Gov't sued over failure to build 6 child-protection centers

The National Council for the Child petitions the High Court demanding explanation; says failure causes severe harm to victim minors.

By RON FRIEDMAN
April 8, 2011 04:44
3 minute read.
A Filipino mother holds her two children

Filipino children 521. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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The National Council for the Child (NCC) petitioned the High Court on Thursday demanding that the government be ordered to explain why it has failed to establish six child-protection centers, as required by law.

According to the law, which was passed in the Knesset in April 2008, as of this Sunday there were supposed to be eight child-protection centers in full operation – including six new ones, in addition to the two already operating.

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The petition claims that the government’s failure to comply with its own decisions will continue to cause severe harm to minors who were victims of violent and sexual offenses – and will now suffer from a second victimization as a result of the way the current criminal investigation process is handled.

Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, chairman of the NCC, said the centers are meant to operate as one-stop shops for children who experienced sexual or violent attacks – a place where they can see a doctor, lawyer, social worker and police-child investigator under one roof. The consolidation of services is meant to spare the children additional suffering caused by transferring them among the different government agencies and offices.

“As we know from the two centers that are already operating – one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Hashomer – the value of these centers for the children is immeasurable,” said Kadman.

“Apparently, the government doesn’t understand that it has to obey the law and has so far done nothing to implement it.”

Kardan stressed that the expenditure required of the government was minimal, as the money to create the centers has already been donated by the Schusterman Foundation. Additionally, he said the government is only required to pay for the operation budgets – a sum he estimated as NIS 1 million per center, per year.

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“Prior to filing the petition, we sent letters to all the relevant agencies and government ministries, but received little in the way of answers,” said Kardan.

“The ministries are bickering between themselves as to who has to pay for what. And in the meantime, no progress has been made.”

Kardan added that when the bodies were invited to an educational junket to the US to see the way similar centers operate there, there was no shortage of government representatives keen on joining the trip. However, when it came to taking responsibility for the centers’ establishment, the same representatives disappeared.

“There is no question as to the necessity of these centers,” Kardan said. “All the professional bodies say it is a must – especially when it comes to cases which involve children from‘closed communities,’ like the Haredi community. But it is true for all children. The centers provide a child-friendly environment, in which the unpleasant processes that they have to go through are made somewhat easier and less traumatic.”

According to the NCC, the child-protection centers enable all the required inspections and investigations to take place under one roof, in the least invasive way possible.

“The children are interviewed by welfare ministry representatives in a bright and cheerfully painted room, with murals on the wall and a two-way mirror.

Children are interviewed by a single person, and aren’t ever aware that representatives of other agencies are watching,” Kardan said.

The centers are also equipped with a medical inspection room – and although it is not meant for long-term stays, there is a place to sleep overnight for instances when children are brought in late in the day.

The ministries that share responsibility for the implementation of the law are the ministries of health, finance, internal security and justice. But the ministry that is primarily responsible for establishing the centers is the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services.

The Social Services Ministry said in response to the petition that “The establishment of the rest of the centers depends on cooperation with the relevant ministries and the allocation of funds.”

“The remaining additional centers were not built because of difficulties arising from lack of cooperation from other government ministries on the matter of job quotas for services under their responsibility [health, internal security],” the response read.

“The ministry of social services issued a reminder to the other ministries stressing that they needed to allocate resources to go towards the services under their responsibilities.

“And that the social services ministry – which isn’t budgeted in the areas under other ministries’ responsibility – would not shoulder the entire burden alone, but the other ministries refused,” the response continued.

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