Melchior blasts gov't over failure to care for children at risk

MK Michael Melchior, chairman of the Knesset Committee for Education, Culture and Sport, spoke out Monday against government and society's failure to recognize and assist thousands of children and youth at risk who "go to bed at night not knowing what to expect when they wake up in the morning." Speaking at a conference to mark the 10-year anniversary of Ashalim, the partially government-sponsored association for planning and development of services for children and youth at risk and their families, Melchior criticized the establishment for cutting back on its funding for welfare programs and for relying too heavily on international philanthropy. Ashalim, which develops and facilitates programs for an estimated 350,000 children from pre-school to post-army, is jointly sponsored by the government - through the Education, Welfare and Social Services, Health and Finance ministries and the National Insurance Institute - the American Jewish-Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the UJA Federation of New York. "While it is important to work with philanthropists to develop programs such as those established by Ashalim, when a conflict such as the second Lebanon War arises, funds are diverted and there is no one left supporting Israel's children at risk," said Melchior, who recently pushed through legislation forcing the government to commit to the development of seven centers countrywide to support child victims of sexual assault and rape. "How did we create a Jewish, democratic country where there are children going to bed not knowing what will happen to them when they wake up in the morning?" asked Melchior. "It happened because these are the children that no one likes to see." Following his fiery presentation, Melchior told The Jerusalem Post that the only way to help children at risk was to "open our hearts and really see these children." "What I said probably has not made me the most popular person but I spoke from deep inside my heart," he said. Lynn Jacobs, Chair of the New York Board of Ashalim, told the Post that she "completely agreed" with Melchior's observations regarding the relationship between the Israeli government and international charity. "Our commitment was supposed to be for the foundation [of Ashalim], the programs [were meant] to be an incubator," she said, adding, however, that she recognized the financial challenges faced by the Israeli government to completely take over Ashalim's many projects. Jacobs said that despite Ashalim reaching its 10th anniversary, the New York Federation was planning to continue its commitments and she commended the government for its recent initiation of a NIS 200 million basket of programs aimed at children at risk, known as the Schmidt program. "The Schmidt program is the first time that the government has invested children at risk," observed JDC Israel-director Arnon Mantver. "Government cutbacks in the social welfare sphere are well-known phenomenon not just in Israel," he added. "With a project as large as Ashalim, however, we never expected the government to take it over completely. We see it more as a partnership between the government and international philanthropy."