Social services criticized for failure to help Ethiopian olim

A series of failures over the years to provide adequate and culture-appropriate assistance to many Ethiopians has contributed to the growing poverty and distress of more than two-thirds of sector.

A series of failures over the years to provide adequate and culture-appropriate assistance to tens of thousands of Ethiopian immigrants has contributed to the growing poverty and distress of more than two-thirds of the 110,500-member sector, according to a report published on Tuesday by the State Comptroller's Office. Focusing on the efforts of social services, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Anti-Drugs Authority to assist the community between January and October 2007, the report highlighted a "general failure by the authorities in treating the Ethiopian community in the area of social welfare." The criticisms outlined in the report, which focused on two in-depth case studies in Netanya and Ashdod, where a significant number of Ethiopian Jews live, included a severe shortage of social workers and mounting caseloads, social workers not adequately trained to work within the cultural confines of the community, minimal communication between the government bodies charged with helping this population and a general lack of knowledge about the community. In addition, the report pointed out the failure by the government to communicate its decisions to the people working in the field. "The most troubling findings," the comptroller wrote, "is that these problems have been known about for many years. How could these state-controlled bodies not have internalized this community's unique needs and devised a method of helping them?" The report calls on the relevant ministries to "immediately seek ways to fix the problems outlined in the report and to coordinate their work by sharing their information and program ideas." "We know that the findings were not positive," a spokesman for the Welfare and Social Services Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "But we are now working hard to improve the situation and we have carried out our own research. The office now has new ideas on how to deal with the problems." He pointed out that since the State Comptroller's Office completed its research in October, the cabinet has approved a first-of-its-kind five-year plan aimed at improving life for thousands of Ethiopian families. However, the spokesman added, "We are still waiting for final funding approval from the Finance Ministry." Ethiopian MK Shlomo Mola (Kadima) said the report made clear the disparities between cabinet decisions and their implementation. "There needs to be a parliamentary investigation to see how these policies end up falling through the cracks," Mola said, adding that fact the five-year-plan had still not been implemented showed that the "government makes promises but nothing ends up happening." In compiling the report, the Comptroller's Office looked into how the authorities provided assistance in the areas of domestic violence, elder care and the battle against drug and alcohol abuse among Ethiopian youth. In the cities in the case studies - Ashdod and Netanya - the comptroller said that "domestic violence in the Ethiopian community was disproportionately high" due to a range of social and cultural challenges faced by the immigrants during the absorption process. It added that the social services charged with tackling the problem were not sufficiently trained or equipped to help victims of such violence. "In Ashdod, individual treatments were carried out by social workers who had not been trained in the field of domestic violence or with experience on how to deal with the Ethiopian community," read the report. "In Netanya, there were two social workers of Ethiopian descent but they could not deal with the overwhelming demand for services and as a result those who needed treatment had to wait a very long time to receive it." Many older people "were only visited when family members or community leaders notified social services that there was a serious problem" because of insufficient numbers of social workers for follow-up care, the comptroller said. A failure to provide wide-ranging assistance for alcohol and drug abuse, despite 2003 figures from the Anti-Drugs Authority showing that a quarter of Ethiopian teens had reported using drugs, two-thirds said they'd experimented with alcohol and 40 percent admitted to getting drunk, was also noted in the comptroller's report.