Just as the character on the popular TV series ‘Super Nanny’ aims to assist parents in successfully raising their children, a new set of initiatives – including a personal mentor – hope to empower and better equip parents with disabilities.

Being implemented by Israel Unlimited, a strategic partnership between the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Israeli government, the series of programs are designed to provide practical tips and advice for some 336,000 individuals with a range of physical, sensory, mental and cognitive disabilities who are raising young children.

“All parents need assistance and training; parenthood is perhaps the biggest challenge that we face in our lives,” Avital Sandler-Loeff, the director of Israel Unlimited, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“All mothers and fathers can identify with the difficulties. However, when we are talking about parents with disabilities, those difficulties are even greater,” she continued, highlighting that even simple tasks such as lifting a baby out of a crib or helping a child with homework can be “an insurmountable challenge.”

However, Sandler-Loeff cautioned that even though a parent might have a certain physical, mental or emotional disability, that does not mean they do not have the ability to be effective or loving parents. The programs, she said, are designed exactly to overcome such stigmas, which are widely perpetuated both by society and even by family members and cause people with disabilities not to believe in themselves.

“We knew having children would be a different experience for us and we knew that we would have trouble to some extent, perhaps more than other people but we came to terms with it,” said Dina Tzarfati, who suffers from mild cerebral palsy and participated in one of the pilot programs with the hope of gaining confidence in caring for her nearly twoyear- old daughter.

“Both my husband and I knew that we wanted children,” continued Tzarfati, whose husband Ran also has mild cerebral palsy.

“And the way we raise our daughter is not very different to how people without disabilities raise their own children.”

The couple is among close to 50 parents with disabilities who have taken part so far in one of Israel Unlimited programs, which include both training and mentoring. Their particular course was run in collaboration with the Adler Institute, which with help from Israel Unlimited now offers a track for parents with disabilities in its centers countrywide.

Another of the training initiatives already up and running is Keshet – a program designed by Dr. Naomi Hadas-Lidor, the chairwoman of the National Council for Mental Health Rehabilitation – which has already completed its first session with some 35 parents.

In addition to the training programs, Israel Unlimited has also developed a one-on-one mentoring program that places Adler facilitators directly in the households of parents with disabilities.

“It is something like ‘Super Nanny,’” explained Sandler- Loeff, referring to the popular reality TV series.

“We have already recruited 30 facilitators from Adler, who we trained and who will volunteer in the homes of parents with disability,” she said. “They will define together with the parents the various issues faced by each family.”

Sandler-Loeff pointed out that Israel Unlimited is also looking to expand a pilot program that matches veteran parents with disabilities together with first-time parents with disabilities.

“We are very excited about this program,” she said, adding that the goal is to enable and empower all parents with disabilities to parent in the same way as anyone else.

“The course has given me the general tools I need to take care of my child but I would be very interested in having a mentor too,” said Oren Twis, a father of one, who has cerebral palsy.

Twis’s wife also has cerebral palsy and when their daughter was born, his inlaws became deeply involved in their lives. He said that tensions arose in the family and despite having a master’s degree in economics and working for a medical logistics company, he could not convince his in-laws that he could parent independently. Thanks to the course, he managed to address his challenges with the extended family, Twis said.

“I got the tools I needed to look at my situation in a new way and to find ways to emphasize my abilities rather than my disability,” said Twis, adding, “My disability may be visible but I want my daughter to see my unique abilities instead.”

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