As the body of Christ, we are called to be advocates for orphans and vulnerable children. But what happens when we find ourselves living or working with those that don’t necessarily value the importance of family-based care? We asked HaTikva Families, a Messianic Jewish nonprofit that is pioneering the movement for family care in Israel, what advice they would give to others trying to engage communities in similarly complex environments.

1. Understand the context

“We must have a solid foundation of understanding the current system we want to change,” explains Isaac, the Interim Manager at HaTikva Families. The organization began advocating for family-based care in Israel in 2018 after doing extensive research of the cultural context, meeting with stakeholders, as well as learning the traditions and beliefs that inform Israel’s adoption, foster care, and institutional care system. They discovered that it was very difficult for qualified families to adopt in Israel, because the system favored institutional care for vulnerable children because of historical and cultural values around communal living. Isaac stresses the importance of “learning the history of care for at-risk children” and “researching the ‘why’ of the way things are done to understand motivation.” 

Through their research, HaTikva Families discovered what was most needed in their particular context, and then decided to focus their work on promoting family-based care and creating support services for local adoptive parents and parents hoping to foster or adopt. Religious restrictions, bureaucracy, and the customary acceptance of institutional care are just some of the many barriers preventing adults from adopting children in Israel–resulting in only 120 adoptions a year in the entire country.

2. Build relationships

“Once you’ve done your research, you are in a better place to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with stakeholders,” emphasizes Isaac.

“Building up begins with relationship–finding someone you can advocate for that is truly giving their all for orphans and vulnerable children, the best they know how. When the support in this relationship is reciprocated, collaboration becomes a powerful tool to become more effective agents of change.”

HaTikva Families has developed relationships with many stakeholders in the Israeli context–from children’s homes and foster care organizations to religious institutions and the adoption network of Israel. As they support families throughout the foster care and adoption processes, they utilize these relationships to empower parents and children with the resources they need, such as financial support, training, counseling, and community. 

3. Incorporate best practices

HaTikva Families also explains that it is important to be familiar with best practices and to protect and empower children who have experienced trauma and family separation. The HaTikva Families’ team works to make sure foster and adoptive families are trained to understand what is required to both intellectually and emotionally care for children. They offer a parenting course using trauma-informed strategies, and they also walk closely with parents to assist them as they navigate the government and social service agencies. Their on-staff social worker is also available for families needing extra support and advice.

HaTikva Families utilizes best practice literature from sources such as Faith to Action in their staff training and parenting course, including Key Research on Orphanages and Family Care, Children, Orphanages, and Families: A Summary of Research to Help Guide Faith-Based Action, and A Continuum of Care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. These publications have assisted them directly in their efforts on the ground and to help them better understand the various aspects of family-based care.

4. Flexibility is crucial

Finally, Isaac notes that approaching family-based care advocacy in complex contexts requires flexibility. You must come into this work with an open mind and open heart. 

“When pioneering a new road, sometimes we have to backtrack and take a different turn than we did initially. Obstacles are inevitable but with creativity and humility we can find the way that makes the journey much easier for those after us to join in on. We are learning as we go and although we are still very much in the beginning stages, awareness is growing as well as interest to make things better.”

Building up family care programs can be difficult, but we at Faith to Action have seen it done across numerous contexts around the world. HaTikva Families’ strategy to connect on a deeper level with their context and stay humble through the process, has enabled them to make significant progress toward protecting and empowering children and families in Israel.

This publication was made possible through the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development under Partnerships Plus cooperative agreement number 7200AA18CA00032, funded September 28, 2018, and implemented by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. The contents are the responsibility of the Faith to Action Initiative a project of Tides and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.