Special-needs families fear new lockdown

People with special needs who live in group homes could not understand why they were cut off from their families for weeks on end.

A gardener with special needs prepares flowers for planting at the Rhoda Fischer Memorial Garden at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran on July 5, 2020. (photo credit: COURTESY OF ALEH)
A gardener with special needs prepares flowers for planting at the Rhoda Fischer Memorial Garden at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran on July 5, 2020.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF ALEH)
Parents of those with special needs rejoiced on Tuesday when Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli announced that their children who live in group homes would be allowed to visit their families for Rosh Hashanah and would be allowed to return to their framework following the holiday.
Shmuli noted that this was a change in policy and said, “Their disabilities are not a reason to shut them in and isolate them.” The Ministry said in a statement that their families would have to guarantee that they would not come in contact with anyone who was ill while they were at home and that they would have to take a test for the coronavirus when they returned. They will be allowed to return to their families for the Sukkot holiday at the discretion of those who run their group homes and arrangements would be made for their families to visit them in the group homes as well.
This is a major change from the previous lockdown, in which people with special needs who live in group homes, particularly those with autism or intellectual disabilities, could not understand why they were cut off from their families for weeks on end and, in most cases, not allowed to go to work or day programs.
Opposition leader and Yesh Atid Party chairman Yair Lapid, the father of an adult daughter with autism, fought hard for this change and said earlier in the week that “the mistake of the previous closure that caused mental and functional damage to people with autism who did not see their parents for weeks must not be repeated.”
Hannah Kim, a journalist whose son has autism, spoke for many outraged and anxious parents when she tweeted on Sunday: “There is no way that the airport will be open but those in group homes and dormitories for people with special needs will be locked up. Won’t happen.”
In a post circulated among special-needs parents on Facebook over the last few days, three mothers – Orit Reznick, Tali Nuriel and Amira Morag – voiced their frustration over the situation, writing: “Stop treating our children as if they were 90-year-olds!” They decried the fact that divorced parents are allowed to bring their children back and forth between their households even during lockdown, but special-needs adults are kept isolated and prevented from seeing their families.
A lockdown puts the staff of group homes and the organizations that run them under unusual pressure. All residents typically go out to work every weekday, returning only in the afternoons, so there is no staff on duty from 8 a.m. until sometime in the afternoon. But during the previous lockdown, the residents were not allowed to go to work, so those in charge of group homes had to struggle to find staff who could work these extra hours and to find a way to pay them, since these extra hours were not in the organizations’ budgets.
While many parents of mainstream children bemoaned the difficulty of keeping their offspring busy in the last lockdown, staff members at group homes had to cope with supervising six or more special-needs residents, many of whom were heartbroken and agitated because they could not see their families for reasons that they could not understand. Many residents simply ended up sitting in their rooms all day with little human contact for over a month. And since many of them go home for weekends and holidays, extra staff had to be hired for these times as well, and will have to be hired again for the next lockdown – in just three days.
CLARA FELDMAN, the CEO of SHeKeL, an organization that provides community services, including housing, for people with special needs, said that “in the last lockdown, government regulations were insensitive to the special needs of people with disabilities, and this population was obligated to observe more extreme precautionary measures than the rest of the population, often causing unnecessary distress.
“Shekel is now gearing up for the upcoming lockdown where once again residents of our ‘living in the community’ apartments will be restricted to their home apartments, and Shekel will be employing round-the-clock staff at great expense,” she said. “As in the previous lockdown, Shekel will do everything in its power to reduce stress and envelope residents in caring, stimulating and empowering experiences.”
She added that Shekel’s culture and leisure department had developed games and activities specially designed for people on lockdown.
Feldman brought up another issue related to people with special needs during the coronavirus that has received scant attention: Special-needs organizations have to provide care when their residents are diagnosed with the coronavirus or have to go into quarantine.
“On a daily level, the immense costs of providing protective and medical corona-related equipment, additional staff needed in order to conform with Health Ministry regulations, and additional apartment space for frequent cases of quarantine, are not sufficiently budgeted by the government – and organizations are literally collapsing under the financial strain,” said Feldman. People with special needs require care and cannot simply be put into a government-run coronavirus hotel, she noted.
Said one mother, “Nobody seems to realize that kids with special needs grow up and still have special needs.”