Panic and Terror When a Child Welfare Officer Comes to the Door

On 14/12/08, at 22:04 at night, Israeli Child Welfare Officer Shoshi Hirshenberg knocked on the door of the home of a mother. She wanted to check that everything was OK with her children.

The children were sleeping since 20:00. It should be born in mind that the children are six and four years old. They no longer sleep in the afternoon.

The "Child Welfare" Officer arrived with all of the police of the city of Givata'im (who were on duty), which stunned the mother and frightened her to death.

The policeman, Itai, who is in charge of the shift, gives his guarantee that they won't come into the house. Of course, he did enter and all of the policemen of Givatai'm with him.

What does the "Child Welfare" Officer write in her report the next day? Lies: that the house is neglected and that there is laundry in the living room. The mother lives on the ground floor. Because of this she takes any laundry that is still drying on the rack in at night, so that the laundry won't be stolen as it might be if it remains outside. Besides which, the house was near and orderly. There was food in the refrigerator, and the children slept soundly. With all the tumult from the arrival of the "Child Welfare" officer and the police with their communications devices, the children woke up disquieted.

Her ex-husband served 22 complaints of neglect of the children against her with the police. All of the files against her were closed.

Despite that, the children were removed from their home in January 2009 and brought to an institution run by the World Zionist Organization called "Hadasim" (Myrtle Sprigs") which is in the Sharon area of Israel. There they are to this day. There are injuries on the children.

Orphans Welfare - taking children from their parents

Translation of the article "Orphans Welfare" , Israel , Yediot-Aharonot , author: Merav Batito , Feb. 2008

Not one sign was there to warn against the long arm of the mechanism is too efficient welfare of people. One day she was mother of five children one morning a delegation of four children with sandwiches and stays with the baby. Such volunteer help homeroom teacher before class that separates the party hawks, hugging one in each hand, next day was Mother horrified to discover that her three children were at their school investigation by "an elderly woman who asked us all sorts of things", as she told her daughter First-grader .

"They came home upset," she says, "They said a woman asked them if they hit home if screaming at them. They told recorded them and photographed them".

Tamar (Pseudonym ) picked up a phone in her son's homeroom teacher, Roy who was then aged 11, describes herself not only from the nightmare. "The teacher told that during the break Roy pointed to a big stick and told her: 'my parents hit me with such this', the teacher explained his duty to report to the clerk of Welfare and its members were quick to report to investigate the school children."

The fact that the school knows her well for the better of her four children was not about her credit, the fact that all children are especially Roy outstanding students who fill out their duties was not relevant. The fact that it is always considered a wonderful mother to neighbors and family members, was not considered at all. Call held educator with the welfare kicked it into another territory, a world where she and her husband became suspects abuse, parents have to watch every step they do. Although Roy is hyper active and cared for Ritalin, never needed for relief, and never had to for advice or assistance, there was not any mess that can not be caught out of their own. Two days later, Tamar was called to the welfare department in municipality "They asked me to come, and stated that they sought to get the Roy collect from school, my baby and my daughter in first grade were witj me, I waited there for an hour and a half and nobody bothered to brief me. I began to realize something was wrong".
Finally the welfare officer come, Tamar asked her to know where her son. She said: " 'We took him', and I felt how the end of the world comes I froze and told her: 'You asked yesterday, how to get the conversation turned into a nightmare ?", "I begged you to let me see him, tell me where is the boy, but she said she should not. About two hours after returning, a knocked on her door, two women who presented themselves clerks remedies, and asked me to make a small bag with clothes for Roi. They showed a letter which stated that Roy will be sent to an emergency center in central Israel, and that if they express any opposition may call the police. I started crying, the children stood open-mouthed. I realized at that moment I became pregnant and had my child is no longer my child. Is their child. Only they can decide what happens to him. "


Trap officials

According to estimates, 75 thousand children in Israel now live outside their homes. 35 thousand of whom are children of military boarding schools, yeshiva students, girls tame, and outstanding people with disabilities. 40 thousand or so 2.6 percent of Jewish children in the country are welfare children.

That is such a social worker was involved in taking them out of their home. This high rate five times the average in the western world, wich moving numbers around half a percent only.

Most of these children live in boarding schools are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Social Affairs and the cost of keeping them reaches billions of dollars a year. While the amounts spent on childcare in the community is minimal.

Welfare Ministry officials work necessary and often save lives, but more and more complaints are received that the system works with emergency orders, commission decision and opinions of the masses on its behalf, who came to protect and help promote and support, has become rampant in recent years to a militant policy which has become a last resort - Publishing child allow parents - the easy solution is available and rest.

Accurate figure for the number of children removed from their homes does not exist. Various experts talk about 5000 per year . Welfare Ministry spokesman estimates the number at 1,500 a year, but argues that database of information about the Center. This is an amazing thing, how can the system to examine and criticize the work of its officials notched fates? Compare the method of action against what is happening in other countries?, Especially seriously examine the allegations being made difficult years about the frivolity with which children find their parents Authority?

