(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Welfare and Social Services Ministry will undergo the biggest reforms to its services and programs in 30 years under a plan touted earlier this week by Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and his director-general, Nahum Itzkovitz.
"It's been in the making for a long time," Herzog said in a statement Wednesday, adding that such reforms will involve a complete overhaul of social welfare legislation, budget distribution, management of various departments, as well as the role of social workers out in the field.
The Jerusalem Post reported exclusively earlier this month that the ministry was already in the process of redrafting the 54-year-old law that governs the type of social welfare services provided to the public with the aim of creating a wider and more comprehensive aid package, similar to the national health basket.
The additional reforms announced this week come as part of the same package of changes.
"We hope that these fundamental changes will bring about a new approach to the way the public utilizes our services," said Herzog, adding, however, that individual aspects could take a long time to be implemented.
The ministry's reform package comes after two years of intense discussions by a specially-formed internal ministry committee.
The need for such wide-ranging changes was underscored this time last year when social workers nationwide went on strike to protest increasing caseloads and stagnant budgets.
The committee's recommendations were presented to the minister and director-general on June 4 in a 40-page report.
Included in the document are references to unequal distribution of resources between local and national social welfare services, the difficulties faced by smaller local authorities to implement necessary services, and the impossible caseloads of individual social workers.
The report also includes recommendations to improve the situation, even suggesting a redistribution of budgetary resources and allocations.
"This report is extremely important to us and we see it as a serious attempt by the minister and his staff to address the welfare needs of Israeli society in 2009," Itzhak Perry, head of the Social Workers Union, told the Post Wednesday.
Perry, who on Tuesday night was reelected to serve a second term as union head, added that while global reform of the ministry's services was important, his union welcomed the emphasis on the role of the individual social workers and their growing work loads.
The union estimates that most social workers are responsible for between 230-250 clients, with Child Welfare Workers - who handle cases involving children and youth at risk - treating up to 150 children, even though the recommended average is 35.
"While this needs to be improved, if the ministry's reforms are more general but far reaching then we will, at least, have won half the battle," noted Perry.