In First, Israel Issues Regulations for Private Day Care Centers

The novel legislation will cover 140,000 children, but some claim this will force several day care centers into closure

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An empty preschool in Harish, northern Israel, 10 August, 2020..
An empty preschool in Harish, northern Israel, 10 August, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry has for the first time issued supervision regulations for private day care centers, a move that ministry officials called “a historical turning point.”

The regulations, which were released on Wednesday, stipulate the maximum number of children, the required number of staff members and the facility size appropriate for children up to the age of three.

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Until now, only state day care centers were supervised. Ministry officials estimate that some 140,000 children attended private day care centers last year.

However, the Private Day Care Forum and other ministries warned that increased supervision could lead to the closure of many day care centers due to the difficulty of implementing the regulations.

Government sources said parents will probably have to pay so the new conditions are met and in some cases will be forced to take their children out of the centers. Another source said that while there may be problems in some private day care centers, “dropping an atom bomb won’t solve them.”

The regulations, drafted by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry’s day care center division, were published for public comments this week and are scheduled to be discussed by the Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child. They are to come into effect in about a year. Meanwhile, private day care center operators will already be required to obtain a preliminary operation permit for the school year opening next week. The permit includes a safety check and first aid training for the child carers.

The regulations constitute the implementation of the 2018 Day Care Supervision Law, which stipulates that every center caring for more than seven children up to the age of three is required to have a permit.

Under the regulations, there can be a maximum of 20 children in the age group spanning six to 15 months, 24 children for groups of 16- to 24-month-olds, and 30 for those with children from 25 to 36 months old.

The ratio of child carers to children in the three groups must be between 1:5 and 1:10, which is a smaller ratio than in the state-run day care centers.

In every group of at least seven children, there must be two caretakers at all times. In special cases, up to 10 percent more than the permitted number of children may be allowed.

The chairman of the Association of Private Day Care Centers, Yaniv Bar Or, warned that the regulations will make it extremely difficult to operate private day cares. “The cost of an additional employee can reach 100,000 shekels a year, and in the central region, even more. The private centers don’t make such sums, and the day care teachers cannot afford such additional costs. It will lead to centers being closed.”

Bar Or said he and his wife Nurit recently had to close down the private day care they had operated for 15 years in Carmiel, in the north of the country. Nurit will start working as an employee in a supervised center next week.

“She saw what the state was doing to private day cars and she doesn’t want to be there,” Bar Or told Haaretz.

The regulations stipulate that a day care center operator must ensure the space for every child is “safe, spacious and ventilated, enables movement compatible with the child’s development, and an appropriate educational and caring environment.” This consists of areas for activity, sleeping, diaper changing and so on. The minimum space required is 2.8 square meters for every child in the infants’ group to 2.2 square meters for every child in the 2- to 3-year-olds group.

The chairwoman of the Private Day Care Forum, Keren Ohana-Ayus, says this is an almost impossible demand for day cares operating in private homes. Keren Calderon, manager of a private day care center in Holon, also says it’s excessive. “It doesn’t make any sense, it’s inapplicable and will never happen,” she says. “There aren’t and won’t be structures of that size, certainly not at a price for which a day care center can be built.”

Day care center operators must send their staff to a first aid training course and a safe procedures course. The staff must also undergo training in child development and infant education; child care workers have to attend four hours of monthly instruction in various subjects.

Yaniv Bar Or believes these demands will add to the difficulties faced by day care center managers. “The courses are important and good, but the state must finance them,” he said. “Ultimately the cost of these things will fall on the parents, or will lead to more day cares closing down. It will cause the collapse of the business.”

A government source said: “In the central region, where tuition is high and the service is relatively good, the regulations won’t have much effect on the operators of the centers. In the periphery, however, the regulations can lead to the closing of centers, or the owners can decide to scale down to avoid having to hire another carer.”

He said that in the supervised centers, where the state sets the price, the regulations could lead to higher tuition.

On the other hand, some believe the regulations aren’t strict enough. “In my opinion this isn’t a historic day but a sad one,” said Ya’ara Shilo, an infancy expert and lecturer at the Efrata College of Education. “There was a chance to make a real difference here, but in the end the changes in the regulations are merely cosmetic compared to the existing situation.”

She said reducing the ratio of children per caregiver from six to five in groups of up to 20 in a classroom is a far cry from the acceptable standards for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. These stipulate that every caregiver should be in charge of at most four children, in classrooms of eight at the most.

“The change in the groups’ size is a joke,” said Prof. Avi Sagi-Schwartz, director of the Center for the Study of Child Development at Haifa University. “It’s a certain improvement, but we’re still far from an ideal situation.”

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