Israel's Private Day Cares, Due to Reopen Next Week, Have No Guidance From Authorities

After reaching an agreement with the government over financial compensation, the day cares are set to reopen – but they have no instructions on how to do so

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Preparations for the reopening of a day care in Jerusalem, May 6, 2020.
Preparations for the reopening of a day care in Jerusalem, May 6, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Though private day care facilities reached an agreement with the Finance Ministry on Thursday over financial compensation for complying with coronavirus restrictions, they still haven’t gotten instructions from Health Ministry on how to operate, even though they’re supposed to open next week.

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“We still don’t know what the rules are,” said Dr. Shulamit Bismanovsky, director of an umbrella organization uniting hundreds of private day care centers. Day care operators not affiliated with the organization likewise said they had received no instructions.

One private operator in the north said she assumed the rules would be same as they are for public day cares, but hasn’t gotten any confirmation of this. Those rules limit the number of children per room to 17, which means larger day cares will have to refuse some children.

Her day care already has fewer than 17 children per room, she added, but she’s awaiting instructions on disinfecting rooms and rotating workers among different groups of children. “Parents ask me what’s happening, and so far, I can’t answer.”

Tova Aharon, who runs a day care in Matan, in the Sharon region, said she has been besieged with questions from parents and has had to give a vague response: “It seems like the day care will open next week; we’ll know more after we get the instructions.”

“It’s not clear it will happen on Sunday, because everything’s happening at the last moment,” she added. “We have to check the instructions. Maybe we’ll need to buy equipment we hadn’t thought about.”

The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, which oversees public day cares, has shunned responsibility for private ones even though a law passed in 2018 makes it responsible for supervising their basic safety. On Thursday, it said it has “no mandate” to address this issue and the Health Ministry must issue the orders.

The Health Ministry didn’t respond to Haaretz’s questions.

Parents are also unsure about what’s ahead. “I can’t figure out what rules our day care is supposed to follow or where I’m supposed to find them, and I haven’t been able to get answers from the teacher,” one mother wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

This makes it hard for them to decide whether to send their kids to day care next week. And how many children return will determine how many caregivers are brought back to work.

Moreover, some day care operators have told parents they won’t be reopening for fear of the virus.

Israel has more than 500,000 children up to age 3, and the vast majority are in private day care. Only about a quarter are in centers supervised by the Labor Ministry.

The supervised centers are slated to reopen on Sunday, but they, too, are beset with uncertainty. Since the Health Ministry rules limited the number of children per room to 17, around 30 percent of children won’t be able to return to these centers.

Parents protested that decision on Thursday. In a letter sent to WIZO, one of the three organizations that run public day cares, they demanded that all children be allowed to return three days a week rather than having some children attend full-time and others not at all. The latter format would severely harm the children left at home, the letter charged.

But all three organizations – WIZO, Na’amat and Emunah – said they still don’t know how many parents actually want to return their kids to day care on Sunday. “It’s constantly changing,” an official at one group said.

Moreover, she said, it has been hard to recruit staff, since many are elderly and fear returning to work.

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