June 19, 2024
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Making Aliyah with Family Members with Special Needs

Coming on aliyah with a family member with special needs often seems like an impossi­ble journey. “It was hard enough finding the right placement here, how are we ever going to do it in Israel?” is the most common refrain heard from these families. The good news is that many such families have come on aliyah and have succeeded. In the last decade in particu­lar, Israel has developed a high-level multifac­eted system that makes living in Israel open to all. The following is an overview of this system and how to access these services.

Special needs services in Israel follow a con­tinuum that tracks the individual throughout his/her development. It includes medical, ther­apeutic, educational, recreational, vocational, and residential services. A baby with develop­mental disabilities will be referred to the local Child Development Center (CDC), a feature of the health ministry and its health providers, the kupot cholim. The CDC will assess the needs of the baby, will prescribe the appropriate med­ical and therapeutic care, and will determine the child’s eligibility for early intervention cent­ers that are specialized to meet each patient’s particular needs. The CDC will also guide par­ents of older children regarding the availability of educational settings and therapies that their child is eligible to receive.

For school-age children, there is a di­verse educational system from nursery through high school, which includes edu­cational programming until the age of 21. There are school settings for children with developmental disabilities, physical disabil­ities, and autistic characteristics, and these settings are individualized according to spe­cial needs and grade levels. The educational system emphasizes inclusion, which is in­dividualized to address each child’s needs.

Consequently, these special education set­tings are often found in self-contained schools and offer parallel classes in the general edu­cational track. These programs are available in Haredi (ultra-religious), mamlachti dati (religious public school) and mamlachti (general public school) settings. It is important to visit the differ­ent settings prior to making aliyah in order to de­termine which environment is most suitable for your child.

Services other than educational, e.g., rec­reational programming, respite care, and vo­cational and residential placement, and other benefits, e.g., monthly stipends, are provided by the Ministry of Welfare (Misrad Harivacha) and the National Insurance Office (Bituach Le­umi). To be eligible for these services and ben­efits, one must register in the agencies’ local district offices. The agencies will then deter­mine the degree of disability and to which arm of these offices your family members be­long. For all placements, it is necessary to come equipped with updated (not more than six months old) evaluations, including med­ical, psychological, psychiatric, and educa­tional when pertinent. All placements are de­termined soon after you make aliyah by a Placement Committee (Vaadat Hasama) held at the local government offices. Parents have an important voice at these committee meet­ings and should attend.

Come to Israel equipped with patience and a positive attitude. It may take time to sort things out, but you can make this work—and it is worth it!

For more information, please con­tact Chana Zweiter at chanazweiter@ gmail.com

Chana Zweiter has been a pioneer in the field of main­streaming. Chana made her mark in the United States where she founded and directed Yachad until she made aliyah in 1991. In Israel, she is the founding director of the Rosh Pina Mainstreaming Network/Kaleidoscope and also serves as a special education consultant, help­ing families making aliyah to find appropriate educa­tional programs for their children with special needs.

By Chana Zweiter

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