"Remove a child age five or six out of the house is the most destructive thing, or is incorrect thousand psychiatrists will not help then". Says Udi (a pseudonym) a senior relief official resigned after approximately - 20 years due to disagreements with his superiors. In this capacity he was responsible for 15 welfare officials. One of the complaints against him, he says was not out enough orders (orders for admission, testing, surveillance, emergency) in the region, he had been appointed. "I felt that my work has become the index number of orders, in relation to the number of people I spent them treated, and not to quality of work. Until ten years ago we worked with conviction, and treatment. Assuming forced not promote anybody. Today the policy is much more openly aggressive. It's not that began increasing stricken children, or the number of parents who treat their children properly. No! check every Western country the numbers are similar. just spend more orders. No one here does not grow on trees on a desert island, what are you hurrying to the boy and send him to boarding school? what is to blame? there He will not be in distress? "


MK Marina Solodkin not hesitate to compare the situation now hijacking the Yemenite children affair. "There", she says, "took the children for large families and moved them to other families. Here add insult to injury and take children from their parents, for example because their economic situation worse, with immigrants taking the children from families normative.

Many turn to me and they are not addicts or criminals. More and more people are afraid to contact authorities to request financial assistance for welfare to take them for fear of the child "

Solodkin's desk lay 16 open cases, with each facing a similar situation: "All children are facing publishing house wrongly. Turn me mothers, sisters, grandmothers, 'Why not transfer them to family members?', Turned to me and 45 year old woman from the south, are to her grandson allow her daughter is an educated woman working as a teacher and asked to be Mshmurnit of children. welfare officer told her: 'I have an appointment for adoption, do not get it. " Those poor who have no money for food, and therefore lost their children, must now spend money on attorney ".


Eventually this was the story of Tamar: "All that night did not sleep We were looking for someone to help return the Roy home," she says. Tamar and her husband contacted lawyers Amikb splendor and joy Shapiro: "We explained to Tamar that authority to a child welfare officer from his home immediately, if she thinks the child in danger," Mr. Shapiro says: "She did not need a judge order, and has great power as a cop. Within seven days from the time the child was removed, the welfare officer must be approved in court. There she comes with a written statement, signed by a lawyer. "Mr. Hadar:" There is no reason a judge would not approve such a request, if no reasoned objection, and parents must act immediately to offer the judge, how to treat their child. If the judge sees a serious family He answered, "but the warrant was approved by the judge before Roy's parents were lawyers." All Ainstink parents in this case would be incorrect, "says attorney Shapiro:" normal parent would run wide open, his children will require valid and then charged with violence. What proves that the system of welfare officials who removed the child's right permission.


So what should a parent do in this situation?

"Go to a lawyer and recruit tens of thousands for a renowned psychologist to give an opinion, or any relevant professional. Next stop is the Committee recommend a decision if the child returns to his parents or out of it. Recommendations of the Committee will receive an official approval by a court rely on its recommendations. If parents money they will not have the strength to fight the commission and the court decisions "

Tamar and her husband Roy were invited to visit the emergency center just after a week and a half. "When he saw us and hugged the three of us and we were not able to stop crying. After calmed down, he begged us to take him away, the director said we place a classic example of parents and their child should not be such a place."

But Roy's condition began to deteriorate "At first he did not want to see us," continues Tamar "Then they told us that he tried to commit suicide". Three weeks was Roy psychiatric hospital in Nes Ziona. Tamar was staying there with him every day. "We brought a boy of 12 who sleep at night and wants to keep the mother and father beside him. 110 thousand shekels cost us bring him home. 60 thousand savings and we kept expanding home mortgage we took 50 thousand. Even today continued tight control on the Tamar and her husband. They receive regular visits of the Ministry of Welfare, patients with a psychologist as he promised the committee decision. This is despite evidence never raised any claims against them. Tamar received a month ago Message Advocate that the criminal case was opened following a complaint filed by the welfare officer based on the words son was closed for lack of evidence. Mr. Shapiro says: "This means that those remedies clerk sufficient evidence to establish guilt of the parents and the removal of child from home, not enough to decide on an indictment, the sad conclusion that arrive after the damage caused, and the family was destroyed.

These days, Tamar and her husband are considering to sue the welfare officer and his superiors about her welfare.


Tskirim secretly

November 2002 Committee submitted its conclusions Gilat welfare minister. The commission was established because of multiple complaints parents whose children were asked to check they are being held among the committee decision, about 200 the number of workers across the country, their jurisdiction to recommend to the court the removal of a child his parents' authority. About 25 recommendations are a summary work of the committee, most of them concern the increasing involvement of the minor and his family held a committee which began the process, clarifying the issue of publishing child allow parents, increasing the transparency of what is happening within the committee, setting the vehicle's legislation committee, the establishment of communities Commissioner parents, reducing time Publishing a child from his home between emergency order to receive approval by a judge for seven days - 48 hours of such an appeal committees covered in cases where parents would file an appeal on the decision of the committee composition or more.

The committee's conclusions were in fact a severe indictment against the existing procedure in Israel, but because of an exchange of Ministers Ministry of Social Affairs had not made recommendations to the provisions in fact buried under the political bureaucracy.


"The most disturbing thing is the damage to our family," said Dr. Zvi Gilat who headed the committee "These people turn to welfare authorities for help, a social worker is their savior, they tell him their problems and pain, hoping to receive assistance, a social worker that sits Committee The decision to tell where everything he heard in blatant violation of the confidentiality between therapist and patient, and based on this authority will issue the child of his parents. Anything I say parent blood chambers of his heart Itzotadt Btskirim opinion recommend to hand the child ".


