Justice Ministry Calls to Allow Parents to Visit Children Living in State Institutions

The Social Services Ministry has been asked by the Justice Ministry to change its policy to safeguard the emotional welfare of disabled and autistic children

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A room in an institution in Carmiel.
A room in an institution in Carmiel.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

The heads of the legal aid system in the Justice Ministry are calling on the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry to change its policy of preventing parents from meeting with their children living in institutions under ministry supervision. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, the ministry has banned such visits, including in institutions for autistic minors and adults.

Bizchut, an NGO that promotes the rights of the disabled, addressed a similar demand to Social Services Ministry director general Avigdor Kaplan, who several weeks ago denied that such prohibitions exist. The parents said that preventing the meetings causes their children’s condition to deteriorate, including crying, depression, self-harm and violence against other residents and staff.

For the past month or so, parents of autistic children have not been permitted to visit their children living in institutions supervised by the Social Services Ministry. At first the ministry claimed that this contradicted their own directives, or they blamed the Health Ministry or the nonprofits that operate the various institutions.

However, about two weeks ago in the special Knesset Welfare Committee headed by MK Aida Touma-Sliman, the Social Services Ministry representative admitted that the ministry directives forbid parental visits. The Justice Ministry representative said, “The directors of institutions don’t have the legal authority to entirely prevent visits by family members.” In the absence of a solution, some of the parents recently asked for help from the legal aid system.

“For people on the autism spectrum, the connection with close relatives is part of a binding routine, an essential element of a pattern that enables emotional ‘quiet,’” wrote Dr. Meytal Segal-Reich of the legal aid program to Gideon Shalom, head of the Social Services Ministry Disabilities Administration. “This is an essential need for anyone, especially when habits and a regular schedule are the basis for everyday functioning.”

An institution in Ein Shemer.Credit: Itzik Ben-Malki

Segal-Reich said: “There’s nothing to prevent allowing parents to visit the institution where their children live when they’re protected by masks and gloves and even protective smocks, and to meet them outside the institutions, while maintaining a distance of about two meters from their child.” Another option is to meet in a special room inside the school, which will be disinfected between visits, and “to leave it to the discretion of the directors.”

“There are other alternatives that would enable meetings and a reasonable and regular connection between the children and their parents,” wrote Segal-Reich. “Nobody denies that Israel and the entire world are in a complicated period, but the weak groups in society require additional mobilization of the establishment. Alternatives and a proportionate solution, instead of a sweeping prohibition and severance, require flexibility and a change in approaches and regulations.”

According to attorney Vered Bar of Bizchut, denying parental visits “undermines the rights of the residents,” and contradicts the Health Ministry directives, which permit one visitor per resident (and bar visits by those with coronavirus symptoms). “Any decision regarding the cessation of visits, no matter who issued it, is a decision that was handed down illegally,” she wrote to Kaplan.

The Social Services Ministry declined to respond.

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