Israel has over 11,000 at-risk children but no foster homes for them

There are currently 3,789 children across Israel living in foster care, but 11,500 children are classified as "at-risk" and live in boarding schools because not enough people will foster.

 THE FOSTER families provide loving, stable homes for children to recover from difficult situations (Illustrative). (photo credit: Patty Brito/Unsplash)
THE FOSTER families provide loving, stable homes for children to recover from difficult situations (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Patty Brito/Unsplash)

How many children in Israel have been taken out of their homes and put into foster care?

According to the 2022-2023 State Comptroller Report, there are currently 3,789 children across the country who have been removed from their biological parents and are living in foster homes under the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry’s “out-of-home services” umbrella.

And yet those are the lucky ones.

An additional approximately 11,500 children also classified as “at-risk” are sent to live in boarding schools because there are simply not enough people willing to foster other people’s children.

A number of organizations provide help with this issue, but Ogen in particular stands out as working tirelessly and selflessly to ensure these children are best equipped for life on their own after turning 18.

 OGEN CHAIRWOMAN Dr. Michal Devir: Monumental task. (credit: OGEN)
OGEN CHAIRWOMAN Dr. Michal Devir: Monumental task. (credit: OGEN)

Ogen (meaning “anchor” in Hebrew) was founded in 2018 as the only organization in Israel comprised of foster families that volunteer to assist and support other families caring for these children.

According to Ogen chairperson Dr. Michal Devir, “Sadly, there are not enough families to help.”

Fostering is aimed at meeting the needs of children and at-risk youth who can no longer adequately live at home. Their biological parents are unable to care for them for a variety of reasons, sometimes even financial; or the children are suffering abuse or neglect in their homes. Foster placement in Israel, as all over the world, is meant to be a temporary solution to a crisis situation until a permanent solution is found. This theoretically means the child will eventually be returned to their home or adopted – either by the foster parents or someone else.

Devir calls fostering “a monumental task,” explaining that these children have experienced many traumas and now need to learn to trust again.

A positive in Israel’s system versus those in other countries is that some 68% of foster children stay with the same family for the duration of their care. This is crucial as having to switch families can take a physical and emotional toll on the child.

Devir explains that Israel’s system is not adequately prepared to deal with the issue of foster children as it pertains to supporting the families who take the children in, and that they “are left to deal on their own with harsh bureaucracy and lack of understanding of their needs.”

She speaks of the “wonderful foster families” who “volunteer to raise them and help them recover in loving and stable homes,” and laments the lack of order and education in this space.

Devir adds that “those families are often disappointed by the system. They reach out to Ogen when they are exhausted, lonely and in difficult situations.” 

“It is heartbreaking, she says. “They are great kids.”

According to Ogen, children who end up in foster care come from all sectors of Israeli society and from all parts of the country.

TO DATE, Ogen works with hundreds of families benefiting from its services.

The Magazine spoke to several foster families – who according to Israeli law are not allowed to be named.

One foster parent, A., is a father to four biological children and has taken two girls into his home. He spoke of his desire to “give them a new life.” And he sees the results: “Now their lives are great. They are even excelling in their studies.”

Yet various problems made this road very challenging.

“Many government institutions don’t understand – or even recognize – our rights as foster parents, due to a lack of education and regulation enforcement. We had an occasion where one of the girls broke her arm while running. The doctors in the ICU refused to treat her until we got consent from their biological parents. This is against the law, but no one would listen to us.”

A. said the child “was in pain for hours and we were beside ourselves – until we called Ogen and they sorted it out.”

He also shared the instance when a government official told him and his wife they were not entitled to apply for passports for the girls “because we are not their parents.”

“The official told us we should leave the girls alone at home while we are on vacation abroad. Obviously, that didn’t happen,” said A.

He notes that such experiences are shared by many families. Foster parents are not allowed to see the children’s medical test results, psychological evaluations and more.

“The state gives us all the responsibility of raising the child without the basic means to do so.”

In the case of the girls he took in, he clarifies that they do not have much contact with their birth families.

This is not the norm though, as according to a 2014 study published by the Joint Distribution Committee, approximately 82% of foster children are in contact with their biological parents.

A. spoke of the great help Ogen has been for him, and said he hoped that more families across Israel take on the duty of hosting foster children, as their contribution truly “can make a change for the better” in the lives of these children.

ANOTHER FOSTER parent, B., the mother of two boys – brothers – both with special needs, spoke about the psychological trauma surrounding the timeline of foster care.

“A welfare committee gathers every year to decide if the children should stay with us or return to their biological parents,” she says.

“Each year, as we get close to that date, the children break down emotionally and physically. My sons often ask why they should listen to me, do well in school, make friends and even open up to their psychologist if at any moment they could be forced to leave us all behind and go live somewhere else. This impedes their recovery.”