It was a feeling of Alona (a pseudonym) had not bringing up three small children: a year was sent to the slave hosts "one of the settlements in Judea and Samaria, and five and a daughter three staying with her mother in another town after reinforcing issued several months ago. Is a single mother not receiving child support children's father when he felt immediately after the birth of third daughter can not bear an economic burden faced social services. "With my parents I'm in conflict and the children are all I have in the world, people were a source of welfare support only one I had trusted him."

Only in retrospect she realized she needed to pay attention to is what will happen "social worker explained that in order to get assistance, so that the children will be part of every day until six o'clock, you have to open a file in need, and for that I get to court. The night before the trial he came to me and told I happily they 'have achieved a discussion for me, then started asking all kinds of questions that seemed subversive "

Like what?

"He asked: 'is difficult for you with the kids?" And wanted to know what I'm doing my mad When we realized kicking me, so I told him seldom, I give him when he behaves like Flick, he asked:' What would you do if the children would go to another house? ", and I told him: 'What for?", he asked me questions like that, then he explained still hard for me because of the birth. my impression was that he was trying to sweep me statements to prove I was not functioning properly ".

Alona stood next court she was sure that this debate "needy case, but the story was completely different" Suddenly I see my parents I'm not in touch with them for a long time, relief officials started talking about Tskirim wrote me and did not know existed. And so the judge said that the children could not be with me. I was in shock. Until then I had no idea the question of custody of the Chapter. I buried my tin. using my distress to take away my children. If I knew I would not say that a social worker. He used my words To write a review against me. "

That same night Alona packed two bags and three small children climbed onto the bus and drove to a small town north of money left her rented a small apartment. Three weeks later she was sure that everything behind. Two small back garden which recorded them immediately upon arrival to the city, she put the baby carriage, and left with three local supermarket. As she bent down to put the milk wagon, police charged her: "They pushed me against the wall violently, presented my picture and shouted: 'Is that you?", All the people around us looked at, children began to cry, saying arrest me for kidnapping minors ". That night she was sent away Alona arrest was released after signing a commitment not to come near her children without permission, "I did not want to sign," she says, "but was informed that if I refused to send me to Neve Tirza, you know what the judge said the hearing was two weeks ago?, He said that if I agreed to sign a decree that I must be a good mother and not fit to raise children. " Alona depressing meeting with the center reaches us where she met her children as permitted by the judge once a week. Together with her close friend came equipped guitar, the great white was a birthday and she wanted to do a little happy. Great sadness and confusion, she turns around with an apple folder of documents, opinions, letters from Attorney allocated to legal aid, restraining orders, Tskirim.

She does not know the meaning of all those whom she just wants her children back.


The weak suffer

Yaqub her, author of "Children are far" devoted an entire chapter to what he calls "systematic exclusion of poor children. Her: "Once a parent talking to employee welfare, automatically becomes the child of his child at risk. Most children who find their homes are the weaker sectors. Most committee hearings are the families decision populations economically and socially weak. Many of the children who do not live in their homes and families are single children parent families.

Her, an accountant by trade and critic of government companies say that there is almost no numerical data on the matter. "No one in Israel knows exactly how many children live outside their home. This state of high - tech and can get any data that only want to touch of a button but not the data, is a system built on the hide, because the decisions which are arbitrary. If you expose revealed nakedness system picking on families rather difficult and does not Mnmkt decisions.

It collected data indicating that the cities where low socioeconomic level increased each year the number of children who find their homes. Each locality examined socio scale rated from - 1 to 10. Thus, for example, found that in Kiryat Gat (Level 4) There are 75 children who live in their homes ratio of 15.63 children per 10 thousand inhabitants. Raanana (Level 8) compared with 6 children that are staying outside their homes ratio of 0.75 children per 10 thousand inhabitants. Found similar gaps between the edges quite a few other communities.


Situation even worse among immigrants. "Low socioeconomic status along with the lack of knowledge of the language and familiarity of bureaucracy to bring the inability to survive". Attorney says Yael wave Callies organization Tbka "Hmshig legal assistance to immigrants from Ethiopia.

Last year the organization began to handle the expenses of children from their homes. "We realized that the phenomenon of children's publishing intolerable easily, often for reasons not pertinent, not when things are good the child is taken into account. Segal tells mockery "often develops a negative dynamic between parent welfare officer, and that brings a wrong reading of the map by a welfare officer decides the fate of the child".

Parent comes to us not always understand the language and the meaning of what he was told by those who treat court. "We had a case of if only half realized after three discussions are going to take her children, she began to cry in front of the judge. I think it was the first time the mother noticed Judge, how can we hold a discussion regarding the law of persons, When parents do not know who they are supposed contact?.

This judge does not understand that once spend one child family is a matter of time before the next child to come out. Sense of failure of the Ethiopian children were taken from them is terrible, and they automatically disconnect the child removed from home. "


Is agony

She had actually Fry (pseudonym) living in Ethiopia are not bad. She studied at the university in Addis Ababa, and spoke several languages. Israel came 11 years ago as a mother, a single mother with four children. He knew that Israel was divorced about 70 sure that from now on will be much better. "I never married him for both of us was comfortable in this situation."

Then was born Sarah (a pseudonym) says Fry friction between the spouse and four children adolescents made their first steps in an Israeli company were increased "He tried to take my children gave orders, intervened almost everything". When Sarah was 3 years old her father left the house.

