Our children are really in trouble, especially our teens. Terri Bonoff heard this refrain over and over again when she first took on the executive leadership of Jewish Family & Career Services in Atlanta just over two years ago. She had spent her first few weeks filled with meetings with board members, clergy and community leaders, and in each of these consultations, she had asked what is missing in the Atlanta Jewish community. The answer was repetitious.
As CEO, Bonoff is now strategically expanding the scope of the 130-year-old agency and is launching a Child, Teen and Family Center to provide a holistic focus to help children from ages 2 on up. JF&CS has already raised $1.7 million and has started hiring practitioners, the first of many planned new staff.
“Georgia rates 47 out of 50 in terms of mental health services,” said Dan Arnold, director of clinical services at JF&CS and one of the leaders of the new effort. “Teens and children are a more specialized population so there are fewer providers.” Although there are private practitioners, they are often too expensive for the average family.
JF&CS has a five-year plan to develop the expansion of its services to children and their families, but that plan doesn’t include a new building. “We need a developmentally appropriate setting for children,” Arnold acknowledged. He cited smaller, rather than “adult” chairs, but the additional services provided under the umbrella of the Child, Teen and Family Center will be held at the existing JF&CS facility.
Instead, the funds that are raised go to hiring several new practitioners, Bonoff said. “Dan is leading the effort on who should be hired,” Bonoff said.
A $25,000 planning grant propelled the program initially. Consultants were hired and focus groups were held, resulting in a “very robust report and recommendation, which turned into a business plan,” Bonoff explained.
That plan apparently caught the attention of several donors. One gave $200,000, two others donated $100,000 each. The Zusman-Horwitz Family Foundation was so inspired by the project, and the need, that they have generously made a $1 million pledge to the center.
In addition, some matching grants were made available through the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
Among the donors are the Argo Family Fund, Sheryl S. Blechner and Family, the Ed Satell Family Foundation, Zaban Foundation and the Zusman and Horwitz families. “We now have the funds to begin serving the community,” Bonoff said. But JF&CS is also seeking additional money from another major foundation, she added.
The children and families that JF&CS has already started working with come as an “outgrowth of our existing clientele,” Bonoff said.
According to Arnold, “We’ve hired a team navigator, youth mental health practitioner and a child therapist, and we are actively recruiting for a parent coach and an executive function coach,” Arnold said. Along with three of their clinicians, Arnold is also in an 18-month training program of child-parent psychology that addresses issues of young children who have experienced trauma, such as divorce, death or even adoption.
“The demand for our services has greatly increased due to the pandemic,” Arnold said. “One in five kids were diagnosed with mental health conditions pre-pandemic.” Signs that parents must watch for in their children include behavioral changes in diet, sleep, not wanting to interact with other children or exhibiting more fear of separation.
“We’re not in the business of fixing children,” Arnold added, “but addressing their issues from a family perspective. Our goal is to prevent kids from needing intensive outpatient therapy.”
Bonoff stresses that the objective is to build the children’s resiliency.
The new services JF&CS is providing is “not the same services at a different price, but an approach to providing service to kids that doesn’t exist,” Bonoff said. However, as far as pricing, like other agency services, there’s a sliding scale payment program in place and JF&CS accepts insurance.
Arnold isn’t concerned about finding new clients, noting that there’s already a waiting list of 20 kids. “There are just not enough resources. Demand outweighs our capacity. Parenting is hard work,” he emphasized.
- Jewish Family & Career Services
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Terri Bonoff
- Child Teen and Family Center
- Dan Arnold
- Teens Children
- private practitioners
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Argo Family Fund
- Sheryl S. Blechner and Family
- Ed Satell Family Foundation
- Zaban Foundation
- Zusman family
- Horwitz family
- team navigator
- youth mental health practitioner
- child therapist
- parent coach
- executive function coach
- child-parent psychology
- young children