newsIsrael at War

Bringing the child-hostages back … to school

“We see the moment of the release of the kidnapped children as a step that will strengthen the sense of achievement and hope in their hearts.”

Israelis wait for the arrival of hostages released from captivity in Gaza, at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petach Tikvah, Nov. 24, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israelis wait for the arrival of hostages released from captivity in Gaza, at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petach Tikvah, Nov. 24, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

As children abducted by Gaza terrorists on Oct. 7 continue to be released from Hamas captivity, the Education Ministry announced protocols for reintegrating them into the school system.

In coordination with the Welfare Ministry, each traumatized child will be carefully evaluated. Their teachers, classes and classmates will also be given the tools to help receive the children who experienced such complex trauma.

“Along with dealing with the challenges of the time, we strive to create a sense of continuity for the children and we see the moment of the release of the kidnapped children as a step that will strengthen the sense of achievement and hope in their hearts,” said Einav Luke, senior department manager at the Education Ministry’s Psychological Counseling Services, in an interview with JNS on Nov. 28.

“Every one of the returning children is a whole world, unique and special,” she continued, adding that the preparation for their return will take place in three stages.

“The first stage, preparation and evaluation, takes place even before the student has returned to the community and educational institution,” Luke said.

A psychologist, counselor and social worker has been appointed for each returning child to help support them through the emotional and mental processes. Immediate, medium and long-term solutions will be managed by the social worker, who will interface with the student and the family and all the therapeutic entities involved in supporting the child.

Luke notes that the counselors are preparing for the possibility that the kidnapped student’s return may cause difficulties with other children in the class, especially since other students may have lost family members, or may have family members still in captivity.

Before the return of each student, their classmates will be prepared emotionally for meeting their friends, learning about sensitive and appropriate behavior, and taught to give personal space to the child returned from captivity while avoiding questions about his/her experience in captivity.

Education Minister Yoav Kisch inaugurates a school in the Hof Hacarmel region for Ashkelon evacuees on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Israel Ministry of Education.

A long-term and customized process

The educational institution will tailor a program that includes a gradual return to the educational institution, to meetings with friends in kindergarten or class and to academic tasks. Subsequently, “there will be a gradual and continuous absorption of the students in the educational institutions, while we will be dynamically identifying needs and providing answers,” Luke continued.

She stressed that mainstreaming the captives is expected to be a long-term and customized process, depending on the children’s needs.

When asked how resilient she expects the children to be, she said, “When babies, toddlers and children experience a traumatic event, they are overwhelmed by impressions, emotions, and sensory overstimulation. Therefore, identifying needs, responding sensitively to the children’s emotional signals, and providing comfort to the distressed, contribute to the quality of the relationship and the restoration of the damage in communication.

“We know from research that young children have good capacity for emotional rehabilitation, and the creation of a safe and inclusive environment that maintains familiar functional continuities, in which familiar figures will contribute to the restoration of personal emotional and social resilience. That is why it is very important to receive professional guidance from the education system and for full coordination between the accompanying bodies,” Luke said.

The education staff at the kindergarten level received special training tailored for their relationships with returning children and their families. In addition, briefings have been written for the staff and an accompanying letter for the parents of all the kindergarten children.

Even among the youngest children, there may be challenges, Luke said. “We’ve seen kindergarten children, who are returning to continuous learning, but who experienced interruptions in their education this year.

“The children’s level of exposure to alarms and rocket fire, to the conscription of family members and the consequence of war varies from family to family, as does the exposure to information in general and information about the kidnapped children in particular,” she said.

“Even in kindergarten classes, where there are no children who are related to the kidnapped or their families, it is likely that there will be children who have been exposed to the subject,” Luke noted.

The Education Ministry is monitoring children’s grades and deciding whether to work with children individually, in small groups or, where necessitated, in larger groups with a psychologist and counselor. There is a fine line in balancing concerns.

Luke said the school system works to allow for emotional expression, using conversation to emphasize the joy of the moment and the feeling of well-being, alongside the hope that the day is not far off when everyone will return home safe and sound.

“The families of the abductees will receive all the response they will require from the Ministry of Education for the purpose of escorting, support and additional help for training and acclimatization,” Education Minister Yoav Kisch said on Nov. 28. He added that the ministry’s educational, counseling and treatment teams all over the country are qualified to provide emotional, educational, academic and social responses to the entire spectrum of reactions.”

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