Amid protests, Education Ministry to take over preschool oversight
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Amid protests, Education Ministry to take over preschool oversight

PM accepts demand that all state-funded daycare be subject to stricter supervision — after September election; private facilities, including for all kids under 3, still left out

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Israeli kids in Nazareth Illit on their first day of the school year on September 1, 2016. (Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Israeli kids in Nazareth Illit on their first day of the school year on September 1, 2016. (Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday the Education Ministry would take full responsibility for all state-funded preschool daycare centers, a day after thousands of demonstrators called for increased oversight of childcare facilities.

The demonstrations came amid outrage over abuse of children by caregivers after a manager at a private kindergarten was charged with harming kids under her care.

Parents are demanding changes to childcare oversight laws, including tougher sentences for abusive daycare workers and better regulations for supervision of daycare centers, many of which are private and do not require any licensing.

“Beyond cameras, training daycare [staff] and basic supervision, I have now agreed with Education Minister Rafi Peretz that we will transfer the operation of the daycare centers to the Education Ministry,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

The prime minister said the move would, however, only be finalized by the next government, following September’s national elections.

Peretz, who was appointed to the position last month, thanked Netanyahu “for accepting our request,” saying that children’s protection would be a key priority of his tenure.

Union of Right Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz speaks at a campaign launch event in the Jerusalem Gardens Hotel on March 11, 2019. (Miri Shmanovitz)

“The protection of children should be continuous, from the age of birth, via preschool daycare, elementary and high schools. We have to make sure our children are protected in every sense. The Education Ministry is the most professional and high quality place to supervise, including from the age of birth up to 3,” the Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman said.

The decision refers only to state-run facilities which are funded for ages 3 and up, when children are eligible to enter public preschools. It will therefore not affect any private daycare centers, including all daycare for children under 3, as protesters has also demanded.

Currently, just 23 percent of the facilities across the country are under the auspices of the Education Ministry and subject to its oversight regulations. The remainder are overseen by either the welfare or economy ministry, both of which parents say have lower standards.

In June of 2018, the government came under fire for the continued delay of a proposed supervision law as ministries squabbled over funding the project. The law was finally passed in December, but only mandates security cameras in all daycare centers starting in September 2020, as long as 70 percent of the parents do not object.

Parents protest in Tel Aviv against the abuse of children and infants in kindergartens in Israel, July 7, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Michal Daliyot, one of the organizers of Sunday’s protests, welcomed the move but said it was “severely lacking in its scope” and that the government must also adopt proposals to provide oversight for private daycare and tougher guidelines across the board.

“Parents expect more and deserve more,” she told Channel 12 news.

Days after video footage emerged of Rosh Ha’ayin caregiver Carmel Mauda allegedly tying up, beating and force-feeding kids, parents and others on Sunday chanted “The country demands justice for the children” at some 25 spots around Israel, including Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, where some protesters blocked roads in anger.

In recent years, numerous cases of abuse have been reported, including the killing of an 18-month old baby girl by a caregiver.

Carmel Mauda, the owner of a kindergarten who was filmed abusing toddlers, sits at the courtroom in Lod, as she arrives for a court hearing on July 7, 2019. (Flash90)

Mauda, 25,  was accused of systematic violence against 11 children, three months to three years old, between May 27 and June 16.

According to the charge sheet, Mauda, who ran the Baby Love daycare center, would “on numerous occasions” attack the children, including covering them with blankets and sitting on them to prevent them from moving; tying up a child “for minutes to hours”; lifting the toddlers by the arms and throwing them to the ground; shaking babies; forcing children to stand, facing a wall, for hours; hitting the toddlers with diapers, slapping them, and pulling their heads back while obstructing their breathing.

Mauda was arrested in June, but on Thursday, police released footage of the alleged abuse, leading to widespread anger against her and protests outside her home. On Saturday, her home, which is where the daycare center was located, went up in flames in what police suspect to be arson, and authorities banned future protests there.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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