'Social work is collapsing' (Extract)

Extract of article in Issue 6, July 7, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Extract of article in Issue 6, July 7, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Yitzhak Perry, chairman of the Israel Association of Social Workers, says that social work is crucial for the survival of the state Israeli social workers have been imposing work sanctions since early April, over demands to provide security guards at social welfare agencies and to increase the number of state-employed social workers. The sanctions are primarily affecting children and youth at risk, elderly people waiting to be assigned to old-age homes, infants and young children who need to be placed in day-care centers, and divorced couples who require supervised custody to visit their children. Mid-June, the Israel Association of Social Workers, representing the 7,000 Welfare and Social Services Ministry-appointed social workers and those from municipalities, announced that if their demands are not met soon, they will expand the sanctions into a full-fledged strike. Yet the public and the media have remained largely oblivious to the situation. And while Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog has offered verbal support for the social workers' demands, his ministry and the Treasury have claimed that they do not have the budget to meet the demands. Finance Ministry officials declined to attend a recent Knesset Welfare Committee hearing that discussed the situation. Yitzhak Perry, 62, has been Chairman of the Israel Association of Social Workers for the past three years. In a wide-ranging interview with The Report, he discusses the reasons for the sanctions and the importance of social work in the state of Israel. The Jerusalem Report: What are the social workers' demands? Yitzhak Perry: We have two sets of demands - security and staffing. Regarding security: In the past 25 years, three social workers have been murdered while doing their jobs. Every year, some 150 social workers are attacked by clients. Banks have security guards, but the state does not see fit to protect the professionals who work with the angry, aliented weakest elements in society, who take it out on the people trying to help them. With respect to staffing: According to the Welfare and Social Services Ministry's professional committees, a child protection officer is supposed to provide services to some 35 children at risk at one time. Even that is a lot, but today, each protection officer deals with between 120 and 150 children and some are responsible for as many as 200 children. The situation is the same in all areas - the elderly, the disabled, children, court reviews - everything. The ministry's own figures say that we must immediately hire another 1,000 social workers - and that doesn't include the existing 218 slots that the municipalities aren't filling becasuse they don't have the money and social work isn't a priority. Social work in the State of Israel is collapsing. But does the public or the government care? It would seem that they do not. At election time, it's very sexy to be "socially oriented" and talk about the underprivileged - and then to foreget about them later. We knew that this struggle would take time. The challenge that we are facing as a professional union is to find a way to translate our sanctions into some form of political pressure. Is the profession becoming deprofessionalized and increasingly bureaucratic? Over 40 percent of social workers employed in social welfare agencies in Israel have graduate degrees. Social work is a wonderfully creative profession and provides tremendous professional satisfaction. But as poverty increases, and as the government abdicates its responsibilities, we have been turned into reception offices for soup kitchens. Clients come to us hungry, and we have no recourse other than to refer them to voluntary services. Extract of article in Issue 6, July 7, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.