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August 19, 1988 - Image 23

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-08-19

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Finding A Method

Sam Lerner feels good about
his Jewish Family Service efforts
to keep children living in their own
homes, and having JFS treat the
child rather than sending the child
to a private psychiatrist or to a
state hospital.
Lerner became aware of the ad-
vantages of working directly with
children from his experience as
head of a child guidance clinic and
in helping reorganize the Juvenile
Division of the Wayne County Pro-
bate Court.
"I also became aware that
family agencies, like JFS were not
treatment oriented when it came
to chidren," explains Lerner. "I
wanted to change this approach
when I became director 26 years
ago." Lerner is retiring this year.
Gradually, a group therapy pro-
gram evolved, and when JFS
planned its headquarters on
Greenfield Road, two play therapy
rooms were included.

"I feel strongly that children
and their parents be treated
simultaneously," says Lerner. "It's
tough to separate a child and a
family; and it's expensive. And
then it's tough to reunite them as
a family?'
A Family Therapy Institue
evolved at JFS. The program of-
fered many options: counseling
parents alone, observing parents
interacting with their children and
working with them together,
treating the youngsters individual-
ly, and working with a group of
parents that had similar problems.
JFS also started a special
group program for mothers with
toddlers, teaching nutrition and
care of the toddler as well as the
mother. Homemaker services were
"This program grew from a
handful of women with one social
worker to over 30 women with
Continued on Page 27

home from the office.
Spiegel thinks abuse may occur in
families like this because it's impossi-
ble to keep up with the image of the
perfect Jewish family.
"As long as we pretend child
abuse doesn't exist, we allow it to con-
tinue," she says. "And you won't find
studies for what you don't want to ex-
ist. In the shtetls and ghettos, the
community knew what was going on
because living conditions were crowd-
ed; you could hear everything if you
couldn't see it.
"But when the children of im-
migrant parents moved to suburbia,
they isolated themselves even more,
and the isolation was made worse by
the myth of the perfect Jewish fami-
ly. For the sake of shalom bayit, peace
in the home, anger is suppressed for
the good of the family!"
Like other communities across
the country, the Detroit Jewish com-
munity is just beginning to deal with
the problem.
Jewish Family Service of Detroit
recently received a $137,000 grant
from the Skillman Foundation to
establish a program for people like
Karen S. The grant will provide
families with group treatment, paren-
ting classes and therapy to eliminate
long-term placement of children and

perpetuation of abuse and neglect
patterns into succeeding generations.
The program is starting with
about 30 families of pre-schol
children. JFS is seeking referrals
from the juvenile court system,
synagogues, agencies, schools and
hospitals in addition to its own client
candidates. Participants are not re-
quired to be Jewish.
This past winter and spring,
Marilyn Wineman of JFS visited
synagogues, schools, family practi-
tioners, rabbis, social workers and
pediatricians, letting them know
about the program.
"It's been interesting," said
Wineman. "When I approach a group
and talk about children at risk, first
reactions are usually, 'It can't happen
here, not in this school or synagogue.
Jews don't do that; other people do
that! Then, after I've explained the
program and the kinds of families
that we'd like to see as part of the pro-
gram, I see some heads nodding as
they visualize the faces of one family
or another that might be part of the
program. Jewish faces!'
"I'm not sure whether there's
more child abuse in the Jewish com-
munity or it's simply surfacing
because of the tremendous amount of
coverage given to the subject by the

Sam Lerner

media," explains Margaret Weiner,
director of professional services at
Jewish Family Service. "I do, however,
have three good reasons which might
explain the increase of incidence for
the general population and the
Jewish community as well.
"First, there's been a definite in-
crease in substance abuse, and where
there's alcohol or drugs, there's a big-
ger likelihood for child abuse. Second-
ly, there are more single-parent
families and single parents bear
much stress, often with little support.
The anger, the resentment, the over-
whelmingness of the situation lead to
a greater incidence of child abuse and
neglect. And finally, the tremendous
increase in the number of step-
parenting families, with all their
frustrations and disappointed expec-
tations and fears, is another probable
cause for more child abuse and
Gladys Cohen, counseling chair-
man of Northville High School, ex-
plains that parents often act irra-
tionally, particularly if either is an
"Divorce plays havoc on lives and
often elicits abuse," says Cohen. "One
of my students, a 16-year-old boy, was
kicked out of the house because his
father, a successful Jewish profes-

sional, said the boy studied too much
and his seriousness depressed him.
Then there was a girl whose mother
grabbed her hair and cut it with a kit-
chen shears because she said her
daughter stole a beer from the fami-
ly refrigerator. The mother said she
was careful not to hurt her daughter
with the scissors:'
Cohen says the school is often the
first place to notice that something
may be wrong by recognizing changes
in attendance, behavior and grades.
"Admittedly, it's still hard to know
what goes on beyond closed doors:'
says Cohen. "But whatever the route,
parents have to be consistent in their
behavior. That's sometimes very dif-
ficult, especially when teenagers have
different values and today's lifestyle
has changed dramatically. For in-
stance, how do you tell your daughter
to behave on a date when as a single
parent your girlfriend has been your
weekend houseguest for the past six
"Kids only do what we want them
to do because they allow us to control
them. The problems arise, especially
with teenagers, when they decide not
to be controlled, and as parents, we
have trouble figuring out what to do."
Child abuse is not just a modern
phenomenon. Once normal child rear-



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