the findings indicated that initially there had been little contact between the CPCs and the children’s schools and steps were therefore taken to strengthen these ties. In time, additional centers were established at Jewish and Arab localities all over Israel, reaching a total of 48 centers in 2008. In recent years, Ashalim and the Children and Youth Service have been designing additional models, such as child-parent centers for adolescents, centers for pre-school children and a mobile child-parent center that travels to small communities.

The study was initiated by Ashalim and the Children and the Youth Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services and funded with their assistance.