Welfare Ministry report: Increase in violence against social workers

In cases of physical violence, a majority of the aggressors were women; perpetrators of verbal threats and damage property, were men.

Social Workers 311 (photo credit: RUTH EGLASH)
Social Workers 311
(photo credit: RUTH EGLASH)
In 2013, 180 cases of violence against social workers were reported, an increase of 180% since 2004 according to a report released Tuesday by the Welfare Ministry regarding violence towards welfare workers.

The report was released as part of National Prevention of Violence Week initiated by the Internal Security Ministry.

According to the findings of the report, a majority of the perpetrators of violent incidents, which included verbal threats and damage to private or departmental property, were men aged 36 to 55. In cases of physical violence, a majority of the aggressors were women, with 10 reports of women attacking social workers in 2013, compared to five men.

“We will not compromise on the safety of office workers among them social workers. They are the people who are at the forefront of Israel's society and deal with difficult issues in person.  Confidence of social workers is equates with better service to patients,” said Welfare Minister Meir Cohen on Tuesday.

The report found that 80 of the violent incidents occurred due to actions taken by social workers under the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law in 1960, which states that a child has the right to both grow up with his family and to maintain ties with his/her parents under normative circumstances though if a conflict arises which puts the child at risk the Welfare Ministry is obligated to intervene and act to ensure the child’s needs, rights and interests are met once the decision is taken to remove the child from his or her home.

An additional 80 cases occurred during the course of family treatments and 20 of the violent incidents were directed against departmental managers in local and regional authorities.

In March, the Silman Committee, headed by Yossi Silman, director-general of the Welfare Ministry, released findings regarding the state of social workers in Israel.  The committee found that social workers were viewed in a negative light and were regularly subjected to threats, violence and hostile work environments including on the internet and in court cases.

As such, the committee reflected a growing concern that social workers were "running away" from making hard decisions and posited that social workers will be afraid to protect children at risk, seriously compromising the basis of their work.

As part of its task, the committee formulated an actionable plan to support and protect welfare workers engaged in sensitive familial cases. The committee recommended the implementation of a “basket” of defense services funded by the Welfare Ministry to protect social workers. 

In addition, the committee recommended contacting the management of the courts in an effort to create partnerships to cope with the phenomenon of violence and protect social workers participating in hearings.  Another recommendation included the development of regular and routine training courses for social workers, including issues such as legal preparation and dealing with the media.