The National Insurance Institute and the JDC-Brookdale Institute conducted a national study – the first of its kind in Israel – to estimate the number of children and youth (to age 18) with special needs, to examine the extent and nature of their needs, and to determine the gaps between their needs and the services they actually receive. The study was based on interviews with parents of children with special needs, and on assessments of such children made by multi-professional teams.
The findings indicate that 7.7% (some 160,000) of all of Israel’s children and youth suffer from a functional disability (e.g., physical disabilities, hearing impairment, retardation) or chronic illness that requires constant medical care or supervision, and 17,000 (0.8%) children suffer from temporary medical or functional disabilities. Of the 160,000 chronically disabled children and youth, 65,000 suffer from multiple disabilities (physical disability, sensory problems, retardation, and/or a serious illness). These children need special medical, para-medical and educational services, over and above what other children their age require.
The prevalent problems identified, which have direct implications for services, include: Approximately 23,000 children have severe physical disabilities that require a great deal of individual attention, and some 48,000 children suffer from diseases that require continuous medical or para-medical care. Nearly all (145,000) of the children have significant learning problems, emotional/behavioral problems, or borderline to severely impaired intellectual capacity, which require special attention from the education system; 25% of the children are in special education frameworks; the remainder have been mainstreamed into regular classes.
There are significant differences in the proportions of children with special needs among various sub-groups of the population. For example, nearly twice as many boys (9.8%) as girls (5.4%) have special needs; the number of children with special needs is particularly high in towns with a very low socio-economic profile – 11.0%, versus 7.7% of all of Israel’s children; the number of children with special needs is particularly high among children aged 6-11, who are identified and diagnosed when they enter the education system: 10.7% of children 6-11 have special needs, compared to 5.2% of the children newborn to age five. At present, about 80% of the children with special needs receive at least one service. However, large gaps were found between the experts’ assessments of the children’s needs and the services they actually receive:
According to the experts, 85% of the children with special needs require constant medical care, but only 40% actually receive it. Similarly, 75% need para-medical services, and only one-third receive them; 83% percent need psycho-social services, and only 18% receive them.
Significant differences were found in the coverage of needs in Jewish and Arab towns. Regarding most services, the proportion of children receiving services in Jewish towns is much greater (usually twice and sometimes three times greater) than that of children in Arab towns. However, there are no differences in the proportions of Jewish and Arab children receiving the Disabled Child Benefit from the NII.
The experts recommended that the benefit be granted to about 25% of the children with special needs. At present, only 9% of them actually receive this benefit. In other words, they recommended increasing the number of benefit recipients from some 14,000 to 40,000 of the 160,000 children with special needs.
The findings of this study provide a solid basis for planning policy and developing services for disabled children in Israel. The findings were presented to the Social Welfare Committee of the Knesset, and are being used to formulate a proposed change in the eligibility criteria for the Disabled Child Benefit.
The study was supported by the Mandell Berman Fund for Research on Children with Disabilities.