This week a new government committee is due to examine transferring responsibility for day care centers from the Economy Ministry to the Education Ministry. While the establishment of the committee is important, it is not necessarily essential: For over 10 years already the issue has been discussed in inter-ministerial forums and public committees, whose reports may have been adopted by the government, but only very rarely have they been implemented. The formation of the committee needs to be the first step on the way to a strategic decision, in which the government will accept responsibility for children from birth through age three.
The Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute recently released a comprehensive report on the services provided today to very young children. The report is troubling, not just because of its description of shortcomings and failures, but also because it sharpens the recognition of continued government negligence over many years. There are about half a million infants and toddlers in Israel up to age three, but “there has been no attempt to develop policy from a more comprehensive and integrative perspective for this population,” states the report. Based on up-to-date figures, child care centers supervised by the Economy Ministry care for only 23 percent of these children, and another 17 percent are in private day care, whose quality is mixed and which have almost no supervision. As for the remaining 60 percent of children through age three, some 300,000 children, the data is even more limited.
The government-supervised day care centers have two characteristics that stand out: The number of children per group is twice the professional standard adopted by the government, and the price is twice the average in other OECD countries. The partial, hesitant construction of child-care facilities in recent years has not made the situation any better. As for training the staff, the report states it is “inadequate, and out of date.” In addition, the existing frameworks for early child care provide inadequate service, the report states.
The two most recent committees that dealt with the matter, the Trajtenberg committee from late 2011 and the Alalouf committee in June 2014, both recommended transferring the responsibility for day care centers from the Economy Ministry to the Education Ministry. The Economy Ministry’s objections, when it was headed by Naftali Bennett, and his responsibility for the present situation are well documented. Now that he heads the Education Ministry, it seems his position is a bit different. There is logic in creating a continuum of responsibility for the education and care for children from birth through age 18.
Nonetheless, we must not make do with the administrative transfer of the issue from one government ministry to another. The government’s responsibility must be expressed in widespread construction of new child-care centers, in additional manpower, higher wages and much stricter supervision of the various frameworks and their quality. Such measures have a clear budgetary significance, but without such a commitment, the government’s declarations of “inverting the pyramid” have a very limited value.
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