Mapping of Support Centers for Families of Special Needs Children

Parents of children with disabilities face special challenges in their attempt to obtain appropriate care for their children. There is a growing consensus that it is imperative to address the needs of these families by developing more comprehensive and integrated services. In particular, there is an interest in exploring the possibility of developing a service that would address a broad range of disabilities rather than having a string of separate, smaller and less efficient services for each type of disability.

As an important step in this process, a study was conducted with two focuses: (a) what can be learned from the international literature? and (b) what can be learned from existing initial Israeli initiatives? The literature emphasized the importance of providing services to the entire family and not focusing solely on the child. It also emphasized the provision of a variety of services, such as mediation, advocacy, emotional support and professional consultation. To identify all of the relevant initiatives in Israel, a comprehensive mapping was carried out including government-run and municipal initiatives and those operated by various voluntary organizations. Nineteen initiatives of relevance were identified – most providing to only one type of disability, but making some effort to provide a more comprehensive approach. Usually, these were centers that had provided exclusively for children, and only recently added services for the families. The study also identified a few emerging models that offer a more comprehensive, multi-disability approach, recently developed on the local level by various voluntary organizations. These new developments indicate the thirst and the extent of need in the communities for this type of service.

An in-depth review of their patterns of implementation and their strengths and weaknesses provides a significant number of important lessons and insights for the broader development of this direction that will benefit the families of children with disabilities in Israel. Based on these findings, Ashalim and an inter-ministerial government committee are developing a new initiative for a national model of multi-disability family support centers that will reflect all the best practices from the Israeli experiences and the international literature. These centers would be the leading, and in effect the only services catering to the families of special-needs children.

 The study was funded by the Mandell Berman Fund for Research on Children with Disabilities and by Ashalim.