Tel Aviv opened its first day care center for children of asylum-seekers and migrant workers on Wednesday. Located in south Tel Aviv's Neve Shaanan neighborhood, the day care has room for 240 toddlers up to age 3.
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The facility was opened by the city municipality and is run by Unitaf, a nonprofit organization that operates day care centers and after-school programs. It has accepted 120 children so far and that number will be doubled in the coming months. Some of the children were sent to the new center because they are at risk while others were accepted at their parents’ request.
The opening of the facility was accompanied by considerable fear of conflict with veteran south Tel Aviv residents, who protested against its establishment. One parent who brought his toddler to the day care Wednesday morning asked why no security guards were posted outside the building. Municipality employees and Unitaf tried to reassure parents by explaining that the gates and doors of the building will be locked during the day.
Referring to the protests, director of Social Services Administration for the municipality Sharon Blum Melamed says, “We don’t deal with that.” The day care center is “not a framework that’s competing with any framework for an Israeli child. It doesn’t come at the expense of anything else. There’s total separation here in the perception of the unique needs of this community.”
Blum Melamed says the purpose of the new center is to reduce the dangerous situation created by the so-called “children’s warehouses,” unlicensed day care facilities in private homes; in contrast to the warehouses, the childcare workers in Unitaf's center receive training. “The framework provides a solution for developmental and physical needs as for any other child – from food and sleep during the day to emotional and developmental needs. The purpose is to provide them with a proper educational framework, to reduce the dangerous situations that existed in the unlicensed frameworks. This is a framework managed by an excellent staff, which guides the women from the community who take care of the children.”
Blum Melamed says the day care center will serve mainly asylum-seekers, since “there are already almost no foreign workers who need our help.”
About a year and a half ago the government allocated 56 million shekels over four years for establishing day care facilities for children of foreigners. The decision was made in the wake of five deaths at various “children’s warehouses” in south Tel Aviv at the beginning of 2015. The municipality had a difficult time finding buildings suitable for the centers in the areas where the children live. Meanwhile, another two children of asylum-seekers died in unlicensed day cares last summer.
The “children’s warehouses” are usually overcrowded and have many safety flaws, while the childcare workers lack suitable training for caring for toddlers. Asylum-seekers and migrants workers who are unable to pay the costs of organized day care centers and nurseries send their children to the improvised facilities and pay the foreign caregivers up to 600 shekels ($156) a month. Many of the children stay in the center until the late evening, and sometimes also at night. About 5,000 children of foreigners under the age of 3 continue to stay in the unlicensed day cares despite numerous accidents.
The new center in Neve Shaanan costs 800 shekels a month and is open from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. from Sunday to Thursday, and until 3 P.M. on Friday. The municipality is currently trying to locate additional buildings and plans to open another two facilities for 340 children next year.