Evaluation of the Families Program

In recent years, there has been growing awareness of the need for services for very young children at risk. The Families Program is an innovative program for small children and their parents, which serves as a model for other programs that have been developed in its wake. The program was designed for families with children from birth to age 4 facing difficulties in parenting. Its goal was to encourage positive interaction between parents and children, provide information and guidance on parenting and create a supportive social group for the families. The program was implemented from 2000–2002 by the Israel Association of Community Centers in partnership with the Service for Children and Youth at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, the local authorities, the Education and Welfare Services at the Ministry of Education and Ashalim.

The program operated two afternoons a week in 3-hour sessions at community centers, in the following format: first hour – joint activities for parents and children divided into three age groups; second hour – activities for children and a separate group for parents; third hour – supper for all the families. In addition, program staff conducted individual interventions with many of the families and had contact with social workers and other professionals caring for the families, such as the staff at well-baby clinics.

The program was evaluated by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, which gathered qualitative and quantitative information at the start and end of the program and one year after completion. The report describes the characteristics of the families and children who participated in the program and the inputs they received. It also presents issues that have implications for the implementation of other programs of this kind, such as the fathers’ low attendance rates and the dilemma as to whether this group program should also include individual therapy. The study also examined changes that took place among the children and their parents in the course of the program. The findings indicate that the program gave the parents an opportunity to enjoy enrichment activity with their children, to make new friends and to acquire parenting skills and knowledge. In the course of the program, the relationships between parents and children were strengthened and parenting patterns improved.

The study findings produced great interest and contributed to the knowledge of professionals involved in the development of programs for disadvantaged families with small children. In the wake of the Families Program, other programs of this type have been developed throughout the country.

The study was initiated by Ashalim and funded with its assistance.