Police Probing Suspicion of Assault on Autistic Patient in Israeli Hostel

The probe follows the discovery of serious bruising on the chest and thighs of a low-functioning autistic woman. Cause of bruises still unclear.

A mental health hostel in Jerusalem, May 17, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Police are investigating two incidents of suspected assault against an autistic resident of a hostel run by ALUT, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children.

The probe follows the discovery of serious bruising on the chest and thighs of a low-functioning autistic woman at the society’s Kfar Ofarim hostel in Ramat Hasharon on two occasions since she entered the hostel in late June. Their cause remains unclear.

The woman was supposed to have had a counselor with her 24 hours a day during her initial adjustment period to the hostel. While round-the-clock counselors assigned to a specific individual are not standard practice, the Social Affairs Ministry approved one due to her special needs.

Police are pursuing several lines of inquiry: that the woman was abused by other hostel residents, that she injured herself, or that she was abused by staffers. ALUT said it is also investigating what happened.

The woman’s mother is Lia Natan Marciano, a veteran activist for children with disabilities. In a letter to senior ministry officials, she said that the fact that nobody seems to know how he daughter was injured indicates that she hadn’t received the round-the-clock counselor the ministry authorized – a failure she attributed to the hostel’s staffing shortage. She also said the hostel didn’t inform her of her daughter’s injuries in a timely fashion.

During one visit to the hostel, Natan Marciano recounted, only one caregiver was present. The residents “were wandering around, hungry and thirsty,” seeking help to no avail.

In April, Haaretz published an investigative report on hostels for autistic children. Eran Blanche, a former manager of Kfar Ofarim, told Haaretz at the time that within the space of a year, “almost the entire administrative staff of the hostel changed – the social worker, the housing director, the nurses, the medical secretary and the heads of the kitchen and of maintenance.”

The recurring problems at these hostels stem largely from the Social Affairs Ministry’s very low requirements for counselor training, which consists of 12 hours of study plus a few observation sessions at the hostel. Many of the counselors are young and inexperienced, and there is a chronic shortage of them, since the job has a turnover rate of about 40 to 50 percent every year.

ALUT said its staff cares devotedly for the hostel’s 72 autistic residents round-the-clock, and parents have generally been happy with its services during the hostel’s 28 years of existence. It said Natan Marciano’s daughter moved into the hostel several weeks ago, “after several attempts to put her into other residential frameworks didn’t succeed.”

The hostel added that, “the mother’s complaint is being treated seriously and thoroughly investigated, but the mother herself has stubbornly refused ALUT’s request for a medical exam to clarify the reasons for the marks” on he daughter’s body.

Natan Marciano denied the accusation, saying that he daughter had undergone several medical checks and will soon undergo more.

ALUT also said that the hostel reported the injuries to all the relevant authorities, including the welfare authorities and the police. So far, “no suspicion of improper conduct has emerged,” it said.

The Social Affairs Ministry said it has been helping the family “with all the means at its disposal.”