Children left in abusive homes focus of probe [3]

For nearly two months, Eli Avraham has been trying to remove his two young children from the custody of his wife, whom he claims physically abuses and neglects them. "I live in a daily fear that something may happen to them," he said. For years he was the children's primary caretaker, but when his wife left him in September, she took the children with her, and he has since been in and out of court trying to regain custody. Avraham told his story to the Knesset's Committee on the Rights of the Child, which was evaluating holes in the governmental system that leaves children in abusive households on Tuesday. "The child welfare system can immediately remove children from their homes if it feels that there is a dangerous situation," said one representative of a social welfare agency, identified only as "Matti." "But it often will do so as a last resort, if it feels like there is no other option." The committee was convened following an incident several weeks ago in which a mother drowned her infant. Following the publication of the story, public outrage was raised over why the infant had remained in the care of its mother, who had a long history of mental illness. "What is important is that we find the holes in the system, and patch them up so that children do not continue slipping through them," said MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) who presided over the meeting. He outlined three steps that he would like to see taken to prevent children from falling through the cracks in the welfare system. Primarily, Cohen said, social workers needed to make sure that they followed through with each of their cases, especially those that they were not "wholly at ease with." He also said the courts needed to examine the "disasters" in which children were sent back to live in abusive households and learn from those mistakes. Lastly, he said, the next Knesset should put together a full report with data from the courts, social workers and the police. For Avraham, however, these changes feel like too little too late. "I have been trying to get my children out of that home for so long," he said. "Every day they remain there is just too long. There is no excuse, not from the social workers or the courts, for why they are still there." Avraham first filled for custody of the two children in September, on the basis of a police report that the mother was found to have bitten the older child, a six-year-old girl. Avraham then said he discovered that the younger child, a four-year-old son had suffered severe burns on his leg from a hot iron. "The iron was left on and no one was home," Avraham said. "It was negligence. How can you leave children in a home like that?" One Rishon Lezion judge chose to do exactly that, said Avraham's lawyer, Yossi Gil. "The judge simply said that at the kids were in their 'tender years' - at the time both were under five - and it was important to be with their mother," he said, adding that the judge also ruled that a social worker should visit the children within 10 days and file a comprehensive report on their safety. However, nearly two months later, no such report has been filed, and Avraham said his calls to social workers have gone unanswered. "I can't see my children. I find out about them when they call me, always crying," Avraham said. His hands shook as he took out his cellphone to display photographs of his two children. He also said that he speaks with their teachers. "My four-year-old son drew a picture of his mother as a monster with sharp teeth and scary hair," he said. "My children live like this and the state has not done anything."