Regulating the Stay of Children at Emergency Centers of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Services

Emergency Centers are designed for children at high risk who require immediate protection and treatment. One serious dilemma facing professionals is setting policy for the desirable length of time that a child should stay at the center. This period allows professionals to provide protection, perform diagnosis, and make recommendations as to out-of-home placement or return to the family. Currently, the policy of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Services (MSAS) stipulates that children should stay at the centers for a period of up to three months with short extensions permitted in unusual cases. According to the data, however, a child’s average stay has exceeded six months. Consequently, a new regulation was issued: “Integrated Regulation to Shorten the Stay of Children at Emergency Centers”. It structures the work processes at the centers and the interface with Social Service Departments (SSD) and out-of-home facilities.

About a year after the regulation was introduced, the MSAS asked the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute to conduct a study of its implementation. The study examined the following topics: the duration of stay at the centers over the years; the factors affecting the duration of stay; the process of implementing the regulation; the extent to which it is being fully implemented.

Main Findings:

  • In 2015 steps were taken to disseminate and implement the regulation at the national and district levels, at the Emergency Centers, foster services, and somewhat at the SSDs.
  • Some of the regulation are fully-implemented: referral process to the centers; carrying out a decision to restore a child to his family in a period of a month; constructing a tool to follow-up on a child’s stay at a center.
  • At the same time, the study points to a number of aspects of the regulation that are still not being fully implemented. At the time of the study, it was too early to examine whether the measures instituted shortened the children’s stays.

The study points to programmatic directions for the improved regulation. The findings were presented and discussed with MSAS senior staff in charge of the Emergency Centers. They are also being presented before other MSAS forums, including Emergency Center directors and directors of the Service for Children and Youth.