The Welfare and Social Services Ministry set out on a campaign on Tuesday to raise awareness and recruit foster care families.
This comes alongside a plea from the Summit Institute, one of five organizations that coordinate foster care and emergency shelter families under the auspices of the ministry, calling on members of the public to consider becoming emergency shelter families.
The ministry spends some NIS 230 million every year on the foster care system, and some NIS 2.5 million on emergency shelters for children under the age of six. These placements are temporary assignments for children taken out of the homes of their biological parents, in an effort to provide the necessary environment for emotional, physical, educational and social growth.
At the same time, the foster care system tries to allow for the biological parents to deal with the problems that led to the child being taken out of their home, with the help of the services provided in their community. The aim of the foster care system is to reach a situation where the biological parents will be able to safely take custody of their children once again.
Emergency shelter families, also under the auspices of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, provide a framework for children up to the age of six who are taken out of their parents’ home as a result of a court order due to immediate danger.
These homes provide a secure environment for the children and allow for a full investigation of the situation without leaving the child at risk. Families that operate as emergency shelter providers are vetted by the ministry and are prepared to take in children with no notice. They are able to accept children at any hour of the day and care for them for up to three months. A social worker is assigned the case and decides on a suitable treatment program. Children in these shelters have visitations with their biological parents at supervised centers.
The ministry pays a stipend to foster care and emergency care families according to the number of children they care for, and in addition, pays emergency shelter families NIS 1,000 a month for being on call.
“The Welfare Ministry recognizes and appreciates every family who decides to become a foster family,” Minister Haim Katz said in a statement released on Monday.
“To be a foster family is to bring a child into your family, to raise him as your own. This is an empowering experience and the ministry will continue to accompany and support foster families, with the hopes to increase the number of these families,” Katz said.
The Summit Institute, based in Jerusalem, has been operating foster care and emergency shelter services under the auspices of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry since 2003. They operate in the Jerusalem region and the South. Out of some 200 children who are placed in the care of emergency shelter families every year, nearly half go through the Summit Institute.
Only 20 emergency shelter families operate around the country. One of the women who, along with her husband, operates as an emergency shelter family, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Her name has been changed to protect the children in her care.
Rivka is a stay at home mother with six children of her own, aged seven to 21. She has been an emergency shelter provider for eight years. Rivka said that her family accepts up to three children at a time, although it is not a requirement to accept so many.
“I happen to have lots of energy and several helpers, and since there is a shortage of foster families... I push myself to be available for the maximum,” she explained.
Rivka specializes in taking in infants, mainly from birth until the age of three, but recently she has agreed to take older children as well. Rivka, who is a native English speaker, used to be concerned that her Hebrew was not good enough to care for older children, “but over the years we’ve learned that what is most important regarding language is to just speak from the heart,” she said.
“The children who come to us include children who were seriously neglected or even abused, or babies whose mothers’ are deemed unfit due to drug or severe alcohol abuse during pregnancy,” she explained. “Those are just examples. Each situation is unique and complex and taking children out [of their homes] is always a last resort.
“We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, giving full attention to these children,” Rivka said.
An attentive home environment is exactly what these children need, she continued. “Over the years I have learned I don’t really need to be an expert in trauma to do this work well. I just need to be cheerful and attentive. It all comes together after that.”
Children stay with Rivka and her family anywhere from three weeks to three months, and in some particularly difficult cases, even longer. When children are first brought to Rivka, they are often in need of a bath and to have lice combed out of their hair. While she tries to stay cheerful showing them around the house and cleaning them up, sometimes “it’s hard to be cheerful when you see cigarette burns on a two-yearold.” In cases like that, Rivka said they take the child to their health care provider to have all signs of abuse documented. The adjustment period lasts about a month, she said.
“Getting them into routines makes them calmer and happier, so that is always the goal, but it can take time.”
Some children don’t sleep through the night yet, which adds a layer of difficulty for her and her family. “We try to keep the motto ‘Sleep is overrated,’ to keep a sense of humor.”
Rivka spoke about the help they get from the social worker assigned to them, who typically visits once a week.
“Our social worker is very knowledgeable and supportive,” she said, adding that she can reach out to the social worker when there are difficulties with the children.
“The social workers work hard to help the judge make a decision about where to place the children. The options are sending the children back to their parents, to extended family, to long-term foster care, to child institutional care, or to adoption,” she said.
She also spoke of the Summit Institute, saying that “they put in a lot of effort to meet the needs of the emergency care families. I know they put a lot of energy and devotion into making the best choices regarding the welfare of the children.”
Families interested in becoming emergency shelter providers or foster families can reach out to the Summit Institute or the Welfare and Social Services Ministry.