Kristine L Ming

Gov’t seeks to allocate funds to migrant day care centers in wake of south Tel Aviv tragedy

The latest tragic death of a four month old baby in a daycare center for migrant children in south Tel Aviv on Sunday has prompted a media outcry and a government response.

A total of five children have died in the past two months in foreign worker child care centers – dubbed “child warehouses” – in south Tel Aviv apparently due to overcrowding and negligence.

According to an Israel Radio report on Tuesday, in a joint meeting of the Prime Minister’s Office with representatives from the economy, finance, and welfare ministries the government has decided to allocate some NIS 17 million to the Tel Aviv municipality to open new daycare centers in the south of the city for children of migrant workers up to three years old.

The report also stated that the government agencies decided to increase enforcement and supervision efforts and to shut down the daycare centers deemed as high risk.

There are some 70 daycare facilities accommodating around 2,500 children of migrants aged three and under in south Tel Aviv.  These overcrowded, unsanitary and unregulated centers provide a solution for the children of foreign migrants who have no other framework to care for their children while they are at work.

For years child rights groups and NGOs have warned of the imminent danger to the infants and children being placed in these conditions, to little or no avail.

“This is not a new phenomenon, we have been aware of it for the past seven years,” Mehereta Baruch-Ron, deputy-mayor of Tel Aviv in charge of social service administration told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

According to Baruch-Ron, the municipality has neither the legal mandate nor the necessary resources to enforce and supervise the migrant daycare centers.

“The municipality has been left all alone to deal with this issue and the government has done little or nothing to help,” she said. “As for the news that the government will allocate funds, I am all hope, but so far no money has been transferred and in the meantime infants are continuing to be placed in life threatening situations.”

The deputy-mayor said that the conditions in the day care centers and among the foreign workers in south Tel Aviv reflect a “mehdal” (failure) of the government, which has for years, despite promises, neglected the issue.

“It is a shame that this is only coming to light now after the deaths of so many babies. It is after all important to remember that we are talking about babies and they are not at fault for living in South Tel Aviv where conditions are horrible for the migrant population – it is a mehdal of the government,” she said.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira released a report in 2013 addressing the phenomenon and slamming the conditions found in the migrant daycare centers.

“In these ‘babysitters’ [centers] there are babies, toddlers and sometimes also older children who stay until late evening hours, in conditions of continuous neglect: they spend most of their day in playpens in overcrowded, abandoned and neglected conditions and without stimulation and enrichment activities,” he wrote.

“Often one adult watches over some 30 children, and as a result the children suffer from severe deprivation of physical contact and attention. This means that children in frameworks under such conditions are prone to constant physical and emotional neglect,” the report stated.

In a follow up report in May 2014, Shapira harshly criticized both the welfare and economy ministries for accomplishing “very little progress” in addressing the phenomenon despite the “urgency of the issue and despite the heavy price that innocent toddlers pay.”

The Economy Ministry released a statement explaining that currently there is no law for the supervision of private daycare centers in Israel, despite its efforts to pass legislation on the issue.

“There was never any responsibility for infants and toddlers from birth until the age of three.  The compulsory and free education law applies only to children from the age of three and up alone.  Attempts by the Economy Ministry over the past decade to promote the supervision of all frameworks in Israel were unsuccessful due to various objections,” the ministry said.

As such, the ministry explained that without a law in place, it is only able to supervise daycare centers which make a voluntary request and does not have the legal mandate to inspect centers operating in private homes without being accompanied by a welfare worker.

The National Council for the Child released a statement Tuesday in which they too criticized the government for not taking action to address the phenomenon sooner.

According to Yitzhak Kadman, chairman of the National Council, government agencies have known about the existence of the “child warehouses” for years and simply chose to ignore the problem.

The Council released letters written in 2009 and 2010, in which it identifies and outlines the conditions in the migrant daycare centers to the relevant government officials.

“It is a long time that we are warning about what is happening in these neglected places operating without supervision, without minimum safety conditions, and without any education standards, with the hardest physical and sanitary conditions and without proper supervision,” Kadman wrote in 2010 to then Economy Minister MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer (Labor).

“In a consistent manner, [the ministry] avoids acting with or against these frameworks, even though the well-being of the child, their health and even their lives are at high risk,” he wrote.

Kadman said it was “only a matter of time” before tragedy would strike and he called on the Economy Ministry to immediately act to shut down all the “dangerous” daycare centers as well as provide suitable alternatives.

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