Providing life saving support to a high distress community

Assistance for asylum seekers children with special needs
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REQUESTED DONATION:

$618,000

STATUS:

FOR DONATION

AREA:

PROGRAMS / WELFARE

PROJECT

Provide support and services for children and families from the asylum seeker community who are at risk and/or who have special needs.

OBJECTIVE

Reduce children’s exposure to risks and harm and equip parents to manage their difficult family situations.

IMPORTANCE

Children of asylum seekers suffer the hardship and trauma of their parents and also face particular risks and challenges. Providing them with support and care is critical to their health and wellbeing.

THE BACKGROUND

There are approximately 35,000 asylum seekers and migrant workers living in Tel Aviv-Yafo. Half of these are asylum seekers, the majority of whom are Eritreans with some Sudanese. This includes approximately 4,400 children of asylum-seekers, the majority of whom are aged 0-6. While the overall number of asylum seekers in Israel is decreasing, data indicates an increase of 300% in the number of children in the past five years. All of these asylum seekers arrived in Tel Aviv-Yafo from the Egyptian border prior to 2017. They arrived with nothing and continue to live in abject poverty. They eke out a living by doing manual labor and working long hours, sometimes late into the night. In some cases, asylum seekers are forced to work outside of the city and only return home on weekends. In Israel, asylum seekers lack economic rights and are therefore pushed into extreme situations, such as prostitution, gambling, and alcohol abuse. As a result, the risks and dangers faced by this community as a whole – and by the weaker members in particular – are extreme.

Due to the fact that approximately half of the asylum seeker population in Israel and 65% of their children live in Tel Aviv-Yafo, the Municipality, through its department Mesila, has undertaken to help address the basic needs of its asylum seeker community. Mesial provides key services to a community that has no resources to support a community in deep distress.

THE NEED

Asylum seekers in Israel face tremendous hardship, including:

1. Lacks of economic and family support systems. Minimal services, rights, and assistance.

– Uncertainty about their future.

Financial hardship.

Cultural and language gaps.

Hostile social climate.

Traumatic life circumstances resulting in ongoing stress and anxiety.

These difficult circumstances were exacerbated in 2017 due to two legislative developments. The so-called ‘Deposit Law’ came into effect in
May, requiring employers of asylum seekers to withhold 20% of workers’ already low wages until s/he leaves Israel. In addition, Israel announced its decision to expel asylum seekers but did not implement it, causing tremendous anxiety and uncertainty. The children of asylum-seekers are impacted by their adverse family situations in many ways, including:

  • Minimal parental presence and supervision due to the necessity to
    work long hours.
  • Long days in appalling daycare conditions.
  • Wandering the streets and unsafe environments.
  • Nutritional insecurity.
  • Development, educational and emotional challenges.

Mesila team members who interface with the asylum seeker community report a desperate need to provide better care to the community. Care is provided in emergency situations only; there is no preventative care. This impedes any improvement in asylum seekers’ situation or rehabilitation.

Domestic violence is a major problem within the asylum seeker community. While female victims of domestic violence are able to access
shelters for physical safety or file a complaint with police, they cannot access other support or rehabilitation services due to language barriers
and lack of rights to housing, employment, education, financial support, etc. Violence and neglect of children is another major problem within the asylum seeker community. Many parents are absent due to the need to work long hours to survive. Once children finish kindergarten or school in the early afternoon, they often return to unsafe environments. In many cases, their home environments are unsafe as they share apartments or rooms with other adults who are abusive. Other children roam the streets and are exposed to the many dangers there: drugs, traffic, etc. Only a small minority of children of asylum seekers (approximately 800 out of 4,300) have afternoon care until 6.00pm.

KEY CHALLENGES – CHILDREN 

1. Children at risk All children of asylum seekers in Tel Aviv-Yafo are considered ‘at risk’, according to Western standards.
2. Neglect Babies and toddlers, looked after by so-called ‘babysitters’ instead of proper daycares, suffer appalling conditions and severe neglect.
3. Development delays that are identified in early childhood are not addressed and become more complex.
4. Social gaps Municipal kindergartens and schools, which are accepting increasing numbers of children, are ill-equipped to deal with the significant developmental, linguistic, behavioral, and emotional gaps, and staff struggle to communicate with parents.
5. Harm minimization. Increased need for the afternoon and vacation care programs and facilities to reduce children’s exposure to harm.
6. Special needs Families with special needs children are ineligible for a child disability pension and many children do not have health insurance. In many cases, one parent needs to stay home to care for a child with special needs, which exacerbates the economic strain.
7. Adolescence New challenges arise as asylum seeker children become adolescents, such as addictions, prostitution, unwanted pregnancies, and criminal behavior. These issues are compounded by feelings of uncertainty, hopelessness, and a lack of identity.

