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Family and School

An immigrant who has been living in Israel for more than a decade contacted the NGO “Magen Mishpacha”  was asked for help. She is a single mother who has no family in Israel.

The woman was left alone when her daughter was one year old. Even in the kindergarten, the child had problems with behavior and learning, and the pre-school group of the kindergarten (gan hova) she spent in the system of teaching children with developmental disorders (hinuh meuhad).

For several years the girl learned in a small class of a regular school, but then problems with behavior, manifesting in disobedience, tantrums and aggression (she beat  other children and called them names, threw things) started. The school asked Mom to take her child to a psychiatrist and a psychologist. 

In Israel, such kind of medical checks requires the consent of both parents. It proved impossible to get the consent of the father, he just declined the calls of his child's mother. Mom contacted the social service, which, in such cases, gives permission for the necessary checks without the consent of the second parent. The first thing they offered to the my mother was to give up the right of custody, in other words - to give up her own daughter. For Mom, this option was unacceptable, and it turned out that there is another way to solve the problem. A social worker contacted the father, who signed the necessary papers

The psychiatrist who examined the girl did not find any problems requiring medication or psychotherapy. But the behavior at school remained the same. Time and again, the teachers called Mom with complaints. "We do not cope," "Take your child away." As a punishment, the girl was “expelled” from school for several days, when the mother had to take day-offs at work. It response to all her objections, the class teacher, without taking into account the problems of a woman who raised her daughter alone or the needs of the child, said that, under the law, the girl of this age can stay home without attendance. At the same time, the social workers regularly reminded the mother that her daughter should not stay at home alone.

Because of the specific of her work, Mom could not leave in the middle of the shift if the child got into troubles at school. She could not walk out if the school decided to punish her daughter with an “expulsion”. If the woman started following the wishes of the school and social services, she would lose her job and her only income. Meanwhile, she rents an apartment and gets no alimony. As a result, she succumbed to the psychological pressure, and transferred her daughter to a special school for problem children (hinuh colelani). The girl then was eight years old.

A special commission (vaadat asama) makes a decision on sending to the problem-children school taking into account the needs of a certain child and the family’s circumstances. In this case, however, the meeting was like a third-grade interrogation or Lynch Law. They offered to Mom to solve all the problems by giving up her daughter and transferring her to a foster family.

The girl began at the special school when she was in the third grade. Mom immediately noticed the lack of academic progress, but not because her daughter could not cope with the school curricula. Experienced teachers and psychologists know: in a group of peers, who are intellectually below his or her level, a child loses motivation and interest in studies. The girl had friends among her classmates. The alienation became evident at the “graduation party” - the celebration of the end of school year. Poems that the children recited as well as their speeches were at the kindergarten level. The girl not only refused to participate, but, apparently ashamed of her classmates, fled the room and hid. Nobody from the school staff reacted. Mom herself went to look for her daughter, found her crying and made her return to the hall. It was not easy, so mother raised her voice and pulled her daughter's hand in front of teachers and other parents. A few days later, the family was summoned to an interview at the social service, where the mother was immediately immediately accused of child abuse. But after the conversation with the girl this topic was forgotten.

In the new academic year, the girl continued going to the same school. Every morning, Mom had to persuade her daughter to get up and go to school, which disgusted the child. In the education system for children with special needs, they have no grades, homework or tests, and Mom found it difficult to judge of her daughter’s knowledge, but she saw that the girl wrote poorly and confused the names of Hebrew letters. She came from school at 2 pm and did not know what to do with herself.

Before the transferring to the special school, the girl went in for sports, was a member of hobby groups, but at the new school her desire to learn something disappeared.

Mom contacted the school principal and asked to give her daughter at least minimal homework. He said that homework is an excessive stress for any child, and suggested to send the girl to the after-school center for problem children, where she might stay until 6 pm, interact with other children and have necessary medical checks.

It turned out that enrollment in the center is under the supervision of the social services and tool several months. The result of the waiting was another commission, resembling to a third-grade interrogation where they recommended Mom to send  her daughter in a special boarding school

At that commission, the school principal and social worker said that the girl's behavior only changed to worse. She ran away from school, poked herself with scissors, shouted that she did not want to live. Social workers immediately linked this behavior of the child with the lack of attention at home and a full family, because Mom works too much and therefore it is in the child’s best interests to be in a boarding school.

Mom works in shifts - four 8-hour shifts a week. If she had to work in the evening, she invited somebody to baby-sit her daughter so that the girl would not be alone. Before leaving for the night shifts, Mom took her daughter to a neighbor and put her to sleep. In the morning the girl got ready by herself and went to the school bus under Mom’s control by phone. Under the law, a kid of the girl’s age can be left at home alone, but the “uncaring” mother found other options more comfortable for her child.

If possible, Mom tried to take morning shifts. Being the only breadwinner, she could not work less. The social workers, however, talked to her as if she shovelled the money to buy jewelry.

