Turning weaknesses into strengths

A conference on disability of poverty was held at Jerusalem’s monumental Shalva center, where disabled children are treated like royalty.

December 25, 2016 01:18
Shalva Center.

Shalva Center.. (photo credit: ADI ISRAEL - REPRODUCTION)

On the edge of Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan is a magnificent new edifice where staff professionals and national service volunteers do their utmost to help nearly 900 infants, toddlers, children and teens with a variety of mental and physical disabilities reach their full potential.

The new national center of Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, was thus the perfect venue for a first conference on “Poverty and Disabilities: National and International Perspectives” almost two weeks ago.

The one-day conference was attended by some 200 social welfare and other professionals and initiated by the founding dean of the University of Haifa’s School of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, Prof. Arie Rimmerman, who has long been concerned about growing poverty, especially among those with disabilities.

Formerly a professor in the school of social work at Bar-Ilan University, Rimmerman left a decade ago for Haifa, where he set up the schools of public health, physiotherapy, nursing, gerontology, community mental health and occupational therapy. Today, the school of health sciences is the university’s third largest and has thousands of students.

“I have been on Shalva’s advisory board for about eight years,” Rimmerman told The Jerusalem Post. “I try to help them. Kalman Samuels, who founded Shalva with his wife Malki almost 30 years ago, asked me to advise him on international and scientific matters.

Now that it has opened, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Jerusalem and will revolutionize care for disabled children and young people. There are many economically disadvantaged families who have children getting services from Shalva.”

THE ENGLISH-AND-HEBREW-LANGUAGE conference brought in a number of leading experts from the US and Australia to speak.

Renowned Brandeis University Prof. Susan Parish, who heads its Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, criticized America’s “antiquated and prejudicial” poverty and disability policies, while heaping praise on Shalva’s diversified and cutting-edge programs for the disabled in Israel.

“In the US, they relegate physically and mentally challenged people to inadequate and decrepit facilities. I never seen a building so beautiful as Shalva’s new facility, which is so inspiring,” said Parish.

She added that “the US safety net for impoverished and disabled people is utterly inadequate and stuck in policies that were set in the 1960s. Hope for change from the Congress or the White House doesn’t look like it will come anytime soon, because we still don’t know what President-Elect Donald Trump has in mind for the future of the healthcare system.”

“We are not a third world country. But too often, we don’t give enough help to the disabled who are poor, just as developing world countries can’t afford to help those that they have,” said Rimmerman, who has published major books on family policy and disability.

As for the US, its family policy leans today toward individualism, strict work ethics, protection of the family as a private entity and the limited role of the Federal government.

“Within this context, social policies affecting children with disabilities and their families focus primarily on in-kind benefits with modest and inconsistent cash benefits to some low-income families and tax benefits to the middle and upper classes.” In the US, every third family that raises a disabled child lives in poverty. “It’s largely a matter of education when a child with a disability is in poverty. If you have at least a high school diploma, you are less likely to be poor.”

The United Kingdom, he continued, “represents the liberal and social democratic approaches of a welfare state. It has a mixed family policy with public campaigns aimed at improving universal coverage. But in practice, its entitlements and provisions continue to be selective, based on needs assessment and tedious in procedure and handling. In recent years, the British government has been successful in easing this red tape, but has failed to update benefits provided to families of children over the age of 16.”

By contrast, France is a mixture of liberal and conservative corporatist principles. It is different from the UK, offering a solid family policy based on the principle of solidarity. The commitment is declared in the first article of the French Code of Social Security. The social insurance system incorporates employers and employees as well as the state, Rimmerman said. “That country was among the first to pay maternity and family allowances and provide parental-leave benefits and affordable childcare.”

Sweden “is a typical social democratic welfare state” that provides many benefits to the poor and disabled. “It offers comprehensive social insurance coverage to families of young children. In addition, the government provides means-tested supplements for those with disabled children – maintenance support and housing and care allowances for disabled children,” said the University of Haifa professor.

Israel is more similar to the UK in respect to benefits provided to carriers, said Rimmerman, but compared to the US and especially France and Sweden, Israel unfortunately provides fewer services to families of disabled children.

“The allotments for disabled children are too low. Their parents have a lot of out-ofpocket expenses. Their mothers may be well educated, but if they have to take care of a disabled child at home and can’t go out to work, she will not bring in the income of a highly educated person,” he declared.

“The rate of poverty in Israel is the highest in the OECD, as is the gap here between the rich and the poor. Here, change takes place by the millimeter. Allotments are not updated regularly or adequately. Even people injured in work accidents who are covered by the National Insurance Institute do not benefit from regularly updated allotments. Here, unlike Sweden, Germany and the UK, we allow social welfare allotments to be eroded.

Policy here is not systematic or consistent.”

The fact that there are many voluntary organizations here representing various medical conditions and disabilities means that the government does not do enough, so these groups raise money from the general public and members to provide some help. In Scandinavia, said Rimmerman, no such organizations exist, because the government does all it can to help.

