Despite Law, No Time to Require Criminal Checks for Israel's Day Care Employees

Background checks need to be done on around 100,000 staffers working at both public and private day cares, and that is unlikely to happen by September.

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A protest against abuses in day care centers, July 2019.
A protest against abuses in day care centers, July 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

There won’t be time to check the criminal records of all day care center workers before the new school year opens in September, even though the law that requires such background checks takes effect that month, the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry admitted on Monday.

Amir Medina, who heads the ministry’s day care department, told the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee that background checks need to be done on around 100,000 staffers working at both public and private day cares, and that is unlikely to happen by September.

Moreover, he said, he doubts that all day care centers will even manage to sign up with the ministry’s new online registry by then, given that it was launched less than two weeks ago.

Under the new law, anyone running a day care center must list the center in the registry and submit a declaration that their employees have no criminal records and have all received first-aid training. So far, Medina said, there have been only 120 registrations, even though there are thousands of day care centers across the country.

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He also told the committee that the ministry has increased the number of day care inspectors from 18 to 22.

The new day care law was approved by the Knesset last October. It states that by September 2019, all day care centers with more than seven children in – including private day cares, which had hitherto been exempt from state supervision – need a license from the ministry’s day care department to operate.

Initially, the centers will need only a provisional license, which will be given to any center that declares that its staffers have no criminal record and have taken a first-aid course. But the system is largely based on self-reporting, and the information won’t be checked by ministry supervisors.

Subsequently, the ministry will publish more detailed regulations and only day care centers that meet those standards will receive a license. These regulations will include requirements for the day care’s physical conditions, its ratio of staff to children and the training needed by staffers.

There are currently some 500,000 children aged three or under in Israel.

About a quarter of them are in day care centers supervised by the ministry, which are run by groups like the women’s organizations WIZO, Na’amat and Emunah. The other children are cared for either by relatives or go to private day care groups; until the new law passed, the latter had not been subject to regulations or supervision.

Another new law that takes effect in September requires security cameras to be installed in any day care with seven children or more, unless the day care is in someone’s private home or more than 70 percent of the parents object. But the law bills the first year as an adjustment period in which the rule won’t be enforced; rather, the state will provide incentives for day care centers to install the cameras voluntarily.

Only in September 2020 will the cameras become mandatory, and their installation will be one of the conditions for obtaining a license for the business to operate. But here, too, the ministry has yet to set rules about what type of camera is needed.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would transfer responsibility for day care centers from the Labor Ministry to the Education Ministry. David Mizrahi, head of the Education Ministry’s budgets department, told the Education Committee on Monday that the ministry has set up a task force to examine this idea.

Nevertheless, he said, the move would be meaningless without additional funding that would enable the ministry to provide educational content for the day care centers.