"He waited for an opportunity to get back at me and although I knew a good mother," adds Fry. She takes the wallet and proudly points to pictures of children's eldest daughter, a doctor at a hospital in New York, two other girls are married raising children in the north and the youngest soldier in me.

Youngest daughter Sarah, were no longer a normal life when she was five years old and Frei went to Ethiopia. "My ex-husband died, even though we were not married, he was dear to my heart and it was important for me to get to his funeral. While Sarah was there remained under the supervision of older sisters and relatives.

Her lawyer would later write to the court affidavit obtained by the sequence of events. "The welfare and asked him to call the father to take him to hurry his daughter. When she returned to Israel Fry daughter was horrified to discover Authority transferred Father".

Fry crying silently bowed her head and covering her face with both hands gently. "They told me I could not get near her, or call the police told me I was wrong, I can not raise my child." Six years, she struggled to get her daughter back, six years of agony which was pushed over by the system, moved from her home in the north to live close to my father's daughter. Turned myriad factors, reaching every week for a meeting with her daughter in the center of contact. "Only when she arrived to us, we discovered there was not even legal process," says Mr. Segal Callies' The child was transferred to her father's authority without a warrant. "

In October 2003, Judge Samuel Bukowski received a letter from the foot of witnesses, legal claims voluntarily accompanied Fry. The letter tells the witnesses through the ordeal Del Fry. "In - 9 Oct 2003 Fry came to meet the social worker that. Aforementioned questioned her about the relationship with me, and why she rents the house how much money she receives for the rental and other questions not related to the subject. Meeting her mother cried and begged her time arrangements set dates to see her daughter, but it snapped in her face because she would never see her. This meeting came crying to me whether she is weak and helpless.

More She wrote: "Clearly I conducted shows that court orders are not held at all. I'm shocked how in Israel two thousand years of a child taken from his parents happens when the child is the subject matter itself, but comes to serve as 'punishment' by the social worker without thinking to turn to the trial. I wonder if such a thing could happen in a wealthy educated man or of the law. So I'm wondering if it was intervened If ever comes to court ".

After six years of persistent struggle which was treated by 80-year-old father of daughters older home where Sarah. But by then it was not her child, she lost her faith often confront her mother. What else - so it was decided again to allow her mother Sarah, this time boarding school.

Fry broken, again and again is flip through the piles of papers, looking for a letter Sfitzifi wrote "There are lots of ways to provide child care but did not see anything they throw them up for adoption, foster or boarding school. That's what they know but not my child an orphan," she wrote there, " My language is difficult and hard to understand you, but tell you that in the most obvious "I want my child to stay at home do something to save her."

Soon after the end of document shows Fry Committee's decision: "Both parents agree that the girl will leave campus," it said, "me" she says "No one asked."


No confidence

A month ago they moved MKs Avraham Ravitz life Amsalem demand letter to Labor and Welfare Committee. Background: Welfare Ministry figures for 2006 according to which you are 4000 children and youth court orders issued from their homes. "We think they wrote" the most serious thing is carried out while trampling Best interests especially of the frames providing quality foreign domestic dangers child exposed to them during their stay in them. Very often many times the serious risk which was his home. "

"I'm not ready to imagine," says MK Amsalem week, "excess power in the hands of social mechanism brings indirectly destroys the family unit." Chairman "of movement for the future of our children," Jacob Ben Issachar number of dozens of parents who come to the office every month " Because there is no body visits the Ministry's decision regarding the issuing of children "he says," individuals who can assist are Oolntriim bodies like us. "

Shimon tag Marjorie past social worker and consultant welfare minister and today heads the organization "look" for families "in trouble" with Social Services, "Social Services" he says, "do not work as therapists and patients in relation of mutual trust, but the ratio of police offenders. welfare officials have angels but they are few. "

For him the main problem is that social services do not know to differentiate between their world and values of patients. If the social worker comes to ultra-Orthodox family and sees 10 children sleeping in two rooms is shaken, he does not take account of the father is the ideal Avrech prefers to live barely above all his children absorb values such as abstemious. The fact that the father was not a great educator is taken into account by a welfare measure that is based on standards that he knows and determines who support their children properly.

Tag Marjorie handles dozens of cases of children removed their parents Authority. "I ask parents the whole truth on the table, offers a therapeutic program, comes with committee decision, court hearings and accompanies them in the process. One of the aggravating me is that the state not funding treatment program, you are good enough to get a house but not good enough to handle him and his family ".".

Gil-Am Hostel: 'You are alone. You and God.'

The article 'You are alone. You and God.' , Haaretz , Esti Ahronovitz and Niv Hachlili , October 2006

"At Gil-Am they never say 'Good morning.' At 6 A.M. they open the door with a bang and shout 'Out of bed!' If you don't get up right away, they turn over the bed or pour water on you. Sometimes, straight off in the morning, I would be booted into 'solitary,' especially if the counselor was irritable" - A ward from Gil-Am

The pastoral landscape on the way to the Gil-Am Hostel, which is located in a forested area between Kiryat Ata and Shfaram, not far from Haifa, is misleading. Living behind the high walls are youths who were sent there by court order after dropping out of other educational institutions. According to the Internet site of the hostel's operator, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the goal of the facility is to provide treatment for these youngsters: to help them advance in the professional, therapeutic and educational realms and to reintegrate them into the society.

The reality, however, is a bit different. In January of this year, S., a student of education who works with Gal-Am's inmates, arrived for her weekly meeting with D., who is 16 and a half years old. At the start of the session, an educational counselor asked D. to come see him. The boy replied that he was already in a meeting with S. From here the descent into violence was swift.