The commission decided that the after-school center does not suit the girl because she might escape from there. They warned Mom that, at any moment, her daughter might start doing wrong and would end in prison. Meanwhile, she was a homegrown kid who never played outdoors without an adult’s control and only brawled when at school. When the girl went to hobby groups not a single leader complained of her behavior, on the contrary, they said the child is polite and well-mannered. Mom herself saw that when she and her daughter visited family friends.

The commission sent the girl to a counseling interview with a psychiatrist. Mom made inquiries with the health insurance company and chose a doctor. The psychiatrist saw Mom and daughter, together and separately, several times. The doctor was in the middle of work with the family when he got a call from a social worker demanding medical reports and information about the course of treatment. Mom did not give her consent to the disclosure of that information, but the social worker insisted that she appropriate authorisation was given to her by the court. Despite the mother's refusal, the social worker eventually received from the psychiatrist and the psychologist confidential medical information about the girl.

It seemed to Mom that the psychiatrist succumbed to the social worker’s pressure and prescribed sedative pills before completing all the necessary checks. The girl started taking them and, within a month gained several kilograms of weight, was always depressed and sleepy, complained of headaches and pains in the limbs. At the same time, the school reported on behavior improvement.

The doctor reduced the dosage of the medicine, but the negative side effects did not disappear. Then the psychiatrist prescribed the pills attention deficit disorder, without determining if the girl has a concentration problem. The school reported that the girl “became calmer”, while Mom could not judge her daughter's progress in the absence of grades and tests.

Once, talking with the psychiatrist, the girl told the doctor that the school staff, for her bad behavior,  locked her up in a special room (heder ishi) where they stepped on her which was painful. That is why she screamed that she did not want to live. During  the interviews with the doctor, it also became clear that the school staff beat and pushed the children, one of the teachers had knocked out a boy’s teeth and he has to wear prosthetic crowns. The doctor asked the girl why she had never told her Mom and the girl answered that she was not sure that Mom would believe her. Knowing her daughter’s inclination to make up incredible stories, Mom, nevertheless, got worried: what if the stories are not fantasies? She contacted a municipality official in charge for interaction of  family and the school (kabashit). The latter explained that the school staff uses “holding”, which is quite legitimate and acceptable. Along the way, Mom was infomed how important it is for her girl to take medicines that help her to cope. With her child, however, Mom only saw negative consequences, while medical checks did not show that her daughter needed medicines.

Despite Mom’s protests, the social worker interfered with everything. She insisted that family should receive the check results in her presence, once she came to school and took the girl from the classes for in interview.

After the interview, the social service summoned Mom to discuss the “identified problems”.

It was the moment, when Mom contacted the NGO “Magen Mishpacha” and asked for help. She realized that she no longer could go to those meetings alone, that she needed help of a knowing person who would recommend a school suitable for her girl. All behavior problems only manifested at school. At that time, the girl went to private Hebrew lessons, and the teacher spoke of her successes and a high level of intelligence, but, at the same time, he had difficulties in overcoming her student’s laziness and lack of learning skills. The school frowned at the private lessons and said they should be ceased.

To another meeting of the school commission Mom went together with a “Magen Mishpacha” representative. After the meeting, she wrote: “The world goes dark. They brought the child and took her away, like in prison”. At the meeting, the school principal tried to put pressure on Mom so that she signed the papers necessary to leave the girl at the special school for another year. “Your daughter says that she does not want to live, because at home you shout at her.” Recall, the lack of desire to live in the girl was linked to the violence, the school staff applied to her and other children. “Laying their own fault at somebody else’s door,” the “Magen Mishpacha” representative said. 

At the same commission, it became clear that the school principal either did not understand or simply did not read the psychologist’s letter. The doctor found sensory defects in the girl, while the school sent her to music therapy. On paper, there was a lot of other checks recommended to the girl, but they were not performed.

The NGO representative, in written form, asked the principal to give her a plan of medical checks which he refused to provide. She, however managed to take, for further examination at the NGO, the papers that Mom, under the school’s scheme, was supposed to sign without reading.

That meeting was followed by another, at the Ministry of Education, where Mom also went with the “Magen Mishpacha” representative. The Ministry also decided in favour of the special school, and Mom, who lost strength and hope, was ready to succumb, but the NGO recommended her to appeal.

In waiting for the appeal, the girl, again on the NGO’s recommendation, made a trial week at the Democratic School. The girl and the school liked each other, and the headmaster gave a paper of enrollment of the new student. The paper, as well as the letter of an independent psychologist, were forwarded to the appeal committee.

Immediately after the first contact, the NGO “Magen Mishpacha” took on the protection of the family and succeeded. The appeal committee set the girl free from obligation to go to the special school. For several years, she easily gets up in the morning and happily goes to the Democratic School.

Following up the family that asked for help, the NGO’s volunteers visited the girl at school, met with the social worker supervising the family, took part in the meetings of the planning commission (vaadat akhlyata) and commissions of the Education Ministry, met with Mom and the girl several times. All of this allowed them to open a new page in life.

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