Occupational therapy session
Occupational therapy session iStock

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) on Monday declared that the planned reform for early childhood intervention therapies will begin in September instead of on Wednesday, as previously planned, Israel Hayom reported.

The decision comes after Edelstein held a series of discussions both with relevant bodies and within his ministry, regarding the implementation of the planned reform for early childhood intervention therapies, which was due to begin on Wednesday.

In announcing the delay, Edelstein added that an additional 80 million shekel would be provided, in order to increase the number of therapies for children and to absorb more providers into the public sector. In addition, the health funds will publish their wait times for both therapies and evaluations, according to district and therapy types.

For its part, the Finance Ministry announced that it would provide an added incentive to increase the number of therapies provided in professional units and in Israel's periphery, Israel Hayom added.

The Israeli Society for Autistic Children told Israel Hayom: "We thank the Health Minister and the Ministry's professional staff for the decision, which prevents harm to thousands of children with special needs."

"We expect that the health funds will use this delay in order to prepare for the implementation of the reform, and to act to increase the number of therapy providers and reduce wait times to a maximum of three months, so that children with special needs in general, and specifically with autism, will receive proper and quality therapies via the health funds. The reform of early intervention services is complex and demands a lot more work in order to ensure its success and that it will meet its intended goals."

Currently, government-funded early childhood centers offer physical, speech, occupational, and other therapies for children up to age nine. However, not every center offers every service and specialty, and waiting times for services range from three months in the center of the country to a year and a half or even two years in the periphery.

Parents whose children have been on a waiting list for more than three months and who do not yet have appointments to begin receiving developmental therapies are currently able to request approval to find a private practitioner and receive part of the money back. This is especially crucial in Israel's periphery, where early childhood centers are fewer and farther between, suffer continuous understaffing, and even private practitioners have wait times of four to six months or more.

The new reform would end refunds for children who wait more than three months for therapies and close private early intervention centers, essentially eliminating the ability of many families to afford timely therapy from private providers, and forcing them to wait for an unknown amount of time for therapies through the health fund.

Karen, an occupational therapist, told Arutz Sheva: "No one wants to start a private practice instead of working as a salaried employee. We do it because we need to feed our families. At the health funds, we are paid around 50 shekels ($15) an hour, and you don't get a break to go to the bathroom or even time to write notes about the child's progress in between therapies."

"The new reform means well, but in practice it will only cause children to wait longer for therapies, since less parents will be able to afford to go private, and the health funds cannot absorb the number of providers necessary to significantly shorten the wait times."

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