"The counselor took D. forcibly into his cabin," S. related this week, "and from there we heard shouting and cursing. He then took D. out, holding his hands behind his back, and led him into solitary, the whole way screaming at him to be quiet. Then, on the way to solitary, he just threw D. onto the ground and smashed his head against the sidewalk. D. started to scream, 'My head, my head.' The counselor charged at D. as though he were an armed terrorist and started beating him savagely. There was another counselor there who observed what was happening and a teacher from an enrichment group. Neither of them did anything. The next morning I came to visit D. He was bruised all over, his face was covered with blue marks, and he had a wound with dried blood from his cheek to his chin."

Three months later, Binyamin Fisher, the northern district inspector of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs' Youth Protection Authority (YPA), recommended that the counselor's employment be terminated. The reason: use of unwarranted violence against wards in the hostel. Half a year later, the staffer was still on the job. A few weeks ago, another youth filed a complaint against him with the police, claiming the counselor choked him as he dragged him to solitary confinement. But this counselor, it turns out, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Several months ago, senior personnel from the YPA sent a frank and blunt letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who holds the social affairs portfolio, warning that the authority would sustain a severe blow because of a struggle being waged by the workers committee, led by Moshe Deri, at the expense of hostels' residents. "We are witnessing a situation in which the chairman of the workers committee is effectively running the Social Affairs Ministry and dictating its agenda," the letter said.

Only now has Olmert decided to take action as social affairs minister and to establish a committee to examine the situation in the YPA, the only unit in the ministry which is authorized to absorb at-risk children and to provide them with care in a boarding-school setting.

The latest chapter in the protracted battle in the ministry began a few months ago, when Deri instructed the YPA's workers to "sever all contact" with Fisher. Since then, the authority's personnel, who under the law are responsible for supervising these institutions, have found it difficult to do their job at the Gil-Am, Ahvah and other institutions.

"These are rough places," says a Social Affairs Ministry source. "The children in them are violent and dangerous, and the staff often loses control and finds itself embroiled in violent situations. There is now no contact with these institutions. We have no way to inspect them, and this is a dangerous situation for the children."

The broomstick syndrome

"The showers were wide open. I remember it was always cold there ... There were incidents in the showers ... Children were stripped and doused with cold water. At night the counselor would prefer to sleep, so we were locked in our rooms. About 12 to 20 kids were locked into a cabin. At night you don't sleep. The fear is intense. Fear of kids who will hurt you - there were cases of stabbings with knives or other sharp objects. I often thought of escaping, but was afraid of getting into even more trouble." - A., a former ward at Gil-Am

Yaakov Reuven, who is in charge of the hostels for the Social Affairs Ministry, is responsible for 12 inspectors from the state and the ministry, whose job is to ensure that the ministry's policy is implemented in the 57 YPA hostels. These facilities house some 2,000 boys and girls around the country.

To do their job, the inspectors have to visit the hostels continuously, and speak with the staff and the wards. The inspectors recently sent agitated letters to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, to Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander and to the director general of the Social Affairs Ministry, Moshe Shion, describing the intolerable situation that has arisen in the wake of Deri's order to hostel staffs to break off ties with the main ministry inspector in the north.

"The supervision by the official in charge of the hostels is supposed to be carried out as a dialogue," explains a senior official in the Social Affairs Ministry. "The inspectors are supposed to sit down with the staff of the hostels and resolve problems, but today that doesn't exist. We are not being allowed to engage in systemic thinking and to provide these children with a horizon. What is shocking is that the professional forum of the Social Affairs Ministry - the director general and deputy director general - who are aware of the situation, are not taking responsibility. We are living in anarchy. Violent incidents are only increasing, but no one is responding. I don't know what they're waiting for."

The Social Affairs Ministry rejects these allegations. "The ministry's directorate views the ministry's role as being, above all, to protect the wards," the spokesperson explains. "The physical construction of the facilities and their operation by a large staff of caregivers is intended to prevent, to whatever extent possible, abuse of any kind. When abnormal events occur, we react with great severity and on the basis of the law against abuse of helpless individuals. We carry out many educational activities among the employees to prevent abuse and implement close supervision of hostel directors and ministry inspectors."

But the case of the counselor at Gil-Am reflects the inability of the inspection staff to intervene at the institutions. S., the student who worked at Gil-Am, was appalled by the counselor's outburst of violence and spoke to the director about it. "He told me that things like that happen and that there was no need to file a complaint against the counselor, because he was liable to lose his job," she recalled this week. "At the end of that day I met with the counselor and asked him to go see the incarcerated youth. The counselor shouted at me."

S. asked Gil-Am's management to investigate the event, and when she concluded that nothing was being done, she approached Fisher, the Social Affairs Ministry inspector in the North. "There is an atmosphere of fear there," S. says. "Some of the youths are afraid of every step they take. There are counselors who walk around carrying broomsticks. One day, when I was sitting with one of the kids, a counselor came in and asked to speak with me in private. The boy asked why and the counselor brandished a broomstick. The boy ran away, shouting, 'No more blows.' On my last day there, at the end of June, I saw that one of the boys from my class had a red and blue bruise on his face. I asked him what happened and he told me that one of the counselors had slapped him hard on the face and kicked him in the ribs. Then he said, 'You know, something else happened to us, too.' He told me that this counselor had stripped him and two other boys, lined them up in a row and played with their genitals using a broomstick."