B. and her husband feel that they have no real stability as parents, she shares.

“There was also an incident when the social worker called us out of the blue and said the boys were leaving within a week. It wasn’t because their biological family was ready to take care of them. It wasn’t because they weren’t doing well with us.”

“The Welfare Ministry simply had a dispute with the biological parents over something not related to the children. They used the children as a negotiation card to force the biological parents to do as they bid,” recounts B.

“It was horrific.”

B. and her husband couldn’t sleep for days, but found that “no one was willing to listen to us. That’s when we called Ogen. They told us what to do and the boys eventually stayed with us. How can any family live like that?”

FOR DEVIR, this is a very painful subject.

“In Israel, the welfare system allows the biological family to try [to get] custody at any time. Even after the child has been living four, eight, 10 years or more in a foster family,” she says.

“Of course, we must respect the biological parents’ rights. But in the US, for example, the biological parents are given two years to rehabilitate. If they don’t manage to do that, the children can be adopted by their foster families.”

Devir notes that in Israel, foster families who wish to keep raising the children after age 18 get no support whatsoever from the state: “This is an impossible situation for the children. They need stability and certainty.”

One of Ogen’s main goals, Devir says, is to change the law and limit the time in which a child stays in the foster system.

“If [a child’s] biological family is still unable to care for him after a reasonable time period, the state should allow his foster family to adopt him.”

Another foster parent, C., said education on the topic is critical, as most of the country “doesn’t really understand what it means to foster children,” and that it is an issue “because our goal should be to integrate them back with their biological families.”

THE STATE Comptroller’s Report points out many of the issues facing at-risk children in the country today. One of the most tragic is the lack of families looking to support foster children. This plays out in the discrepancy between those at risk and those who find families – only about 33%.

Although boarding school may not sound like such a terrible alternative, the report states that a child who graduates from boarding school is 5.2 times more likely to be arrested or imprisoned than a foster-care graduate. This is a tragic statistic.

Children raised in caring foster homes are given love and support in an often traditional setting – with a majority of foster families to be found among the religiously observant population. These warm environments – which cannot be duplicated by boarding schools – set them up for success once they go on their own.

A Welfare Ministry spokesperson said they are “in constant search for more families to participate in the important role of foster families.”

The spokesperson also stressed the delicacy of much of the work they do with foster children and families, and that they are dedicated to doing everything to ensure the best for all parties, including the biological parents. While sometimes at odds with Ogen, the ministry nevertheless expressed appreciation for the organization’s work.

SUCCESS IS often evidenced by eventual integration into the IDF, where they are considered lone soldiers, according to those with whom the Magazine spoke. Thanks to Ogen, the families have the a support system to set the children on the path to a full and happy life.

Another issue found in the comptroller’s report was that 87% of children in foster care did not receive “care plans” as mandated by the foster care law. These care plans are critical for both the child and the families to keep a solid base for their care and ensure success in the future.

One hope held on to by many children is ultimately being adopted by their foster parents and fully integrating into a new life. Yet, the most recent report showed that only 1% of at-risk children go on to be adopted. A devastating statistic, this means practically all at-risk children are mostly on their own once their foster care ends at age 18.

B. says that without Ogen, the situation “would be even worse. [The organization] is a big blessing and we are thankful to them.”

The organization ensures that foster families know the law and their rights; prepares them for the transition into and realities of life as foster parents; and creates a community for these parents.

What powers Ogen? Volunteers and donations.

“That is not easy,” Devir reveals. “We hope there are people who can open their hearts and help us support the foster families and children. These families deserve to have an organization fighting for them, so they can keep fighting for their children. That’s exactly what Ogen does.”

The organization also worked diligently to make sure foster parents received the COVID grants for childcare, which originally were going to their biological parents who were not raising them.

In all, Ogen’s work and the courageous step these families take in opening their homes is forging a better future for everyone in Israel. ■

Those interested in fostering can call the *118 hotline or learn more at 

Fostering and faith

While researching the topic of fostering, the Magazine came across the website of the HaTikva Project, a missionary organization, and its offshoot HaTikva Families.

The aim of missionary groups is to convert Jews to messianic Christianity.

While Israeli law mandates that families can only foster children of the same faith, missionary groups whose members identify on paper as Jews but are in reality messianic Jews have been taking in foster children in Israel. HaTikva does not hide the fact that they are messianic, as their website makes this clear, but it allows them to circumvent Israeli law.

Although the Magazine attempted to contact the organization for comment, attempts to do so were unsuccessful.

Section 368 of the Penal Code forbids persuading or encouraging a minor (under the age of 18) to change his religion. This law also forbids conducting any kind of ceremony for a minor to change religion, without the consent of both parents.

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