New Initiative that Supports Workers Who Parent Children with Disabilities to Develop into a Society-Wide Position Paper
Raising a child with special needs can be a daunting task. The challenges are often complex and multifaceted, and parents can feel isolated and alone. To address related challenges of employees, the Histadrut, has recently launched a first-of-its-kind support group for parents of children with special needs. The group, open to all Histadrut employees, provides a safe space for parents to talk about everything from the moment of diagnosis to the challenges of raising a child with special needs in the workplace. The opportunity to connect with others who understand what they are going through has proven significant for participants who welcomed new lessons from one another.
“This workshop is a gift. For eight years, I lived with the fear of sharing,” said Karin Bracha-Binyamini, mother of 10-year-old Eitan, who works in the Office of the Commissioner for Employment of Persons with Disabilities at the Histadrut. “I went through a process. I was ashamed, in denial and above all, I was afraid of what would happen in my workplace if they knew about my needs and challenges as a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum…. I lived for eight years with the fear of sharing. I hid it behind ADHD; I washed it with words that are easier to hear than excusing my absence by saying ‘my child is autistic’ and that is why I am absent, late or need to leave early.”
Bracha-Binyamini is part of a first-of-its-kind group for Histadrut employees intended for parents of children with special needs. Twenty-two mothers and fathers, Histadrut employees from the headquarters and the regional divisions, come every week to participate in a ten-session workshop. The workshop creates a safe space to discuss everything and gives parents practical tools. Each session is dedicated to a different aspect of parenting children with disabilities: processing the moment of receiving the diagnosis, dealing with stigma, support circles, the relationship with the workplace, siblings of children with special needs, and many other topics.
“Every home that experiences this goes through an upheaval, and it hasn’t been easy for me either. Families fall apart and go through divorces and layoffs. It is clear that the child is not at all to blame for the situation,” shared Bracha-Binyamini, emphasizing the necessity of the workshop: “Sharing, listening, and the sense of equality that exists in the group eliminates embarrassment and shame. When employees feel they are seen with all the heavy burden on their shoulders, they bring motivation, desire and better productivity. The sense of belonging to the workplace is also strengthened. This workshop is a gift.”
Odelia Ma’uda, the coordinator of the ultra-orthodox sector at the Histadrut, who is a mother to a child with Down Syndrome, shares the feeling and sees great benefit in the experience of sharing that the meetings with other parents gave her. “When people are in distress, they usually tend to withdraw and avoid asking for help. Group therapy challenges this automatic pattern and encourages the person to come out, share and cope.”
The initiative resulted from a collaboration between two units in the Histadrut: the HR department and the Office of the Commissioner for Employment of Persons with Disabilities. It responded to many spontaneous conversations between employees parenting children with disabilities and the Histadrut’s HR department workers, who felt that the Histadrut should strengthen employees’ support system.
In collaboration with the Arlozorov Forum, the Histadrut is also working on a position paper on the issue of working parents and guardians of children with special needs. Guy Simchi, the Commissioner of the Employment of People with Disabilities in the Histadrut pointed out that the Histadrut is “surveying all unionized employees who are parents of children with special needs and asking them what their needs are and how the difficulty in dealing with them manifests itself because it turns out that, to date, no one has bothered to check with them… after we map out all the needs of the parents, we will prepare a work plan to raise awareness of the issue.”
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