Special-needs Children in the Bedouin Population of the Negev: Characteristics, Patterns of Service Use, and the Impact of Caring for the Children on the Mothers

The study presented in this report is a preliminary, unique, attempt to examine the status of Bedouin children and youth with special needs, to map their main needs and characteristics, and to contribute to the development of the services they need. It is part of a comprehensive study of all Bedouin children and youth to age 18 in recognized and unrecognized localities in the Negev, which was conducted by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute in 2003-2005 in partnership with Prof. Alean Al-Krenawi of the Ben-Gurion University and with the assistance of SHATIL and the Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev. The comprehensive study was based on interviews with 1,020 Bedouin mothers about 1,314 children, 388 of whom have special needs.

Approximately 9% of all Bedouin children in the Negev suffer from a functional problem (e.g., physical disabilities, deafness, retardation) or from a chronic illness that requires ongoing medical treatment or monitoring. This percentage is higher than that found among the general Arab and Jewish populations in Israel (8.3% and 7.6%, respectively). For all types of disability, the proportion of children in the Bedouin population is higher than that of children in the Jewish population. The proportion of Bedouin children with illnesses requiring ongoing medical or paramedical treatment is higher than the proportion of children in the general Arab and Jewish populations (4.9%, 2.8%, and 2.1%, respectively). Furthermore, the percentage of children with sensory disabilities among the Bedouin, and among Arab children in general, is more than twice that found among Jewish children (2.0% 2.2% and 0.8%, respectively).

The percent of children with special needs who receive services from the system is lower in almost all areas except the medical: 10% receive paramedical services, 25% receive specialized educational services and 2% receive psycho-social services. This places a heavy burden on the mothers of these children. Mothers of 75% of the children report that they experience heavy to very heavy burden, as a result of caring for their disabled children.

The study was overseen by an extensive steering committee that included representatives from the Bedouin population connected with the issue. Beyond serving as a professional, consultative, and supervisory body, the committee brought together most of the people connected to the development of services for this population (national and local key persons, service providers and representatives of the population) in order to work together in an effort to promote the services for Bedouin children in the Negev, based on the findings of the study.

Data from this study have been disseminated in a variety of forums and serve as the basis for enhanced attempts to develop services for the Bedouin population. Data were also presented in the statistical yearbook Children with Disabilities in Israel – 2007 published by the National Council for the Child in cooperation with the National Council for Child Health and Pediatrics, the Ministry of Health, which is entirely devoted to children with special needs.

The study was funded with the assistance of Michael and Andrea Dubroff of Massachusetts, the Helen Bader Foundation, and Ashalim.