That very day S. and two other students went to the director of Gil-Am, Yaakov Cohen, to discuss the violence in the institution. S.: "He told us, 'There is nothing to be done. There are 'wild weeds' everywhere. You yourself will get used to it in time.'"

Afterward she wrote to Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, the director of the National Council for the Child, seeking his intervention. In June Kadman asked Reuven, the ministerial official in charge of the hostels, to examine the complaints. The story about the Gil-Am counselor was already known, as Fisher had recommended that he be dismissed back in March, following S.'s first appeal to him.

Armed with testimonies about the counselor's behavior, Fisher and Reuven asked the Social Affairs Ministry to dismiss him, but encountered the slow-moving wheels of bureaucracy. They understood that there was no intention of letting the counselor go before the termination of his contract in August of this year. The counselor, for his part, asked Moshe Deri, the ministerial workers committee chair, for his assistance.

"He called me," Deri said this week, "and I tried to intervene. I spoke to relevant people in the ministry who are responsible for human resources, but they told me that nothing could be done, because he wasn't a tenured employee."

Yet even after his period of employment ended, the saga of the counselor continued. About a week after the official date of his contract's expiry, it turned out that he was still working at Gil-Am and that another complaint had been filed against him for using violence.

According to the testimony of one of the wards, on the evening of September 3, the counselor entered the youths' television room and ordered them to turn off the set. They said they wanted to watch the film until the end, but the counselor told them to go to their rooms immediately. One of the youths asked the counselor to let him finish smoking his cigarette. According to the boy's testimony, the counselor pushed him, grabbed his neck and thrust him into solitary confinement forcibly. He says the counselor told him to lower his pants so he could conduct a search, but he refused, and the counselor went into a rage, struck the boy, and then smashed his head against the wall. Another counselor on the scene tried to calm the assailant.

The boy said he was kept in solitary until after midnight. Two days later he filed a complaint with the police against the counselor. Gil-Am did not report the event; it was discovered only after a Social Affairs Ministry inspector visited the institution, saw that the boy was wounded and spoke with him. Fisher contacted the hostel's directorate but did not receive a substantive reply.

"This situation is intolerable," Fisher wrote in desperation to senior officials in the welfare system. "The safety of these boys is being compromised day after day, and we have no way of helping the population for which we exist in the first place."

The Social Affairs Ministry stated in response: "The police are conducting the investigation; the counselor has concluded his work in the hostel."

The Social Affairs Ministry's spokesman says that "the police are conducting the investigation; the counselor has concluded his work in the hostel." Also, he added, the manager did report the case and it was decided "that the counselor in question was not suitable for work at the hostel because he gave the impression of being a bit too tough and verbally violent ... The matter eventually reached the Labor Court."

The manager vehemently denies everything that was said by S. about their conversations, as the comments attributed to him are against his "worldview."

Walls of silence

"I arrived at Gil-Am when I was 14 and spent two years there. I was involved in a great many violent incidents - violence between the youths and also violence by the counselors against the youths. Attempts to deal with this by speaking with social workers or counselors were like grinding water. And no one wanted to go to the police, either, because at the end of the day the counselors are still there. The counselors would threaten us. Their style was 'We will send you to prison,' 'We will open a file on you.' I also remember Y.A., a counselor who was known to be violent. There were some counselors it was best not to mess with. The most violent event I went through? One of the counselors took a martial arts weapon and took me to solitary, stripped me and beat me viciously. This was in the winter and I stayed there all night, naked. I was a boy of 14." - A former Gil-Am ward

Three months ago, Fisher visited Gil-Am, following an article in a local Haifa weekly about alleged physical and sexual abuse inflicted by three boys on another resident. Neither Fisher nor his superiors had received a report about the event. At Gil-Am he encountered walls of silence.

"It was a shocking incident," says a senior official in the welfare system. "Three boys rammed a rod into the anus of another boy, and we were not allowed to investigate. Fisher came to the hostel. The director, Yaakov Cohen, didn't even hide the situation. He said he had been instructed by the workers committee not to cooperate. The director told Fisher, 'We have known each other for years. I can have a cup of coffee with you, but I can't talk to you about that event. That is the directive I received.' Fisher was absolutely stunned."

In a report to his superiors, Fisher wrote that he "fears for the safety of the youths ... I want to caution that I do not have any possibility of maintaining supervision of the hostel."

One event followed another. During the recent war in Lebanon a group of 10 youths escaped from Acre's Ahvah hostel, a long-time YPA facility that deals with youths from the Arab sector. Another group from there, which was staying at a hostel in Jerusalem, left the place in a shambles: The youths relieved themselves everywhere and stole equipment.

Fisher planned to meet with the director of Ahvah, Moshe Zafrir, in August, to discuss the situation in the institution, but not surprisingly their meeting never took place. In a letter Fisher sent to his superiors, he informed them that Zafrir had broken off communication with him and was not responding to phone calls.

A month ago, ignoring the boycott that was declared against him, Fisher paid a surprise visit to Gil-Am. The place was in an uproar: One of the youths had tried to hang himself. "Fisher asked to speak with the education coordinator, Rami Amsalem," says a person who was present at the time. "But the coordinator refused to talk to him, explaining that he had received a directive to that effect from the workers committee. Fisher wanted to find out what happened. He understood that this was part of an ongoing story. The boy had received punishment and the coordinator had apparently been involved in a confrontation with him - but no one let Fisher examine the situation. That was already too much."