A quarter of all those who buy Mifal Hapayis, Lotto and other legal gambling tickets live under the poverty line, he stressed.

“I’m not saying that the government doesn’t care, but the disabled poor do not have high priority.”

Parents who are busy with disabled kids and disabled adults don’t have time to put pressure on the government, he added. So even though there are hundreds of thousands of such families, they are not a potent group that can influence government priorities, he said.

“And when the disabled turn 21, they get even fewer services.”

Rimmerman has known outgoing NII director- general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef (for many years director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization) and has much praise for him. “He did great things there and made changes. He fixed many things, such as medical committees assessing the disabled that he found when he arrived here. He raised the allotments for children with severe disabilities to level of adults with severe disabilities. He also created a much better and more humane atmosphere. But change in government institutions evolves and takes many years, even decades, to carry out.”

PROF. DANIEL Gottlieb, the NII’s deputy director-general for research and planning, agreed that “unfortunately, we are not better than the US when it comes to offering more services and financial assistance to impoverished and disabled people. We are at the wrong end of the scale, and there is a need for change regarding increasing benefits to families with disabled people.”

With his lecture containing many statistics, Gottlieb reported that with a working-age population of about five million in Israel, a quarter have disabilities, but the rate of disability allowances among those at working age is only 5.5%. The disabled are overrepresented among the poor. They are more likely to live alone, and lonely people have a higher poverty rate than others. The more severe the disability, said Gottlieb, the higher rate of compensation they get, but those who are borderline, without 100 disability, get much less. The disabled also work less (if at all) and are less educated.

SHALVA, WHICH provides a wide range of outreach services free-of-charge to the children with disabilities community in Jerusalem and beyond, has become a vital lifeline for thousands of Israeli families.

“80% of our clients could not afford the services we provide,” Shalva director Avi Samuels said.

“For 26 years, our goal has been to break the cycle of poverty and provide the vital, nurturing services to disabled children so that every one of them has an opportunity to realize their maximum potential in life from infancy through adulthood. Just providing an afternoon after school program for these disabled youngsters allows parents to work, creating a normal routine at home and allows them to stave off poverty.”

The new Shalva campus, which replaced the old one in the Har Nof neighborhood and opened gradually just a few weeks ago, is impressive. The Samuels family thought of everything – and they began it from nothing.

Their son Yossi was born healthy, but when he received an extremely rare faulty vaccination, he was left blind, deaf and acutely hyperactive. Providing him with constant loving care, his parents became exhausted and isolated. Many professionals and well-intentioned friends suggested placing Yossi in an institution, but Malki refused and vowed that if God helped Yossi, she would dedicate herself to helping other children with disabilities and their families.

When Yossi was eight, Shoshana Weinstock – a deaf special education teacher penetrated Yossi’s wall of silence via Hebrew finger spelling.

She taught Yossi his first word, shulchan (table), thus creating a relationship similar to that of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. Malki recalled her promise and with Kalman’s help, Shalva was founded in 1990. Today, Yossi is 40 years old and in a wheelchair, but he has a satisfying job.

Shalva supplies transformative services to more than 850 participants with disabilities through a cornucopia of individually tailored programs and round-the-clock therapies, provided to children until age 21, of all backgrounds, religions and races, completely free of charge, seven days a week. They raised a monumental $50 million to build and equip the new center without any government help.

But as state welfare authorities refer children to the center, various ministries cover 70% of maintenance costs, with the rest having to be brought from donors.

There are dormitories where even the youngest children can stay overnight and weeks and are fully cared for. A strictly kosher kitchen provides all the meals in a large and welcoming cafeteria. There are two luxurious swimming pools, one specifically for therapy for physically disabled children. A library, a Snoezlen room to arouse the senses, a dental treatment room, café, synagogue and other prayer facilities for non-Jews and many other facilities are on the campus. Each area was painted in specific colors so children could find their way around easily. Spacious corridors boast beautiful designs with a different theme on each floor.

The grounds are filled with playground and sports equipment, as well as attractive gardens.

The only thing missing is a sign at the street that rises from Rehov Shmuel Bayt into Bayit Vegan, to direct people to the campus.

The municipality has yet to approve it; but one can get there by driving or walking left past Zichron Menachem, below the Shalom Hotel.

Camp Shalva brings 200 children with disabilities around Israel to amusement parks, beaches and more for the experience of a sleep-away camp, all in non-segregated environments that expose both campers and hosts to inclusive ideals and create warm, lasting memories.

Shalva’s basketball team is part of the Hapoel national basketball association’s youth league, trained by the team’s coaches, playing against other youth teams and sharing the court with the pros on nationally televised events.

The Me-and-My-Mommy (or Daddy) program invites parents from disadvantaged homes around the country to learn, once a week, how to play with their children.

The Shalva center is a welcome addition to the city and country that will change the lives of disabled children and their families while raising the government’s awareness of the need to prioritize services for the disabled.

Related Content

Brain scan
September 20, 2019
Ben-Gurion University study says 'Havana Syndrome' caused by pesticides