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To help identify babies and pre-school children at risk of violence or negligence in the home, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry wants to require their parents to bring them to a family health (tipat halav) center twice a year.
Director-general Nachum Itzkowitz told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that tipat halav services have declined since the 1980s and even more seriously since 2000, due to severe budget cuts for social services that were instituted by the Treasury under Binyamin Netanyahu.
"They were excellent services; now we want to bring them back," said Itzkowitz. "Our experts studied this subject to find out what is done abroad, and - not surprisingly - they found that public well-baby services are the best way to keep track of young children before they enter the schools.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog plans to present the proposal in the coming weeks for discussion in the Ministerial Committee on Welfare and Social Services.
He told the Post Thursday that "Tipat Halav nurses have the training and experience to identify delayed child development and cases of abuse, as well as providing parents with essential advice."
Children up to the age of five are not enrolled in the formal education system, making it difficult for the authorities to track their progress for any possible problems, Herzog added.
Tipat Halav was founded nearly a century ago by Henrietta Szold, founder of the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America, who sent two US nurses to do examinations of poverty-striken Jerusalem infants and bring cow milk in a tank hauled on the back of a donkey. After the founding of the state, the service was taken over by the state (Health Ministry) and some later by municipalities and health funds.
For decades, tipat halav services were viewed as a model around the world, and many women were visited in their homes soon after giving birth. But these practices are long gone, and well-baby clinics spend most of their time giving vaccinations and monitoring weight growth and hearing.
Tipat halav services are voluntary, but parents have to pay a yearly fee of a few hundred shekels - even though monitoring and treatment is good for public health and saves money in the long term.
Under Herzog's plan, these services will become mandatory. Health Ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli and other officials will next week meet with their counterparts in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry.
Itzkowitz said tipat halav nurses have the professional tools to identify children at risk, but that they would probably have to undergo additional training for this task.
A year ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that family health services would not be privatized, despite Treasury demands. The prime minister said then that the well-baby clinics "are one of the few state services that the government grants directly to citizens in the best possible way, better than private entities can."
He added that the family health centers should offer additional services. Currently, the centers monitor pregnant women and provide vaccinations and monitoring for children from birth to age six.
"We should learn from the sad experience of other countries that privatized preventive medicine and paid a very heavy price," commented then Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar, who added that tipat halav stations, which used to offer more services, such as home visits for all new mothers, have been desperate for money since the Treasury "dried up" financial resources and aimed to privatize them.
Nearly three years ago, the school health service was transferred by the Health Ministry, under Treasury pressure, to a non-profit outside organization; this resulted in the reduction of services and vaccinations in schools, while preventive education and health checks have been all but eliminated.
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