Education Ministry officials were reportedly caught off guard by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Monday announcement that the office would take full responsibility for all state-funded preschool daycare centers, a day after thousands of demonstrators called for increased oversight of childcare facilities.
Ministry employees had not been aware of the plan ahead of time and heard about the announcement through the media, the Ynet news site reported.
Education Minister Rafi Peretz only took over the ministry late last month, and met with ministry director Shmuel Abuav twice about the issue, on the Sunday and Monday before Netanyahu made the announcement, according to the report.
Peretz had asked Abuav to look into how to expand the ministry’s oversight, but it was not clear what would happen following the announcement.
Experts said that transferring responsibility for the education of children under 3 to the ministry would cost billions of shekels per year. One official at the ministry’s Council for Early Childhood welcomed the move, but estimated the cost at NIS 4.5 billion ($1.2 billion) per year.
It was also unclear who would provide training to caregivers, how payments to daycare centers would work, whether the ministry would recruit specialists in the education of toddlers, and when the process would be carried out. The Education Ministry declined Ynet’s request for comment.
Sunday’s demonstrations came amid furor over child abuse by caregivers, after a manager at a private kindergarten was charged with harming children 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 Monday 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.
“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 of Education 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 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% of the parents do not object.
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.
Last week 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.
Mauda, 25, was accused of systematic violence against 11 children, 3 months to 3 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.