The Vision of Project “Em le Em” – “Mom

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					The BGU Center for Women’s
Health Studies and Promotion

           Annual Report – 2006

             Project "Em le Em"

B e n - Gu ri o n Un iv er si t y of t he N e gev
               ‫אוניברסיטת בן-גוריון בנגב‬
The Vision of Project “Em le Em” – “Mom to Mom”, Beer Sheva

“Em le Em” is a project designed to help mothers cope with the first year of parenting
through home visits of volunteer mothers. The vision of the project is to provide support
and guidance to mothers of the Negev who feel that they lack adequate support to make
the transition smoothly. Home visits are provided up to one year post-partum by
experienced mothers who are trained and supervised by the staff of the Ben-Gurion
University Center for Women’s Health Studies and Promotion. Mom to Mom originated
with Jewish Family Services of Boston and was brought to Israel by Dr. Marsha Kaitz, a
developmental psychologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who has been running
such a project for five years and provided initial training for our staff. One of its
important features is that it has been evaluated and found most effective in preventing
mental health distress among the birthing mothers and in developing a positive mother-
infant bond for those in the project.

For the birthing mothers, the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with an
experienced mother helps builds their confidence and their problem-solving abilities. For
the volunteer mothers, their investment in a mother struggling with challenges that they
have experienced themselves offers them a way to make a meaningful contribution to
another woman and to her infant, and thus to the larger community of women, children
and families.

Objectives for our First Year

We set our first year objectives in accordance with the level of activity in similar projects
around Israel, keeping in mind that in the Negev we have one hospital, Soroka University
Medical Center which has the highest number of births of any hospital in Israel,
approximately 1,300 births per month. We hoped in the first year to establish some 30
volunteer pairs, and we succeeded in achieving this objective.

In order to reach these goals, we set a number of process objectives. Thus, we hired
project coordinators, set up a steering committee of health care and mental health
professionals together with representatives of all the major referring community agencies,
set up the referral processes at Soroka, the Ministry of Health and four selected Mother
and Child Health Centers, Clalit General Health Fund and established a positive image in
the community for the project. We also set up contacts with a wide range of community
organizations in order to recruit volunteers. We ran 7 training groups with between 3-15
women in each group. The training groups meet for 2 hours for four consecutive weeks.
In addition, we trained the coordinators and volunteers for a subsidiary project based in
Yeruham and Dimona. Once the volunteers have finished their training and have been
matched with a birthing mother, we keep in touch and conduct regular supervision
sessions. In addition, we have had special lectures on a variety of topics including
sleeping among infants and nutrition in the first year of life.

The Project Participants

The Volunteers - These special, socially-committed women come from all walks of
life. We have 39 volunteers active in the project. Many of them are working women, all
are mothers and some are grandmothers. They give generously of their time to help a
mother with a young infant and make a difference in her life. As shown in Table 1, their
ages range from 28-70, with the majority in their forties and fifties. They usually have
more than one child of their own and several of the volunteers are mothers to large
families. Over 2/3 have academic education and we even have four women who are
doctoral students or have finished their doctorate. While approximately ½ are Israeli
born, we have also managed to attract mothers who are new immigrants.

The Birthing Mothers               - The mothers are for the most part in their 20s or 30s,
but we have older mothers as well. 58% of the mothers served in the project are mothers
to a first child but some have 2 and more children as can be seen in Table 1. Interestingly
enough, their educational level is very similar to that of the volunteers with more than
50% of them academic women. The level of religiosity of the mothers is almost exactly
the same as the volunteers, around 60% are secular and the rest are either traditional or
orthodox or not Jewish. One quarter of the mothers in the project are new immigrants
from the former Soviet Union, who often lack large families or nearby support networks.
The vast majority was usually referred by some health care professional, but we are also
beginning to get self-referrals into the project. They entered the project for a variety of
reasons, some just because they lack confidence and want reassurance that they are doing
“the right thing” and others because they are in crisis, sometimes because of other
problems in their life or just from trying to meet the demands of their infant or other
children (see Table 2 for reasons for joining the project). Sometimes volunteers refer the
birthing mother to help and services that she would otherwise not have had access to. All
feel that the support provided by a non-judgmental volunteer who has been there herself
is a valuable resource and makes a big difference in their lives.

