Grand parenting is often one of the most life-affirmative experiences in the life of an individual. There are many phrases so often expressed, that they have become clichéd: "If I had only known how wonderful it is to have grandchildren, I would have had them first', or, "Grandchildren are the interest on one's investment". There is a kernel of truth in all clichés, and the joy in the role of being a grandparent is indeed a special phenomenon.
However the path of life has a way of taking unanticipated detours, and requires learning new routes scattered with unexpected challenges. The advent of a child with a disability in the family requires confrontation and adaptation to unfamiliar realities. The family, grandparents included, must develop navigational skills which take emotional strength and physical resilience.
Beit Issie Shapiro's Early Intervention Program always enjoyed the presence of grandparents of children at our center. Grandparents often accompanied parents to the initial meetings with the organization; they sometimes escorted their grandchildren to and from the center, and joined in birthday parties and the celebrations of festivals. . One day a grandmother was visiting her grandchild, and mentioned the difficulties that she was experiencing relating to her grandchild with developmental disabilities. She expressed her sense of isolation and inability to share her worries with friends and family. This was the catalyst that triggered the formation of a support group for grandparents. Ms. Baram understood that it was essential to address a myriad of unresolved issues common to the grandparents.
The establishment of The Aaron Delowe Early Intervention Program’s Grandparents Group was the first of its kind in Israel, and has been operating for 15 years.
At the time of the formation of the Grandparents’ group for children with special needs, there was no theoretical or practical information available in Israel. In order to establish a model for building and running the group, the professional staff reviewed material available from other parts of the world, and looked at their own experiences with grandparents.
Three major issues addressed:
Grandparents need to learn specific skills on how to take care of children with disabilites. For example, learning how to hold a grandchild with cerebral palsy, and how to play and communicate with him/her, in a way that will meet his/her individual needs.
Venue and Frequency of meetings: Grandparents’ Groups take place at The Beit Issie Shapiro De Lowe Early Intervention Center, once every three weeks.
Time: The meetings take place at six thirty in the evening.
Duration: The duration of the meeting is two and a half hours.
Size of groups: Between 12-15 grandparents. This size facilitates intimacy and a communication.
In the early years of the program, a great deal of time and energy was invested in recruiting grandparents. The child and the parents are the de facto clients of Beit Issie Shapiro, thus the parents were the mediators between the grandparents and the organization. Today there is much less necessity to actively recruit grandparents: There is a spontaneous gravitation toward joining the program. It is known as a safe haven where there is a feeling of belonging and support
Structure of the meetings:
The Social Worker
The Group Facilitator is the social worker of the Early Intervention Center at Beit Issie Shapiro. This ensures that a common denominator exists between the professional and the group. The social worker knows the children and their parents and is very committed to their wellbeing.
Subjects commonly discussed in the Grandparent Groups
Examples of questions that grandparents often ask of themselves and of the group:
” How much time does one give the family? How does one say “no”?” This is often uncomfortable and confusing.
“What about other grandchildren, how do I process time for each one and how do I put together the different pieces of the puzzle? “
” What happens when the grandchild goes to hospital, then do all limits break down? “.
Evaluation of the Program
At the end of every year the professional staff assesses the success of the program from:
Letter from parent to Liat
I so enjoyed being with you for the past two years. The group helped me so much, especially your guidance, understanding and insights. May you be blessed to continue helping others in the future.
With great appreciation,
The Early Intervention team is interested in sharing this model with different communities and organizations.
For more information please contact Liat Baram: firstname.lastname@example.org