PM launches NIS 200m. project for children at risk

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made good on his promises Monday by launching the much talked about NIS 200 million program aimed at reducing the number of children and youth considered at risk in Israel. Presented by Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, the first phase of the four-year project will provide financial aid to less than half of the 330,000 children at risk. However, it will have an emphasis on children under the age of six with the hopes of reducing problems later in life. The program, which will initially be under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office, will see the creation of an interministerial committee made up of representatives from the Social Affairs, Education, Health and Industry, Labor and Trade ministries and the appointment of a coordinator within at least 40 local authorities that have reported a rise in the number of children in need. Funding for the program will be broken down into age groups, with 40,000 children under six receiving a NIS 1,500 supplement per year per child; 100,000 children aged six to 18 slated to receive NIS 900 per child; and 4,000 children under the age of four - within the framework of day care centers - to receive an extra NIS 7,000 in benefits. The Prime Minister's Office hopes to have the local authority professionals in place as early as April, with a comprehensive system set up in time to run summer programs and to provide children with financial assistance for the 2007/8 academic year. Less than a month ago, the National Council for the Child presented Olmert with alarming data regarding the rise in children at risk and children living under the poverty line. According to the organization's report, 33 percent of Israel's 2,326,400 children were considered poor in 2006 and 17% of children were considered at risk, a 40% rise since 2000. Most of the children who had files opened with social welfare services were aged between seven and 12, the report found. In a Knesset plenum last week, Olmert successfully defended his position as minister of Social Affairs and highlighted his efforts to reduce the number of children at risk.