Israel is facing a shortage of approximately 1,000 social workers, Social Workers' Union Chairman Yitzhak Perry told the Knesset Welfare Committee Monday morning during a hearing on the ongoing crisis in the sector. Social workers have been striking for over a month to protest what they describe as overwhelming case loads. Perry said that the average social worker is currently responsible for the well-being of 100-120 children - and 100-200 case files - and this overload had caused a decline in the quality of treatment they are able to offer. Part of this overload, he explained, was due to "legislation passed in the Knesset that is ideologically correct, but technically makes life difficult" by adding additional responsibilities. As part of their strike, social workers have been refusing to hold review committees regarding finding preschools for at-risk toddlers or boarding schools for youth at-risk. Similarly, they aren't carrying out necessary procedures for approving care plans for the elderly and infirm. Juvenile review officers are also refusing to submit court reports or accept new cases. But the Knesset discussion on the topic was mostly one-sided, as no representatives from the Finance Ministry came to the hearing. Instead, representatives of local government and social workers complained of the system's constraints and the difficulty of performing under the current conditions - while, at the same time, emphasizing the importance of social workers to the proper functioning of local administrations. "The heart of local government lies with the social workers, who do the hardest work in the public sector," said Local Authorities Head Adi Eldar. "We shouldn't have to wait until tragedy strikes to fix the problems and end the strike, but, in the meantime, I say to the workers: be strong and do not fear." The issue of the strike was also raised a day earlier at the weekly Cabinet meeting. "The number of cases resting on social workers' shoulders is not logical," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the meeting. "I hope that we can arrive together at understandings that can offer a response to their demands." Perry welcomed the discussion during the Cabinet meeting, saying that it was the first time the highest levels of government had taken interest in the labor crisis.In the course of the Sunday meeting, Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog presented the manpower shortage facing the sector and emphasized the personal danger that social workers in welfare offices consistently face. Welfare Ministry Dir.-Gen. Nahum Itzkovich is expected to meet with Finance Ministry representatives in the coming days. The two will form the framework for a future meeting between Perry and Histadrut Chief Ofer Eini to try and find a budgetary solution to the problems.