JOINing to lift dysfunctional families

Families that are generally overwhelmed or that are facing acute crisis need help to get out of the rut and pull it all together. For 60 years, Israel has employed somechets (professional family mentors) to complement the work of social workers. Recently, tight government budgets have led nonprofits to join the effort. For the past three years, JOIN Israel has employed two somechets who each work with three or four large, poor immigrant families at a time, in the poorest and neediest communities.

These somechets coach parents and homemakers to cope with the endless issues that arise – such as children fighting and discipline, order and cleanliness, shopping and diet, school and agency intervention – against the backdrop of more serious issues like despair and depression, anger and strife, uncooperative or unavailable family members, physical and emotional issues, and financial and situational conundrums. Each somechet works 6–8 hours a week for several months to get a family organized, motivated, and capable of finding the resources it needs to get back on their feet.

As with all JOIN Israel programs, cost-effectiveness is built-in to the system. It costs us about $2000 to rescue a large, dysfunctional family – saving untold suffering, emotional scarring, lack of productivity, counseling intervention and welfare assistance - turning around a despairing, strife-filled situation for the long term.

Story of Success

If not for JOIN Israel's somechet, Natasha, a mother of 9, would have lost her sanity and her children long ago. For two weeks a month, Natasha’s husband travels outside Israel to work, but even when he is not traveling, he's hardly home. As a result, she's become a borderline "single mom" and must maintain the upkeep of her home with little outside help. This task, along with the pressure of raising her children (the oldest is 13), significantly affected Natasha’s psychological health.

Natasha often blamed herself for letting her family down. She felt as if the messiness of her home reflected her own defectiveness. This feeling of inadequacy spilled into her relationship with her husband and children, leaving her in a state of helplessness and despair. A neighbor who noticed the deterioration in Natasha’s emotional and physical health asked JOIN Israel to step in.

JOIN Israel's somechet first addressed Natasha’s faulty conception of her failure as a wife and mother. She helped Natasha rebuild her self-esteem by reminding her of the talents that she does possess. The somechet also taught Natasha how to manage her time effectively. “The first step to success is organization,” she explained. Together the women worked out a weekly schedule for Natasha, designating times for cooking, shopping, doing laundry, housecleaning and helping the children with their homework. With advance preparation and planning, a situation could no longer arise in which there was no food to eat or no clean clothes to wear.

Over the course of three months, Natasha began to have more confidence in her capabilities and, more importantly, in herself. She has become self-sufficient, and as a result has improved her relationships with family and friends. The Somechet still functions as a pillar of support for Natasha, who often phones her with questions and concerns. But ultimately, Natasha stands on her own two feet, a confident woman ready to confront the difficulties that comes her way.

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