Life for new foster families and those who plan to adopt babies from abroad just got easier thanks to legislation passed last week by the Knesset, which will extend to foster families maternity leave rights similar to those new mothers get, and provide those adopting children greater security during the often arduous process.“This is a big celebration for foster families in Israel who have been waiting for this change for more than 10 years,” said Shalva Lebovitz, national integrator for foster care in the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services.“For families where both parents work, it is very difficult to take on foster children; during the first few months they have to be at home and help the children to adjust, to feel secure and comfortable,” she said.Under the new law, which also increases the economic and social protection for families involved in the adoption process, those fostering children under the age of three will be entitled to full maternity leave benefits, and those fostering children aged between three and 10 will receive a month of maternity leave with full pay.“I hope this step will allow us to find more families who are willing to foster children and at the same time we can improve the care that the children receive during that critical period when they are getting to know the family,” Lebovitz said. “These are children who have had very harsh experiences, the transfer to a new family is very hard and it takes a while for them to get used to it.”Around 2,600 children in Israel live with 1,800 foster families, but the foster care program lags behind that in the US, Lebovitz said. While in the US, 85 percent of the “children at risk” removed from their homes live with foster families and 15% live in institutions, in Israel, 23% are in foster care and 77% are in group homes or institutions.“In 60% of the families in Israel, both partners work, and they were never able to take time off to foster children in need, but now, with this law, they will be able to,” Lebovitz said. Until now, many of the foster parents took time off from work at their own expense, she said.Orna Hirschfeld from the National Authority for Intercountry Adoption and the director of adoption in Israel in the Welfare Ministry also welcomed the change, saying it would strengthen families going through the emotional process of adopting babies and children.“International adoption is a very lengthy process whereby the families must go abroad to see the child, to connect with it and undergo the legal procedures in the country where they are adopting from. This takes a long time and most people are forced to take a vacation from work,” she said.“With this new law people who are adopting will not feel threatened that they might lose their job, this way they will be able to go through the complex process in a relaxed way.”While adopting families will still not be entitled to paid leave, they will have job security, Hirschfeld added.“This change brings official recognition to hardship that parents go through to adopt children,” she said. “I don’t know if this will encourage more people to adopt, but it will provide help and support for those who do decide to do so.”Between 120 and 130 children are adopted from foreign countries and brought to Israel each year, Hirschfeld said. Most come from Russia. Adoptions of Israeli-born children are less common with up to 100 children joining a new family annually.