Social Services: Disabled employment service not building personalized tracks

A Welfare and Social Services Ministry-run service providing vocational rehabilitation to disabled individuals of working age drew sharp criticism from the State Comptroller's office this week in its review of government-run offices and programs. Monitored by the State Comptroller between May and September 2006, the organization, known as the Keren, was accused of not fulfilling its goal of assisting mentally, physically and emotionally disabled populations to rehabilitate through work experience and, for some, to eventually gain employment in the free market. Those with medium to serious disabilities who work in the Keren's sheltered workshops - numbering some 2,000 people - were given no opportunities to improve their work skills or learn how to operate modern technology. Furthermore, the Keren-run factories failed to foster healthy employee-employer relations and, perhaps most harshly, disabled employees received no social benefits such as sick pay, redundancy packages or pension plans. According to the report, which was released for publication Wednesday, 10 percent of Israel's population are physically, mentally or emotionally disabled but under a 1998 equal rights law for people with disabilities they should still be entitled to employment services and training to ensure they have as much opportunities as able-bodied individuals. Run under the ministry's Department of Rehabilitation, the Keren was established in 1964 and remains the principal government organization providing vocational evaluation and rehabilitation, technical training with coaching in optimal work routines, and help in finding fulfilling employment for severely disabled people of working age. On its Web site, the Keren claims that it "serves people as individuals, addressing each person's specific abilities, interests and aptitudes." However, the Comptroller's team sent to examine the Keren's work - assessments took place in Jerusalem and Rehovot - found quite the opposite: "The Keren did not develop personalized tracks for individuals based on their needs, a process that would have provided each person with the tools to move upward on the employment ladder," wrote the comptroller. "Neither were regular evaluations carried out for each employee." Another strike against the Keren was the make up of its board of trustees. While the report does not name names, it does highlight one trustee who, as well as sitting on the Keren's board, also runs a private enterprise working with disabled people. Four more of the 14 trustees hold high positions in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, which is "liable to hurt the Keren's ability to operate responsibly and carry out internal investigations," wrote the comptroller. Buma Barchad, the Keren's director, told The Jerusalem Post that he had already officially responded to the comptroller's office. "We have already started to address some of the issues raised in the report," he told the Post. "However, for issues such as choosing the trustees, that is not in our hands as they are chosen by the ministry. I know the trustee who is a supplier and I am not sure if it's a good or bad thing, at least he is an expert in these matters." Barchad also said the that the small budget received by the Keren to facilitate each individual's development was a factor in preventing the staff from following-up on work placements and devising personalized tracks for each person. "We receive NIS 570 on average per person, and with that we give them the best we can. But it does not cover a social worker to work with each case one-on-one." A spokeswoman for Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said the minister had yet to receive the full report and was not ready to comment on the findings.