In addition to the “usual” parenting problems, parents who have disabilities have to cope with additional difficulties, such as prejudice about their ability to function as parents. The public social services do not provide sufficient support to help these parents cope with the multiple problems they encounter. In 2012, in an attempt to overcome the severe lack of assistance to parents with disabilities, the Adler Institute began implementing a pilot program. This program is part of a range of support services for parents with disabilities that were initiated by Israel Unlimited – a partnership of JDC-Israel, government ministries, and the Ruderman Family Foundation for the development of services for people with disabilities. Volunteer parent counselors from the Adler Institute meet with the parents in the program every two weeks and offer them guidance, support and counseling on matters of concern to them as parents.
The goal of the evaluation was to examine the implementation and outcomes of the program in order to help policymakers develop this and similar programs in the future. The study examined the first two years of the program and addressed the characteristics of the parents and the counselors, the support provided, the parents’ satisfaction with the program and its contribution to their parenting abilities, and the program’s impact on the counselors’ perception of parents with disabilities.
Among the key findings:
Parents reported a high level of satisfaction with the program. They reported that they had learned new ways of coping with their children and that the program had improved their functioning as parents, particularly their ability to understand the needs of their children and to explain things to them patiently.
The counselors drew on their professional experience, but rather than being distant and didactic, their relationship with the parents was supportive, informal and friendly. The parents reported that this was very appropriate for their needs.
The program also affected the counselors – it increased their awareness of the parents’ ability to cope with their disabilities, reduced their apprehensions and uneasiness about people with disabilities, and at the same time, it enhanced their understanding about the parents’ unique difficulties.
The study findings have been presented to the steering committee of the program. The committee has discussed aspects of the program in need of improvement, such as expanding the training for counselors regarding the rights of people with disabilities and the available services for families with more complex needs. Following this program’s success, other programs are being discussed, such as support provided by volunteer parents who have themselves participated in the program. There are also plans for a similar program for the ultra-Orthodox community to be implemented by an ultra-Orthodox institute for parental guidance.
The study was funded with the assistance of JDC-Israel Unlimited.