At-risk Teenage Girl Held at Police Station for 20 Hours

Thirteen-year-old girl held at station due to a shortage of care facilities for at-risk children.

A 13-year-old girl was recently forced to spend 20 hours at a police station due to a shortage of care facilities for at-risk children.

Anat (not her real name ) was in a boarding school in Haifa by court order. But after just a few months there, she was expelled due to outbursts and assaults on the staff.

"Anat stayed at home for three months with no educational and therapeutic framework," her father says, "and the municipal welfare department offered no option, claiming that the matter was being handled by the Social Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem, and that only in six months would a place be available at Mesila, a hostel that would be suitable for my daughter."

After Passover, Anat caused a disturbance at her home in central Israel, broke several things and even stood on the window sill. "The neighbors called the police," the father says. "We took her to the police station because we had no choice."

The girl was held at the police station for around 20 hours, including overnight, as "a detainee" - not for purposes of investigation but only because no suitable framework was found for her.

Even after the stay at the police station, no solution was found for the girl, and she returned home with a promise that a temporary hostel would be found for her within a day or two; a place at Mesila would only be available in around six weeks. In fact, it took a week to find a temporary place in a hostel for her.

Anat's case is not unique; 153 teenage girls are currently waiting for places in closed facilities for at-risk girls, but the Social Affairs Ministry's youth supervision service has no immediate solutions.

However, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, the director of the National Council for the Child, which helped Anat's family, claims that existing facilities are not currently being fully utilized.

"In the absence of sufficient manpower to open treatment centers, and a severe shortage of counselors - who are employed in inadequate conditions by private organizations - the existing places are not being used," Kadman says.

"The shortage of places is a serious, ongoing and unacceptable failure that is severely harming the children who are at risk. It is inconceivable that these unfortunate children are being abandoned to the street, and spend long and unnecessary periods in a police station just because no place could be found for them in an appropriate treatment facility."

It appears that no quick solution will be found. In a discussion last week at the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child, Tali Yogev - the Social Affairs Ministry's youth hostels supervisor - addressed the severe shortage of places. According to Yogev, another girls' treatment center will not open for another eight months; the Tsofia Hostel will host 50 at-risk girls.

Yogev also stated that "within two-three years, another five facilities will open for at-risk teenage boys and girls. There is still no budget for building, but the ministry is preparing to meet with the Planning and Construction committees to obtain approval of building plans, whose implementation will require NIS 50 million."

The Social Affairs Ministry was not available for comment before press time.