Who We Are – The Staff of Em le Em

The staff is made up of committed professionals from the Center who have both personal
and professional backgrounds in the area of women’s health, support to birthing mothers
and infants and child development. In addition to the staff, we have been fortunate to
have access to the Steering Committee for the Project, made up of 15 additional
professionals (physicians, social workers, developmental psychologists, breastfeeding
consultants, and representatives of all the health care organizations who work with the
project) who offer additional guidance to the mothers in the project, whether on medical,
legal, treatment or other issues. At any given time there are at least four staff members
working on the project. This year, the following persons worked on the project:
Prof. Julie Cwikel, director and supervisor (expert in women’s health in the community)
Dr. Dorit Segal-Engelchin, deputy director (expert in Israeli families)
Ms. Miriam Aviram, public health nurse and midwife (coordinator for birthing mothers)
Ms. Ruth Lesner, group psychologist (volunteer coordinator)
Ms. Bar Yuval-Shani, senior social worker (general coordinator)
Ms. Nirit Segal, administrator and manager

Evaluation of the Project 2006

We collect background data on the mothers and volunteers and evaluation questionnaires
from both in the middle and end of the volunteer contact. Since the project is new this
year, only a few volunteer-mother pairs have completed all the questionnaires and
therefore we do not yet have data for evaluation purposes. For every mother or volunteer
that actually enters the project, we have almost as many inquiries about the project. We
feel that one of our objectives is to explain the project to women, even if they don’t
decide to either use the service or become volunteers at this time. So for example, aside
from the 33 birthing mothers in the project, we had initial contacts with over 20 other
mothers who decided not to join.

Professional Training

This year three graduate students in Prof. Cwikel’s course on “Women’s Health in the
Community” in the Department of Social Work were among the first volunteers to join
the project. In partial fulfillment of their course requirements they worked with three
challenging birthing mothers and received excellent evaluations. They wrote seminar
papers on some aspect of their home-visiting experience which both fulfilled part of their
course assignments and gave us some importance insights into the processes and issues
that were raised during their home visits. We also spoke about the program at a number
of professional forums to develop awareness about the importance of the project.

Expanding the Project to Meet the Needs of the Negev

We strongly feel that we need to expand the project with more coordinator hours in order
to meet the needs of special groups that we have identified: new immigrant mothers,
particularly from the Former Soviet Union, single mothers by choice or through divorce
during the pregnancy, and mothers from the Bedouin sector. Furthermore, more distant
areas of the Negev such as Arad, Netivot/Ofakim and Sderot, Mitzpeh Ramon require
local Em le Em teams.

In Summary
We are very pleased with the good name that the project has acquired and our ability to
successfully accommodate such a high number of birthing mothers in our first year of
operation. We look forward to supporting new families and giving them the healthy start
they deserve in parenting, thus fostering the developmental of Israeli families in the

                                          Table 1

      The Demographic Characteristics of Birthing Mothers and Volunteers
                     in Mom to Mom – Beer Sheva, 2006

                                                    Volunteers    Mothers
                                                        39          33
                  21-30                              1 (3%)       18   (55%)
                  31-35                              4 (10%)      7    (21%)
                  36-40                              7 (18%)      4    (12%)
                  41+                                27 (69%)     4    (12%)
                  1 child                            3 (8%)       19 (58%)
                  2-4 children                       31 (79%)     13 (39%)
                  5-7 children                       5 (13%)      1 (3%)
                  Grade School                       1 (3%)       1 (3%)
                  High school                        12 (30%)     13 (39%)
                  Professional Training                           1 (3%)
                  Graduate School                    5    (13%)   4 (12%)
                  B.A                                3     (8%)   10 (31%)
                  M.A                                14   (36%)   4 (12%)
                  Dr. or Doctorate                   4    (10%)
                  Secular                            24 (62%)     19 (58%)
                  Traditional                        10 (26%)     8 (24%)
                  Religious                          4 (10%)      3    (9%)
                  Not Jewish                         1    (3%)    3    (9%)
Birth Place
                  Israel                             19   (49%)   25 (76%)
                  America                            5    (13%)
                  Former Soviet Union                2     (5%)   8 (24%)
                  Eastern Europe                     6    (15%)
                  Asia                               4 (10%)
                  Africa                             3 (8%)
Initial Contact
                  Referred                                        29 (88%)
                  Call-in                                         4 (12%)

                              Table 2

Reason for Joining Project Mom to Mom among the 33 birthing mothers
               (more than one reason could be reported)

              Category of the mother       Percent Number
          Single, Divorced, Widowed         24%      8
          New Immigrant                     21%      7
          Health Issues of Mom or Family     6%      2
          Multiple Births                   15%      5
          Premature Infant                   6%      2
          Low Income                        61%      20


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