There are some 3,000 children in the foster care system. More than 1,000 of them are under the supervision of the Summit Institute.
Summit has been working with at risk youth and children with mental and physical disabilities throughout the country to find temporary homes and rehabilitation solutions for thousands of Israelis throughout every sector of the population since 1973.
The institute’s primary responsibility is making sure each child who is unable to live with his or her biological family has a warm and stable environment in which to live until the biological parents are able to take their child back.
Almost half of the foster parents in Israel are grandparents or other close relatives; the rest of children are paired up with foster families who volunteer for this large undertaking.
Today, Summit works with some 800 foster families throughout the country.
“Our goal is to move the kids from the trauma of their biological parents and leaving their homes to finding them a normal family. That’s the most important thing: a warm home and a sense that they belong somewhere,” Yoni Bogot, the CEO of Summit, told The Jerusalem Post.
It can be difficult to place children. Siblings who should be kept together, older kids and teenagers, and kids with mental illnesses and physical disabilities sometimes get lost in the shuffle.
“Most families want a ‘blonde baby,’ so we need more families for kids that don’t fit this template,” Bogot said. “On the upside, we are having more success with recruiting families in the middle class who have a strong desire to give back to society, so we are focusing on this group.”
Avigail Hershkovitz has worked at the Jerusalem branch of Summit for 11 years and runs the foster family department for east Jerusalem and Abu Gosh.
“In Jerusalem the main issue is that we deal with a lot of Arab and haredi kids, and one of the main things with them is that it’s never just one kid – meaning we need to deal with finding a home for two to four kids at a time, and families have a hard time taking in complex kids with issues is a real challenge,” she told the Post.
Another challenge is working around Israel’s diverse population: “We will never put a secular kid with a religious family and vice versa – the goal is for the biological families to take the kids back, and the kids should maintain a ‘status quo’ in their new homes in order to not disorient them.”
There is a shortage of secular foster families. “We have a disproportionate amount of secular kids and a majority of our foster families are religious, so there is a huge lack of secular families in foster care,” Hershkovitz said.
“There’s always kids looking for families and there are always families that are waiting, but the matches aren’t always possible because of what I said [keeping children within the same sector of society], so we need to widen the range of families so that we can turn to one of them when the time comes.
Finding “families for older kids and teenagers is also a struggle and I find it very painful to hear teenagers say: ‘We don’t want to go to boarding school, we just want a family,’” she said.