Sunday, January 1, 2017

Peering behind the walls

Looks can deceive.

The conventional wisdom is that when a large, closed institution for children is clean, aesthetically-designed and decorated, brightly lit and uncluttered and is promoted by the government and by a slick PR agency, that the care within must be excellent.

I hope that the following account will help to dispel that myth.

In May 2000, a small, Jerusalem weekly, Kol Ha'ir ("Voice of the City" - published by Schocken Group who also publish Haaretz), reported an incident that had taken place several days earlier at the Aleh Jerusalem residential facility. It was covered in a two-paragraph article that occupied no more than an eighth of a page.

The story was about the death of an 18 year old girl living at that institution. Instead of paraphrasing it, below is my unofficial translation from the original Hebrew:
Headline: A retarded girl choked to death in the Aleh residential facility
Subhead: The young woman apparently choked from aspiration - inhalation of the contents of her stomach into the lungs. Despite previous incidents of this kind, she was left unsupervised 
The girl, 18, who suffered from mental retardation and motor problems died last weekend at Maon Aleh in the city. The girl choked, apparently.
The girl had received her supper from one of the institution's workers. A doctor at the institution testified that after the girl received the meal, and despite previous incidents of aspiration, she was left unsupervised. "The caregiver came to turn her over and found her totally blue", said the doctor. The girl was taken in serious condition  to Shaarei Zedek [hospital] where she died.
At Aleh's Jerusalem facility
[Image Source: Times of Israel]
The director of the facility, Shlomit Grayevsky, refused to respond to the question of why the institution's staff did not supervise the girl during the meal. "She was in a serious psycho-motor state. The case has been reported as required. Our investigation/checking/inquiries found that everything was proper," she said.
At the time, after reading the report, I made contact with the reporter and asked whether he was following it up. He said that since the girl's parents had opted not to press charges against Aleh, there was nothing to pursue further.

According to the Aleh website, Shlomit Grayevsky, a nurse by profession, remains the director of Aleh Jerusalem to this day.

And just in case anybody is in doubt as to whether Aleh is an institution or just a "rehabilitative village" as its administration call it:
An institution or residential care home for children is defined as a group living arrangement for more than ten children, without parents or surrogate parents, in which care is provided by a much smaller number of paid adult carers... children who live in an institution without a parent for more than three months are ‘institutionalised children’ and the focus of our concern... [Source]
In its 2013 Children with Disabilities report - part of its larger "The State of the World's Children" project [here] - UNICEF made nine key recommendations. They included:
4. End the institutionalization of children with disabilities, starting with a moratorium on new admissions. This should be accompanied by the promotion of and increased support for family-based care and community-based rehabilitation.
5. Support families so they can meet the higher costs of living and lost opportunities to earn income associated with caring for children with disabilities.
I wish the Israeli government, which persists in channeling inordinate funding to Aleh, finally entered the 21st century and adopted these views.

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