To ensure the right of every young child to an egalitarian and appropriate education
More than 5000 babies and children spend their lives in neglectful and harmful “Children’s Warehouses” in south Tel-Aviv. Unitaf was created to give them a better future.
Unitaf is a unique educational framework that brings together the local municipality, Israeli professionals, and strong women from the migrant and refugee community to provide excellent early-childhood care and learning centers.
We believe that early childhood education has the power to change children's lives. And Unitaf constitutes a tool for future integration of the children and their families in a developed western society. We do not compromise on educational criteria and demand strict adherence by the foreign community staff to accepted norms in Israeli day care centers, concerning issues of standardization, enrichment, safety, nutrition, and health. There are often conflicts due to this demand which we settle by discussing them. This is our way to help the children educated at Unitaf, as well as the staff, to strive for meaningful social change of their condition. Along with a multicultural approach, tolerance, and willingness, we believe in placing limits and unequivocal demands concerning the quality of child care.
In light of the roots Unitaf's model has struck and changes and developments which have occurred in the community we serve, we understand that in order to promote significant change, we must invest our resources in four new channels, along with continued administration of the existing settings and the ongoing psychosocial therapy for children and families.
Why we established Unitaf
Global trends have led to a rise in emigration and those who have changed their place of residence have not skipped over Israel. Israel's immigration policy toward non-Jewish immigrants does not provide them with a solution for social matters encountered by the members of the foreign community. Today, the State of Israel provides temporary protection for the community of asylum seekers, which they are committed to under the United Nations convention. However, Israel is not legally obligated to provide social and medical rights to the members of this group. In recent years, Israeli policy has been to withhold these rights due to a declared objective for members of the foreign community to leave Israel by not providing for these rights and thereby, to decrease the number of asylum seekers and migrant workers residing within Israel's borders. One of the harsh repercussions of this policy involves the thousands of children in the community who are not cared for in establishment-affiliated settings in the areas of welfare and health and who are exposed to daily situations of risk and neglect.
In the absence of rights for social security, the foreign community has become a community engaged in survival and its members are forced to work long hours, at multiple jobs, sometimes at distant work sites. One of the most difficult problems for the foreign community is providing day care for their children during the parents' work hours.
In Israel, children from the age of 3 are placed in municipal preschools and kindergartens, which is a right also accorded to the foreign community children who have no status. Up until the age of 3, Israelis place their children in private preschools or subsidized day care settings, such as Wizo, Na'amat, etc., which provide the children with an educational and care-giving environment.
The children of the foreign community are not eligible for placement in the subsidized day care centers, and clearly, their parents do not have the ability to pay for a private early childhood setting. In the absence of available day care, the foreign community has found a local solution in their pirate early childhood settings (the "babysitters"). The children in these settings are exposed to extreme conditions of risk and neglect, and their emotional, physical, and motor functioning has been harmed due to spending long hours in playpens and not receiving enough attention to their basic needs. Studies conducted among these children indicate a developmental delay in many areas as a result of their inadequate environments. The average time that a child stays in a pirate childcare setting is approximately 12 hours a day, in contrast to a young Israeli child, who, on the average spends half that amount of time in a day care setting. Also, due to inadequate means, the young children at the "babysitters" spend the entire day in cribs and playpens; they do not move around in open space, and their motor development is significantly harmed. We have also been witness to emotional injury, caused by an absence of attention and response to the young children's basic needs. (Usually the ratio is one caregiver to 20 infants and more!) In many instances, this results in children who are apathetic, who do not respond with either crying or laughter. Due to the large number of young children supervised by one adult only, we have seen many instances of real physical risk to children who are exposed to both safety and sanitary hazards. These deficiencies constitute a real danger to their well-being: in the last five years, there have been five deaths of infants and young children due to neglect.
Over the years, the Tel-Aviv Municipality together with Mesila – Aid and Information Center for the Foreign Community – have tried to improve the situation of the children who spend time in these settings. Unitaf was established after studying and absorbing the lessons from the other initiatives and interventions that did not realize their full potential, whether because of the circumstances of the foreign community or whether due to a lack of adequate understanding and familiarity with the characteristics and real needs of the members of the community.
The conclusion was that only by creating a suitable alternative for the children, would there be real change in their situation enabling them to have an equal start with their Israeli peers. This alternative necessitated combining sensitivity and cultural dialogue with the appropriate amount of guidance and supervision.