Some daycares in Israel are abusing toddlers. A new law aims to make kids safer

Every child deserves a safe start in life
Every child deserves a safe start in life
Image: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun
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In June 2018, a 14-month-old Israeli toddler named Yasmin Vineta died at daycare.

At first, investigators weren’t sure what had happened to Yasmin, who attended a daycare facility in the city of Petah Tikva. But security-camera footage revealed that a 23-year-old daycare worker named Ina Skivenko had suffocated the child to death. The surveillance showed that Skivenko, who was charged with manslaughter and abuse, had “covered [Yasmin] and another baby with a thick blanket, tightened it and leaned on it for 10 minutes while talking on her cellphone,” Haaretz reported. “According to the indictment, the baby remained under the blanket for an hour and fifty minutes.” The footage further revealed recordings of Skivenko shaking babies, kicking them, and engaging in other forms of abuse.

What happened to Yasmin was not an aberration. Israel has a serious problem with child safety in daycare. According to The Jerusalem Post, in the past seven years, 776 childcare workers have been charged with violence against children. Of those, 11 returned to work with children after their conviction, only to be charged with assault again.

A big part of the problem? In Israel, the Health and Education Ministry formally supervises daycare centers only for children over the age of three. Effectively, anyone can build an early-childhood daycare, whether or not they have any qualifications, and without reporting it to local authorities or child services. That means babies and toddlers—only 23% of whom are in public, government-sponsored daycares—are often left informal local daycares, where no one can vouch for the quality or standards of care.

Now that’s finally starting to change. On Oct. 15, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed the Daycare Supervision Law (pdf), a bill that mandates that every childcare center with seven or more toddlers must be authorized and regulated by a government commissioner from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services.

Keeping young children safe

The bill’s passage came about thanks in part to the efforts of the Coalition for Early Childhood Education, an advocacy group established under the umbrella of the nonprofit social justice organization, Anu Making Change. Members of the coalition say that several high-profile cases of violence against children in informal daycares, including Yasmin Vineta’s tragic death, helped bring public opinion to their side and give the bill the momentum it needed.

Under the new law, a government commissioner must run background checks on all daycare staff and update a public list of all daycare facilities, as well as their license status. The commissioner can issue or retract a daycare center’s license if the center leaves toddlers unattended or otherwise endangers them, or if daycare workers are not trained in skills like first aid. The law also makes the running of a daycare without a license a criminal offense, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Liat Glantz, coordinator of the Coalition for Early Childhood Education, worked on the Daycare Supervision Law. She notes that the change in policy helps bring Israel up to the standards of other developed countries. “It is inconceivable,” she told The Jerusalem Post, “that in the Israel of 2018, there is complicated bureaucracy required to open a pizzeria, but there is nothing preventing someone from opening a daycare center.”

Read more from our series on Rewiring Childhood. This reporting is part of a series supported by a grant from the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The author’s views are not necessarily those of the Bernard van Leer Foundation.