That evening Fisher went to the nearest police station and filed a complaint against Amsalem for interfering with the work of a civil servant. "It's a state within a state," a senior Social Affairs Ministry official said this week. "It's a closed bubble, and there is no one to subject it to professional review."

Why bring in the police?

Moshe Deri, the workers' committee head, who can disrupt the activity of youth hostel inspectors by uttering a single word, is considered a militant and tough trade unionist who will go through fire and water to protect the workers' rights. In the past, he has organized several highly publicized strikes. In his battle against the Finance Ministry, for example, he went so far as to delay the transfer of funds to foster families and to institutions that care for autistic individuals, and also blocked the admission of new wards to facilities for youth and the disabled.

"The ministry is well aware of his strength," says one of Deri's acquaintances. "If he so desires, the whole system can be shut down. He is in control of his people - one word from him and everyone walks off the job."

Deri has been in the system for 40 years. He started out as a YPA counselor and rose through the ranks. He is now an inspector of professional training in YPA.

Deri has three renovated offices. One, on Hassan Suderi Street in Haifa, is for his work as an inspector. A second, which serves him as chairman of the workers committee, is in the Social Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem. "In the ministry's legal department in Jerusalem two lawyers have to share one desk, but he enjoys offices everywhere," says a senior official there. The third office is at the Ahvah hostel, in Acre, the city in which Deri lived until a few months ago. This is a spacious place with new equipment, including a small refrigerator, and a private bathroom.

"We in the Social Affairs Ministry are a poor unit that deals with a poor population," says a senior official. "There are schools with asbestos roofs which aren't replaced because there isn't enough money, and there is no money to buy food for institutions. But Deri renovates freely, and that of course is extravagant and outrageous."

"Moshe Deri does not have a 'bureau' in the hostel," the Social Affairs Ministry says in response. "In the storage area which houses all material relating to professional training of the YPA - an area for which Deri is responsible - there is a room that serves him and also other employees who visit the hostel. The room in Jerusalem belongs to the workers committee and serves the district and national committees for meetings, to distribute gifts and so forth."

For some time Deri has been conducting a struggle against the government plan to privatize the institutions for the mentally retarded that are run by the Social Affairs Ministry and fire 1,200 civil servants. Most of the YPA hostels have already been privatized in the past 15 years, and of the 800 employees in them fewer than 100 are civil servants. The jobs of about half of those - people who physically work in the hostels - are the subject of the battle.

"Benny Fisher started to visit the northern district hostels and started to target the employees," Deri says, explaining his decision to break off contact with the inspector. "Workers came to me and said that he was trying to find proof that they were not doing their jobs. We held a discussion on the subject and we sent him a letter so he could come and respond to the complaints against him. He didn't show up. The ministry's labor council met and decided to break off contact with Fisher until the matter was clarified with senior officials in the ministry. To this day we are not talking to him. All the workers are cooperating and carrying out my directives."

But it's the children who are paying the price.

Deri: "The workers are being hurt. And if they do not carry out the directives of the workers committee, they will be hurt even more. At Gil-Am, Fisher threatened that he would place workers who followed our orders on disciplinary trial. Two weeks ago he filed a complaint with the police against a hostel employee who is not talking to him. The employee told him, 'Don't place me in an unpleasant situation, because I am not allowed to talk to you.'"

Fisher has encountered employees who are not cooperating with him in matters relating to the protection of children? Aren't you concerned about putting your workers in a position where they have to break the law?

"So what? If the complaint is not justified, what is there to be afraid of? This is a complaint that the worker interfered with the performance of Fisher's duty. I have called out the ministry on strike many times and I interfered with many employees in the performance of their duty, but did anyone file a complaint against me? Why bring in the police? You know what - he can complain all he wants, and I am certain that the police will do nothing with it. He's only hurting himself. If there was once a chance of creating a bridging between him and the workers, now there is no chance of that, either. They don't want to see him."

Personnel of the Social Affairs Ministry said this week that the ministry's director general and his deputies are ignoring the dispute between Deri and the YPA staff, even though they are aware of the problematic situation. "They don't want to get involved with Deri," say officials in the ministry. "If he wants, he can bring the ministry to a halt."

Indeed, everyone in the ministry remembers the last time Deri decided to go all the way. That was four years ago, when Yaakov Reuven, the official in charge of the hostels, together with the minister at the time, Shlomo Benizri, decided to shut down Mechora Hostel."

Scissor treatment

"At the age of 14 I arrived in Mechora and got the shock of my life. It's living in pens. Sometimes you go out a little, but most of the time you're in a closed cabin ... As a 14 year-old, it was the most frightening place that ever existed ... I especially remember the 'scissors.' At night they wrap the soles of your feet in toilet paper and set it on fire. During the day there were fights. You were beaten for every little thing. You were ordered to do something and you got confused or you made a face - and right away they let you have it. The counselors were violent, too, slapping, pushing and other stuff. But mainly there was just no one to talk to. There was nowhere to turn to. Every day was a challenge for me - to navigate between the drops, to survive. And at night you go to sleep, but you don't sleep, because you don't know how you will get through the night. The door is shut. The counselor no longer cares. You're afraid? We'll talk tomorrow. You are alone. You and God." - A former ward at Mechora

The previous round in the struggle between Deri and Reuven was over the Mechora hostel. Despite recommendations by experts to shut down the failed institution and disperse the residents, Deri backed the struggle by the hostel's workers, including 12 civil servants, to keep it open.

