Preschool Children with Special Needs in Immigrant Families: Barriers to Service Utilization and Proposed Solutions

This study was conducted due to concern that children with special needs whose parents immigrated to Israel were not getting the services they need to the same extent and with the same efficiency as similar children of non-immigrant Israelis. The study focuses on children with special needs, from birth to age 6 – a critical stage for identifying special needs and starting treatment – who immigrated to Israel or were born in Israel to immigrant parents.

It is estimated that in Israel there are approximately 4,000 preschoolers with special needs in immigrant families. The Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute conducted a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with 64 health, education, and social-service professionals throughout Israel and 16 parents of children with special needs, most of whom had immigrated from the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia. The interviews indicated that a range of barriers made it hard for the parents to utilize the services, in some cases many years after they had immigrated, including:

  •  Difficulty in obtaining information about rights and services, mainly due to language barriers and problems finding their way through a service system different from that in their country of origin, and difficulty knowing how to exercise their rights even when they have obtained the information
  •  Difficulty utilizing the services due to transportation problems and financial hardship
  •  Cultural differences that affect the attitude of the parents to the special needs of their children and the extent of their responsiveness to the recommendations of Israeli professionals
  •  A lack of diagnostic tests and coordination of treatment – there are almost no diagnostic tests adapted to the language and culture of children of immigrants and no suitable preparation is made to integrate the children in educational frameworks suited to their special needs shortly after their arrival in Israel.

The study identified local solutions that could constitute the basis for improving accessibility to services throughout the country. The study also presents additional solutions proposed by parents and professionals that could help to overcome the above barriers.

The study was initiated by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and funded with the assistance of the Ministry and the Mandell Berman Fund for Research on Children with Disabilities. The findings have been presented to service providers from government ministries and organizations specializing in this field, and are serving as basis for developing policy and services for preschool children with special needs in immigrant families.