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Hadassah Reports on All-inclusive Program for Handicapped Children

“The first city in the world to undertake full responsibility for every handicapped child born within its boundaries, is Jerusalem,” FayeL. Schenk, national Hadassah Medical Organization chairman, reported to 2500 delegates from 50 states including Puerto Rico attending Hadassah’s 59th annual convention here ending Wednesday. This service of the Jerusalem Child and Development Center is a projection of the Department of Pediatrics at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Center headed by Prof. Alexander Russell.

The center, Mrs. Schenk said, provides fully integrated care for any child born handicapped anywhere in Jerusalem, or in whom a handicap emerges any time after birth, and for mothers and family of such afflicted children. In his report to Mrs. Schenk, Prof. Russell stated that through the Center, the doctors will try to find out where the child’s capacities lie, his inclinations and any trace of talent, and then encourage him to develop such potentialities to the full.

In this way, not only the child, but the entire family can be saved from stagnation or even catastrophe. A corollary to this concept is that the load of this overall responsibility for the handicapped child and his family should not impose additional burdens, financial in the main, upon the family itself. Society should seek to share this burden and to lighten it.

The Development Center, which has been functioning for three years, has a staff of 17, the report continued. More than 100 handicapped children are added to the Center’s care each year. A nurse from the Center visits every hospital weekly, to seek out all the infants born with major defects, or who have suffered severe illnesses. Twenty-one Well-Baby Clinics throughout the city notify the Center of any child with any form of handicap. The Development Center keeps a computerized register of all pregnant women in the city who are considered at high risk for their unborn child.

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All babies considered to be a risk because of genetic background, prenatal injuries or damage, mother’s labor difficulties, illness in the newborn phase or who have had to undergo exchange transfusions continue to be classified by the Center as high-risk children. Included in this group are children of mothers who have had an emotional crisis in the first three months of pregnancy.

When a child is found to have a more than 50 percent failure in these developmental tests, he is immediately referred to the Center, Prof, Russell reported. At the Center, the baby and family are given a complete diagnosis including comprehensive examination by the whole team of pediatric specialists, psychologists and social workers, so that the exact state of the baby’s handicap in the perspective of his whole family situation can be gauged.

Prof. Russell explained: “The critical period in a handicapped child’s life is the first three years. It is all-important then to provide the necessary specialists to support him and his parents. We are trying to knit together the resources of each handicap, and to define the duties of the members of each team. For instance, for the blind children born in Jerusalem since we started the Development Center, we have a class with its own special teacher, not only for the little children but for the parents and families of the children.”

The Child and Family Development Center is a collaborative effort of Hadassah with Malben, together with the Jerusalem municipality and the Ministry of Health. Its headquarters are in the Hadassah Nathan and Lina Straus Center in Old Jerusalem where appropriately, a plaque set into the wall above the entrance proclaims in English, Arabic and Hebrew that it is for the service of all Jerusalem’s citizens, irrespective of race, color or creed.

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