How should young victims of neglect and abuse be treated and how society can prevent the phenomenon from spreading are among the central issues to be studied by professionals at Israel's first-ever center dedicated exclusively to the subject of child abuse. The Haruv Institute, to be officially inaugurated in Jerusalem on Thursday, aims to provide academics and those working in the field with the tools necessary to both prevent and treat the tens of thousands of children who are physically, emotionally and sexually abused here each year. The new center will also initiate studies into abuse, which until now have been extremely lacking in Israel. "The main role of the center is to provide information and allow for the integration of all the different systems involved in working with child victims of abuse, including educators, medical and social welfare staff, legislators and law enforcement," commented Prof. Hillel Schmid, former dean of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was recruited to head the Haruv Institute. Schmid said the institute, which has been operating as a pilot program for the past year, has already started to train additional doctors on how to treat child abuse victims and has been looking at the role of government-appointed Child Welfare Officers. "There is lots of information missing for professionals in Israel," continued Schmid, who last year headed a specially-appointed government committee to research the increase in the number of children and youth at risk. He estimated that more than 70,000 children fall victim to different types of abuse each year. Schmid blames the growing number of child abuse cases on the general increase of violence in Israeli society, changes in traditional family structures and a steady rise in public awareness on the issue. "I must point out, however, that Israel is reflective of other countries worldwide," he said. Sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the new institute is located in the capital's Rehavia neighborhood and seeks to become a leading international center for information, research and professional training. According to its Web site, "Haruv will focus on developing a comprehensive training program targeting a wide range of service providers, caregivers and practitioners; exploring more effective methods for the prevention and treatment of child abuse; work to influence Israeli public policy and child abuse legislation; and facilitate exchanges among Israelis active in this field with their counterparts from other communities throughout the world." In the last three months, several cases of extreme child abuse have surfaced, with at least two uncovering religious cults that condone severe physical punishments for children considered to be badly behaved. The victims of one case, a three-year-old boy who was locked in a suitcase, burned repeatedly, and given freezing showers, remains in a vegetative state. In March, the government announced that it would fund - also with a donation from the Schusterman foundation - seven treatment centers for child victims of physical and sexual abuse that would bring together all the relevant bodies that work with abused children. The centers and based on a successful model that has been operating in the US for the past 20 years.