Mechora was a hostel for at-risk youths who suffered from harassment and for juvenile delinquents who were sent there by the court after having been convicted of criminal acts. The facility was rundown and not fit for human habitation, and brutal violence among the wards themselves was commonplace. The counselors did almost nothing to stop the violence and rehabilitate the youths. Reuven hd tried to close Mechora from 2000. A committee appointed by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry director general at the time, Avraham Ben Sasson, submitted a series of recommendations - none of which were implemented. The committee expressed its shock at the situation in the hostel; in its opinion, allegedly criminal acts were perpetrated there, including failure to report cases of violence against wards, failure to protect children against other wards, and threats of physical violence.

"We were convinced, on the eve of the children's dispersal, as had been the case for a long time beforehand, that a situation had long prevailed at Mechora in which the youths there were exposed to concrete risk to their physical safety," the committee stated in its report. "A permanent pattern existed at the hostel, in which the weaker youths were subjected to the rule of the stronger ones. And even more serious, the weaker youths did not always receive the protection of the hostel's directorate or of some of the educational counselors, even though that was their duty."

One of the children told the committee, in passing, that he "showers in his underpants, because he is afraid of being assaulted sexually." The weaker youths "would place a bed against the door of their room to protect themselves during their sleep from others" - a routine practice which no one questioned. "Nor is there any dispute of the fact that as of 10 P.M. there is no orderly supervision of the children. There are no nighttime counselors at Mechora, as there are in other hostels. Moreover, some of their counselors, who are in their rooms, do not intervene even if they are summoned."

Summing up the physical description of the hostel, the committee noted, "In our opinion, a hostel with this scope of neglect is not worthy of human habitation ... It is doubtful that referring youths to a hostel in this condition is consistent with the state's duty to protect the right to dignity which is enshrined in the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom."

Why did this situation go on uninterrupted for years? "We formed the unequivocal impression that the heart of the problem of the Mechora facility lies in a tremendous power struggle that has been conducted for years between the ministry's labor council and the ministry's directorate," the report concluded. "We are of the opinion that, with all due understanding of the professional struggle of the workers, who fear for their livelihoods, there is no justification for parallel management or for the neutralization of the director ... Furthermore, the workers certainly must not assume professional authority which they do not have."

Attempts to rehabilitate the hostel by adding new employees and appointing a new director were unsuccessful. At the end of 2002, when the scale of the neglect became known, Yaakov Reuven asked then minister Benizri to shut down the hostel and he ordered its temporary closure.

"It was done to save the children," says a senior welfare official. "Within two hours, Reuven recruited a few directors of other institutions and each of them took one child under his protection." There were only six youths at Mechora at the time, as YPA offices did all they could to prevent children from being sent there.

"The action was done secretly, so that Deri and the workers at the hostel would not shut the gates," a Social Affairs Ministry employee explains. "It was done to fight for the children's lives. These children were removed from their homes by court order so they could be rehabilitated and looked after, and where were they sent? To hell."

After the hostel was shut down and the youths dispersed, Deri flexed his muscles. On November 3, 2002, a message to the employees was posted in the ministry's offices. Under the headline "Serious harm to the workers," the ministry's labor council called on the employees to launch work sanctions.

"This is an act of unprecedented gravity," the message stated. "The dispersal of the wards from the hostel under a pretext of 'risk' was done at the recommendation of the official in charge of the hostels. By doing so he created an opening for the privatization that threatens every aspect of our ministry ... It will never happen. The labor council has launched an uncompromising struggle against this tendency and against the person who is leading it, Reuven."

The labor council statement went on to list the sanctions the employees were launching: They would shut down the central computer, stop receiving the public, cancel meetings with the ministry's directorate, and more. In addition, "All the ministry's employees will break off contact with Reuven."

The message was very clear: Anyone who messed with the workers committee risked generating a strike of the whole system. Not a word appeared about the real reason that the Reuven had apparently "harassed" the hostel. Years of abuse of the youths became a "pretext." More than 50 senior employees issued a letter of support for Reuven. However, the minister and the ministry's directorate caved in, and a month after the report was issued, the hostel was reopened - if only "for the sake of appearance." Reuven did all he could to remove wards from there and send them elsewhere, until the hostel died a natural death and the staff left for other employment.

The report's final chapter recommends that the ministry official in charge of discipline examine suspicions of criminal activity which arose at Mechora. Despite all the testimonies of violence, sexual assaults and criminal acts, no one was tried and some of those involved continue to hold various posts in the welfare services. Three other counselors from Mechora were transferred to nearby Gil-Am. Only 50 meters separated the two hostels. Four years have passed, but nothing seems to have changed.

"There was no reason to file a complaint with the police," the Social Affairs Ministry said in response. "No employee was given a hearing. The temporary workers were fired. The permanent workers were transferred to other positions as part of an agreement between the ministry's directorate and the workers committee. Civil servants cannot be fired unless there are clear proofs of breach of trust, extraordinarily substandard performance, disciplinary infractions, criminal acts and the like."

"Gil-Am is the replay of the Mechora story," says a senior official, "and the kids are again the victims."W