NGO dispute augurs uncertainty for autistic women

NIS 28,000 debt leads to sudden termination of eight participants in employment workshop.

Alut autistic graffiti art project 311 (photo credit: Alut)
Alut autistic graffiti art project 311
(photo credit: Alut)
A dispute over payment for services between two non-profit organizations – both supposedly committed to working with people with autism – left a group of eight young women in Jerusalem locked out of their regular framework, facing a very uncertain future.
The women, who are all young adults receiving rehabilitation support from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry because of their disability, are currently cared for by Jerusalem-based NGO Alei Siach, which provides services specifically for religious people with disabilities.
Despite running its own sheltered employment program for young adults with autism, until last week Alei Siach had contracted additional services from Alut, the Israeli society for children and adults with autism. The women, sent by Alei Siach to Alut’s workshop for young adults – known as MEITAL – had been “employed” under this arrangement for several years.
Last Sunday, however, Alut suddenly informed the women that their employment at the workshop was over effective immediately and they should not return to the workshop the next day.
“We were in total shock,” said Fiona Blumfield, whose daughter Penina was one of the women participating in the program. “If you are autistic, then dealing with change is very difficult. If there has to be change, then it should certainly not be a sudden change but a gradual one.”
Blumfield, who made aliya from the UK four years ago, said that the families were only told one day in advance that they were no longer entitled to a place at the Alut workshop. They were told it was due to debts owed to Alut by Alei Siach.
“When Penina was accepted to the Alut program, we were so happy and she settled in there so well, she learnt all the techniques and she never had a problem with it,” said Blumfield of her 27-year-old daughter.
She explained that about a year ago, social workers suggested that Penina move into her own apartment with several other young women. The Blumfields turned to Alei Siach, which along with its workshops also operates group hostels for people with disabilities.
“We would have liked to put her in a hostel with Alut but there was no space,” said Blumfield, who is now very concerned about her daughter’s future.
“It is very stressful for us,” she said, adding that although Penina will start at an Alei Siach workshop this week, she fears the program will be less motivating for her.
“It is very upsetting that we were not properly informed that the girls were told from one day to the next that they could not come back,” she said.
“Every normal human being, when they leave a place of work, has some sort of farewell party before they move on. These girls were thrown out like a sack of potatoes.”
According to Estie Brook, the manager of Alei Siach’s housing program, the dispute was over a financial debt of some NIS 28,000 that was accrued by her organization after Alut increased the cost per person without properly informing them.
“We purchase services from Alut and for each person we send to their program we pay per month,” she explained. “This amount was raised and we were not told.”
Brook added that Alut also never informed the parents of the young women that there was a potential problem and no care was taken to make sure that the participants could be prepared for such a drastic change in their lives.
“We have already told Alut that we will pay the debt but they are not being patient enough,” she said.
Rabbi Chaim Perkal, the founder and CEO of Alei Siach, did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
In response, Alut spokeswoman Ruti Sivan, said the organization had waited patiently and with good faith for Alei Siach to respond to the change in cost for each of their participants.
“Over the past six months, we tried via email, telephone calls and registered mail to contact Alei Siach in order to explain the financial change and to understand what their plans were for these young women in the future,” she said.
Sivan also pointed out that funding for each participant comes directly from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry to the primary care organization and, in this case, simply needed to be transferred by Alei Siach to Alut.
“After receiving no response from Alei Siach, Alut informed them of a final date for terminating this arrangement and went on to accept new people to the program,” said Sivan, adding that out of concern for the well-being of the participants Alut did, on Thursday, accept two of the Alei Siach people back into the program.