(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog announced Tuesday that he planned to propose a bill in the next few days to ensure that local authorities provide disabled infants with free transportation to suitable day care centers.
Speaking Tuesday at a meeting of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child, Herzog said that the "bureaucratic procedures to arrange transportation for children with disabilities is intolerable and painful for the children and their families."
According to the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, children with disabilities are granted an allowance of up to NIS 6,500 a month, with NIS 1,600 earmarked for transportation.
But despite a law stipulating that all disabled children are entitled to free transportation to school or kindergarten, because many children attend schools outside their communities, local municipalities and educational institutions often refuse to shoulder the cost of transportation. Many parents of disabled children report that it can take six months or more to receive authorization for the travel funds.
During the meeting, Herzog reached an agreement with the Treasury and local authorities that the responsibility for transport costs would fall on individual municipalities. Changes to the present law would be implemented within weeks, he said.
However, Ruth Sivan, spokeswoman for Alut (the Israel Society for Autistic Children) told The Jerusalem Post that it was impractical for parents of disabled children to wait until the law was changed. "Transportation should be given according to existing laws," she said. "Changing the law will take a long time."
As well as discussing the issue of transportation for disabled children, Herzog also stressed that the lack of social services manpower meant that many children's issues could not be dealt with appropriately.
When ministry officials first welcomed Herzog to the Welfare and Social Services portfolio back in March, they pointed out that one of the ministry's biggest challenges was the lack of staff to deal with the growing number of social welfare cases.
Last summer's Second Lebanon War and the disengagement from the Gaza strip in August 2005 have also vastly increased the number of cases opened by social services.
The Social Worker's Union has estimated that each social worker has an average of 230-250 cases. Caseworkers who should have no more than 35 children's files each are responsible for about 150 children, the union said.
Director-General of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry Nachum Itzkovich urged the committee not to pass new legislation regarding children's rights before checking to see whether the ministry had the manpower to implement them.