There ought to be a law

While most of the child welfare and parents' groups agree that parenting classes are important, they differ on just who should be responsible for ensuring that parents actually take them. Based on the grim statistics regarding child abuse, it's clear the classes are needed. While the Rose Pizem case, whose trial began just recently with Rose's grandfather accused of murdering the girl and her mother also facing charges, and two others involving mothers drowning their sons made the biggest headlines, statistics show the problem of parents abusing their children to be widespread and worrisome. MK Nadia Hilou notes that 84 percent of the 30,000 children treated by welfare officials in 2007 were abused within the family, attacked by parents or siblings. "That's very, very high, and usually the hardest to discover, because it's kept a secret within the family, and by the time it's discovered, it's usually after a long period of suffering and abuse," she explains. In 2006, 2,558 files were opened involving offenses committed against children within the family, and between 1998 and 2005, the number of such cases grew 80%, according to data submitted to Hilou's Knesset Committee on the Welfare of the Child. Hilou wants the burden of taking the classes to be completely on the parents. Her bill - which was stalled by the dissolving of the 17th Knesset - dictates that it would be their responsibility to sign up if they want to collect their National Insurance Institute money. The Rose Pizem case "was essentially the trigger" for the legislation, she explains. "It's true that there are courses and schools where parents can be trained in groups, but if we examine how many of the parents take advantage of them, it's very, very few," she says. "So I said: We shouldn't just leave this up to the parents, but focus on the child's welfare." Hilou would see like to see a couple, after the birth of their first child, "be required by law to go to receive training in a course, and... learn how to be better parents." She believes that making such classes a matter of choice will just see "the families who need it the least" attend. "If we want to focus on the child's welfare, we have to make this a course that every parent must take... We'll never be able to completely prevent child abuse, but I'm certain... there will be fewer child victims." Ada Lipziger, a representative on the National Council of Israeli Parents and director of Ashdod's Parenting Center, which offers such courses, believes the burden should be on the state, not the parents. "The focus [in most legislation until now] is on the child... and that's wonderful because the children are sometimes in really terrible situations... But for the children to get all the rights they deserve, they need parents who will know how to raise them properly and to allow them to get those rights. For the child to have the best atmosphere to grow up in, the parents need to have the opportunity to be the best parents they can be. "The state must be required to supply the parents with places to receive guidance. I'm not sure exactly how, whether via NII points or some other way. It should be nearby, accessible, affordable, where they can get a number of sessions." While legislation to protect kids is important, she says, legislators "too often forget the other partner: the parents." Adler Institute director-general Osnat Harel isn't sure Hilou's legislation would pass "because the issue of individual freedom arises... I think before we force people, we can create laws that encourage them. They'd be easier to swallow and accept. For example, perhaps giving another NII credit to those who take such a class, or splitting the credit in two, the first part granted after birth, the second after completing 10 classes." The phone at her institute is "ringing off the hook" with applicants, she says, and she envisions big organizations which sponsor such classes getting tax breaks and other encouragement. "I want to shout at every opportunity: Make these courses available to every parent in Israel. It's our duty to give such instruction to parents and make it possible for them to come learn these things everywhere. And the Adler Institute does that." National Council for the Child director Yitzhak Kadman - who terms modern parenting "mission impossible" due to increasing tension between careers and family, people marrying too young and lacking the support of extensive families and other maladies of the modern age - suggests the trick is not making the class a punishment, but turning it into "something that's 'in,' like Lamaze... Young parents must take it not out of coercion, but out of the belief that it can help them to deal with the situation... It should be something that's available everywhere, and we should raise the awareness of them," with ad campaigns and other publicity. First-time mom-to-be Aviva Friedman, 21, of Jerusalem, due to give birth in May, has mixed feelings about Hilou's proposal. "On the one hand I think it's nice because there are definitely people who need it, but I think the greater population doesn't. To make it a requirement is a bit strict. I very well might end up taking something, but I don't think I necessarily need it as much as some other people do. I think it's too strict to make it a requirement for everyone. "There are going to be people who say: 'What about these problematic parents - maybe if they had taken them, they would've known better,' but I don't even necessarily think that if they had a parenting class everything would be okay." Harel says her vision is "for people to shop for a parenting class like they shop for a crib or chest of drawers for their child's room." Meanwhile, the media should "make people aware of the importance of proper parenting. Everything that happens in this country, everything, begins at home, when the child is born. And we as parents are responsible for this."