KEY CHALLENGES – ADULTS

1. Economic situation. Economic situation of asylum seekers is becoming increasingly dire and impoverished, which is exacerbated by the Deposit Law.
2. Single parent families Growing number of single-parent families, particularly mothers, some of whom do not work and all of whom
are not entitled to benefits.
3. Illness Illness causes additional suffering due to the inability to earn, lack of eligibility for benefits, and poor access to medical treatment, especially in cases of chronic disease, disability, and mental illness.
4. Prostitution Approximately 5% of asylum seeker women work as prostitutes (according to a Ministry of Welfare survey), mostly in order to survive economically.
5. Addiction Growing incidence of addiction, especially gambling and alcohol abuse.
6. Mental health Lack of mental health services (only one clinic provides crisis care) leaves many asylum seekers suffering from mental illness, post-trauma, and depression without any treatment or support.
7. Health care Reduction in the activity of the refugee health clinic leaves thousands of asylum seekers without care, other than hospital emergency departments.
8. Trauma Little support available for victims of human trafficking and slavery – the most vulnerable in the asylum seeker community.
9. Domestic violence. Increase in the incidence of domestic violence with no rehabilitation or support services for victims of perpetrators.

THE PROJECT

Supporting children and families at risk. Approximately 850 children per year are identified as at-risk and treated by social workers through Mesila. This means 20% of children in the asylum seeker community face physical violence, sexual violence, extreme poverty and neglect.
Approximately 66% come from families with a single mother; 25% of all children report physical abuse at home; 240 parents report physical disabilities or severe emotional distress; some suffer from a psychiatric disorder, and most do not have access to adequate support. Mesila receives referrals and intervention requests from educational frameworks, welfare departments, hospitals, aid organizations, etc. The team prepares an initial inquiry evaluation and, if necessary, a social worker starts the process of getting to know the family. Based on this assessment and the needs of the family, a treatment plan is devised. This can include:
1. Individual guidance sessions for parents;
2. Group guidance sessions for parents;
3. Individual therapy for parents;
4. Mediation and advocacy with municipal, governmental, health and other institutions;
5. Initiating a resettlement process in collaboration with UNHCR;
6. Art therapy for children;
7. Tutoring for children.

None of these families or children are eligible for governmental social security allowances. Therefore, the main challenge is the minimal available means for assistance to ameliorate the extreme poverty of most families in treatment.

Supporting children with special needs and their families. Over 330 children with special needs from 180 families receive treatment through Mesila each year. The conditions Mesila treats include autism spectrum disorder, physical and mental disabilities, various diseases, developmental cognitive disabilities, and Down syndrome. There is a significant challenge as many parents are not able to identify or
respond appropriately to their child’s condition.

The process generally operates as follows:
1. Mesila receives referrals from schools, kindergartens, hospitals, health organizations, or other team members in Mesila.
2. Staff begin an intake process to evaluate and make initial contact with the referring entity. Following this, a social worker assesses the child’s medical and social needs while assisting in the process of accessing any entitlements and medical services. Navigating these bureaucratic processes requires Mesila’s assistance as most parents do not speak Hebrew.
3. The social worker assists the family with diagnosis, finding a special education framework (if eligible); psychosocial treatment for the family; therapies for the child as needed, and resettlement through the UNHCR.
4. Humanitarian aid is provided, including health insurance, medication, payment for medical procedures, food vouchers etc.
5. Mesila facilitates parent groups to support and educate them about their child’s condition. There is a significant ongoing increase in the number of referrals, and children and families treated.

A PERSONAL STORY 

Salam was the sole provider in her family as her husband has a physical disability. Having no other choice but to work, Salam placed her son Gabriel in the care of a pirate ‘babysitter’ a few months after he was born. By age three, Gabriel was still not speaking and was referred by the ‘Tipat Halav’ baby clinic to Mesila. At Mesila, he was finally diagnosed on the autistic spectrum and was recommended to join a special daycare framework. In January 2017, Salam’s husband abruptly left and took all of her savings. His departure affected Gabriel’s behavior and Salam’s mental health. Despite her difficult situation, Salam was focused on Gabriel’s needs and understood the importance
of ensuring he had suitable care. In October 2017, Gabriel started at the special daycare. During this period, Salam was fired from her
job and simultaneously received recognition as a victim of human trafficking. Today, the daycare reports that Gabriel is flourishing and is loved by the other children. The staff sees a significant improvement in his functioning. Salam has recently found a new job and has succeeded in standing back on her own two feet.

THE INVESTMENT

The Tel Aviv Foundation is seeking a philanthropic investment to support Mesila’s existing services for children and families at risk and/or who have special needs. The requested donation extends over three years to ensure continuity and consistency of support for this
high distress community.

Total Annual Cost $540,000
Contribution from the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel Ministry of Welfare
and other philanthropists from Israel and around the world $334,000
Balance $206,000

Requested donation over three years $618,000

Your generosity will provide desperately needed care and support for over 1000 children and their families – some of Tel Aviv-Yafo’s neediest residents.

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