The Haruv Institute in Jerusalem, which trains professionals to treat child abuse and neglect, has greatly increased the scope of its activity in recent years. Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh, the director of the Institute, sheds light on this issue and how to reduce this grim phenomenon

Shahar Ben Porat
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Shahar Ben Porat
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The Haruv Institute, which was established about 10 years ago by the Schusterman Foundation Israel, trains professionals to handle child abuse and neglect. “In this field there are some organizations that provide treatment, some that do research and some that develop projects, but even today there’s no organization that has assumed the task of focusing on follow-up training, like the Haruv Institute,” explains its director, Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh. “For example, those who have completed their social work studies at a university have to receive further training on the subject, to ensure that they are at the forefront when it comes to professional knowledge. That’s our job.”

One of every five children

Child abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as neglect, explains Ben-Arieh. “We’re not referring to every instance of a beating or verbal abuse but, rather, to serious cases, for which there are a number of criteria, including severity, duration and intention.”

“According to the latest research, one out of every five children up to age 18 has experienced abuse or neglect during childhood. Every year, about 50,000 cases are reported, but as with any illegal behavior, the reported cases are the tip of the iceberg. The percentage in the Israeli population, by the way, is similar to that in the rest of the world,” Ben-Arieh continues.

The Haruv Institute training courses are designed for the general public – judges, lawyers, police officers, social workers, teachers, preschool teachers, doctors, National Service volunteers, kindergarten assistants, escorts of special needs children, etc. “Anyone who interacts with children is our target audience,” explains Ben-Arieh. The training offered by the Institute can take place in the context of individual study days, courses with a few sessions, and even a long one-year course. “One of our guiding principles is that we have no ready-made programs. In other words, when we start working with an organization, a municipality, a hospital or any other group, we sit together with them, define their needs and build the guidance program accordingly, including the choice of lecturers,” Ben-Arieh notes.

In recent years, the Institute’s activity has been growing steadily, and each year thousands of professionals undergo training in various fields, including special sectors of the population. “We conduct courses for rabbis from various denominations, we taught courses in the Arab community, in communal settlements and regional councils. We work with the broadest spectrum of Israeli society. We’re flooded with requests from Haredi professionals, a community that up until a few years ago completely denied that it has any such problem.”

Haruv realized that the professionals know how to handle children who suffer from abuse and how to identify such cases, but they don’t know how to prevent it. That’s why three years ago they launched the MeHalev [From the Heart] initiative, which is designed to reduce child abuse. They are working to increase awareness, and to develop new models of prevention and professional training. “I hope that we’ll eventually be able to point to a clear trend of a decline in the extent of the phenomenon, since any other option is simply unacceptable,” Prof. Ben-Arieh concludes.

Children don’t tell, they behave

Statistics show that one out of five children is hurt by an adult they know. This raises the question of the role played by the educational system – principals, teachers, teaching aides, guidance counselors and others – in identifying children who are victims of abuse and neglect.

Currently, the academic training that teachers and guidance counselors receive includes courses on class management and learning disabilities, but not about the important and central issue of children who are subjected to abuse and neglect.

“The school system is a central and significant part of every child’s life, encompassing most hours of the day throughout childhood. The centrality and importance of the system is even more important for children who suffer from abuse and neglect. They are at the highest risk, since for them the source of risk is their home and family; that is, the people whose normal role is to protect them are, in fact, the offender,” elaborates Shira Avrahami, the coordinator of education programs at the Haruv Institute.

Despite the vital importance of the educational environment in the life of a child, a survey done at Haifa University’s Center for the Study of Society regarding violence directed at children and youth, conducted with the support of Triana, has found that over 50% of children who experienced sexual or physical abuse were unwilling under any circumstance to talk about it with professionals such as teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, doctors or nurses. The dynamics of abuse, which includes aspects of guilt, confusion, shame and secrecy, prevent them from coming forward and talking about it. In fact, children don’t tell, they behave. The role of educators is to ask what lies behind a child’s behavior. They must add an additional lens to their toolbox, allowing them to see damage and trauma.

For example, a child who stays indoors during recess, avoids social activities at school and doesn’t form friendships would be regarded through a social-educational lens as someone needing help in acquiring social skills. But before proceeding with such a course of action, one should ask what may have caused her to behave in such a manner. Again, children don’t tell, they express themselves through behavior, and the role of the educator is to see them.

As of today, teachers and guidance counselors are not trained at universities and colleges to deal with victims of abuse whom they will inevitably encounter over their years of employment. If they don’t learn about it, they won’t be able to discover the risks inherent in their lack of training, they won’t be able to employ a trauma/maltreatment lens and they will find it hard to address it in both a professional manner and a personal-emotional one as well.

Lynn Schusterman reflects on Haruv’s 10th Anniversary

I first became aware of the epidemic of child abuse more than five decades ago when I volunteered at a police shelter for abused children in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It opened my eyes to the horrors of what far too many children and families face.

I vowed then to do all I could to protect those children.

When we established our Foundation, my beloved husband, Charlie (z”l), and I began supporting organizations in Tulsa that were working to treat and prevent child abuse. As we grew our philanthropy in Israel, we realized that child abuse existed here, too. We decided that addressing child maltreatment would become a cornerstone of our work in Tulsa and in Israel.

In 1996, we partnered with the JDC to establish a permanent home for Succat Shalom – Israel’s first emergency shelter for children and families at risk for abuse –and help it develop into a center of excellence. Later, we helped to create a network of eight child protection centers, called Beit Lynn. And in 2007, the Haruv Institute was born. From the start, I wanted Haruv to serve as “a light unto the nations” in the field of child abuse and neglect. I wanted Haruv to develop new knowledge and methodologies for professionals working with young victims. I wanted Haruv to help prevent further trauma and protect future victims.

It is remarkable to see how far Haruv has come in 10 years and the vital role it is playing in Israel and around the world. Haruv combines two of Israel’s greatest assets—creativity and innovation—to advocate for those least able to defend themselves. I am so proud that we are realizing our vision of Haruv, and of Israel, as an international center of excellence in the field of child maltreatment. Haruv is training professionals as far away as China and Madagascar and has extended its work through the programs at Haruv USA in Oklahoma.

We have made remarkable progress over the past 10 years. But we still have a long way to go. Far too many children and families are still suffering. We cannot rest until all children, in Israel and around the world, live free from abuse and neglect, able to pursue their dreams as active, healthy members of society.

For more information, go to www.haruv.org.il/eng