Foster Families Wait in a Legal Limbo, Says Child Advocate

Legal vacuum lets foster families wait up to a year without receiving a penny from the Social Affairs Ministry for the children in their care.

The head of the National Council for the Child, Yitzhak Kadman, asked Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon last week to move ahead legislation that would end the legal vacuum that lets foster families wait up to a year without receiving a penny from the Social Affairs Ministry for the children in their care.

Take the case of 6-year-old S, whose parents have complex medical problems. When he was 4 years old, S was found wandering the streets. He could not talk, he would bite people and steal food from shops.

A year ago, a woman in his neighborhood took in S as a foster child with the knowledge of the local welfare authorities. However, it took the placement committee of the Social Affairs Ministry 18 months to decide the child should be placed in foster care.

To this day, S's foster mom and her family have received no government funding. The foster care has not been made official, even though the family passed muster with the welfare authorities as a suitable home. So S is being raised on altruistic volunteerism.

The boy's biological mother has asked for the child back, and the unofficial foster mother says she does not know how to proceed, as there is no law that defines how such situations should be dealt with.

The adoption of children and their removal from their homes to residential care are areas in which the law has been spelled out. But foster care, which affects 2,600 children living in 1,800 foster families, operates according to internal procedures of the Social Affairs Ministry. Approval for foster care requires testing to determine a family's suitability, formal recognition of the set-up and providing guidance for the family - all of which falls to private bodies contracted to the ministry.

According to Social Affairs Ministry statistics, 65 percent of families take in foster children after being checked and found suitable by the ministry. However, in most of the other cases, relatives have taken in a child with consent coming from the authorities after the fact, and considerable time is needed to check suitability. Masha, a foster mother, has been raising a girl from abroad after her parents could no longer care for her. "We approached the Social Affairs Ministry in February, and only the following January were we recognized as a foster family," says Masha. "The absurdity is that we were told in November that we had passed all the tests but we were only officially recognized and received funding from January."

The Social Affairs Ministry said in response that payment is retroactive from the moment the committee determines that a child needs placement outside the home and begins the placement process. In other words, if the committee meets in January, and approves the family in May, for example, the family will be reimbursed retroactively from January, the ministry said.