Building trust through animal therapy

At Beit Singer, a hamster, a rabbit or even a chinchilla can make a world of difference for a child suffering from abuse. Here at this residential facility for children ages 8-18 who are unable to live with their families, the goal is to create a warm home in the heart of the valley where children are able to thrive amongst the supporting care of this incredible team. Almost 80 percent of the children living at Beit Singer have suffered from abuse, so the emphasis on animal therapy has been a key to their therapeutic success. Beit Singer manages an on-site zoo of sorts, and the children have the responsibility to take care of the animals, feeding them and cleaning their cages. For some children, the animal therapy goes even further. Currently, 24 children on site - almost one quarter of the residents - have a single animal to care for, a pet of their own, to snuggle, feed and love. These animals are present during therapy sessions, as often the children have an easier time trusting and talking to their “pets.” After attending local schools in the area, the children race home to Beit Singer, to take care of their pets, and to learn how to accept unconditional love in their lives. The SNEC consortium provides funding for nine children each year to receive animal therapy - at a cost of almost $1100 per child - as the Israeli government does not recognize this project as essential. Yet, after one look at the children racing around the zoo, and feeding their very own hamsters, you can’t help but understand how important it is for these children - who do not know the love of a family - to know the love of an animal.

Beit Singer houses their 96 residents in three dormitories - separated by age and gender - and they are in the midst of renovating their buildings to better suit the needs of the children. For example, because such a large percentage of the kids have suffered from sexual abuse, Beit Singer is adding private bathrooms and smaller rooms, for just two children, so they feel more comfortable in their environment. Currently, the Israeli government funds 70 percent of their budget, but Beit Singer privately fundraises from communities like ours to meet the gaps in care. For example, the government only provides funding for three social workers, but Beit Singer needs six to meet the intense needs of the children, who often arrive at the center in an emergancy. What’s more, the government only provides one night-time staffperson for the three dorms, but Beit Singer insists that each dormitory needs nighttime staff to make sure that these children feel safe and are comfortable in their new home. Beit Singer sits on the edge of a moshav and they are currently building a playground so that the Beit Singer children and moshav children will play together. In addition, the after-school programs such as Judo, drama and cooking are offered to all children in the surrounding area so that the Beit Singer children are a part of the community. Beit Singer also rents three houses from the moshav to house Lone Soldiers - Beit Singer graduates currently serving in the IDF who need a home for the weekends during their army service.

As I walked around this campus and understood the heartbreaking needs of these very vulnerable yeladim, I was heartened by the fact that there are people like Ariel Rascovsky, Beit Singer Director, and his incredible team, who work around the clock to make sure that every child feels the love of a supportive family.

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