Batya Brownstein

The crisis of Corona-era private daycares

In these challenging times, public discourse has been very centered on finding ways to lighten the economic burdens of as many people as possible. Yet, in a society trained to think of private and semi- private daycare as a luxury, it seems that this particular brand of business owner and its consumers are being overlooked in a fashion that is quite shocking considering the vitality of this service.

In Israel, before the age of five, even municipality or state- controlled educational public institutions usually require a significant monetary contribution. The choice of many parents then, is to go the extra mile and pay a little more buck for much more bang. The issue with this is that there no clear line of demarcation between state involvement and the business’s day to day function, excluding government supervision for safety reasons.

All of this creates a reality where in this era of restrictions and the financial difficulties that follow, private daycare owners, and by default, the many parents who choose to send their children to private daycares and their children, fall into no clear category.

During this crisis, the little information that has been disclosed by the government and the Ministry of Health up to this point has been largely unreliable. They have displayed a shocking lack of transparency in most areas, many of which have already been identified by the public with attempts to force improvement, but this is one which so far has gone largely undiscussed. It has come to the point where we must ask ourselves, when this country emerges from the throes of this virus, will the majority of parents still have daycares to which to send their children, or will they have all folded under a crippling economic burden and an unsatisfactory to non- existent exit plan?

For Sima Aharon, the owner and manager of four private daycares in the Baka area for infants ranging from three months to three years, the struggle that comes alongside the opaque status of “private daycare” has never had stakes so high. As she puts it, “We pay Maam, we pay Bituach Leumi, income tax, salaries, rent. We are completely independent in every way. But then the state comes and tells us, no, you are an educational institution. What does that even mean? That I must keep paying Arnona even though my place is closed? Ok, so they’re giving independent business owners 6,000 NIS, which I don’t even know if that includes us.”

Faced with refunds for parents for lack of services, in addition to all additional expenses, it is unclear if and how the business can survive any sort of exit strategy. If there is a gradual return to routine and the daycare faces quarantine, how can it stay open for an additional two weeks while paying sick days for an entire staff? How come the state hasn’t devised or publicized a contingency plan for this eventuality? Will we, the parents, end up having to pay these expenses if we want to end up with daycares at the end of all of this?!

What is unbelievable is that this is actually being discussed as an option, with the Ministry of Finance suggesting that parents just end up paying more money, on top of the mortgage- rivaling monthly payments which we already pay these daycares. At a time when more than a quarter of the country is already receiving unemployment checks from the Ministry of Social Affairs, and countless others are either unemployed and ineligible for unemployment, or in the fast lane to unemployment.

These questions affect all parents in this country: when daycares are allowed to reopen, if they are only able to accept a limited number of children, how will they choose which children to keep at home? Will a daycare with 20 children have one day of daycare per week for groups of 4 children? What will the rest of us do? How can daycares continue to pay the same number of staff for smaller groups of children?

Most importantly, how come this issue isn’t at the forefront of public discourse, in a country where hardly a parent will not face this issue? Where we so pride ourselves on our core family values, in this country whose narrative so emphasizes the growth of the Israeli family? We may scarcely have any daycares left when this is over, and we need to start talking about these issues. The government needs to address these questions. Fast.

About the Author
Born to a French mother and American father, Batya came to Israel at a young age. Upon graduating high school in Israel, she spent her military service in the IDF's Foreign Press Branch. She now studies International Relations and Political Science (B.A.) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lives in Jerusalem with her beautiful daughter.
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