Hundreds of children, elderly at risk for abuse, neglect

Comptroller report says government failure to share information, follow-up on cases puts minors and elderly at risk.

Old elderly dementia alzheimers 311 STOCK (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Old elderly dementia alzheimers 311 STOCK
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Failure by government authorities to adequately share information and a lack of clear guidelines for local authorities and social workers leave hundreds of minors and elderly citizens at risk for abuse and neglect, according to a report published by the State Comptroller on Tuesday.
According to the section on care for society’s most vulnerable populations, specifically children and the elderly, the report found that vital information from the police, hospitals, the education system and even from the general public about individuals who might be at risk for abuse or neglect is simply not reaching welfare officers.
In addition, the report, which investigated the efforts of six municipalities to provide protection and treatment for children and the elderly considered at risk, found that youth welfare officers and the welfare departments in general lacked clear guidelines from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services on how to receive information and follow up on it.
The State Comptroller called on the ministry to update its operating procedures and, more importantly, follow up with other bodies on recommendations made nearly two years ago.
“The State Comptroller’s Office views with severity the poor communications between the police, hospitals and health clinics and the Departments of Welfare and Social Services in the local municipalities,” wrote the report’s authors.
“This means that hundreds of people are not receiving the help and treatment that they need.
“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services to care for the elderly and for minors and these points must be addressed immediately,” concluded the report.
Spotlighting social welfare departments in Holon, Kiryat Malachi, Ramle, Haifa, Or Yehuda and Bat Yam, the State Comptroller criticized the lack of training for teachers on how to recognize signs of abuse or neglect, and the fact that municipalities have not raised awareness among the general public that it’s the responsibility of all citizens to report suspected abuse. The report also noted that there are few channels for those interacting with children to pass information to social workers.
This situation, pointed out the report, comes nearly two years after a welfare ministry report emphasized that children at risk should take precedent over the right to individual privacy and more than 1.5 years after the Ministerial Committee for Welfare and Social Services proposed legislation to enable those who encounter cases of child abuse to immediately share the information with welfare officers.
“It is not enough for the welfare ministry to make these recommendations, there must also be attempts to implement them too,” the report said.
The State Comptroller added that the findings painted a worrisome picture in which large numbers of reports from the police and the health authorities on neglect or abuse are not reaching welfare officers in the local authorities and therefore little is being done to follow up on potentially life threatening situations.
“These findings are not surprising,” said David Golan, spokesman for the social worker’s union. “Social workers can only do their jobs if they have the information; without information they are not able to find the families and help them.”
Golan emphasized that the flow of information had to come from the education system, the police and the hospitals to the social workers and not the other way around.
In contrast, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, Executive Director of the National Council for the Child, said he found the report’s findings truly shocking.
“This report should create an earthquake and nothing less,” he said, highlighting that it demonstrated how children at risk are victims several times over.
“First, they are victims of those who are abusing them and second, they are victims of those who are supposed to be helping them,” said Kadman. “Apparently, the social services defense network meant to help them is nothing but a big black hole.”
Specific cases highlighted by the State Comptroller’s Office referred to numerous reports of suspected abuse or neglect of minors sent by the police from hospitals and clinics to the welfare departments in local authorities that simply did not arrive.
Those reports that did arrive were followed up on only months later.
The audit also noted a lack of adequate follow-up by social workers treating the elderly, both those living alone and those in old age homes, with Ramle social workers only fulfilling 30 percent of required home visits and social workers in Holon only 17%.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services responded that several key changes had already been implemented over the past few years to improve the cooperation social workers, youth welfare officers and local authorities.
Among the changes, she said, were more than 100 new protocols and regulations aimed at strengthening the interaction between social workers and the communities they assist.