Editorial |

What Systematic Neglect Looks Like

Haaretz Editorial
The welfare
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Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, Tel Aviv, April.
Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, Tel Aviv, April.Credit: Moti Milrod
Haaretz Editorial
The welfare

Israel's welfare system suffers from inadequate budgets, shortages of manpower and government oversight that is weak to nonexistent. Nevertheless, this neglected system garners public attention only in exceptional cases. For instance, after the deaths of three residents of a closed facility for people with special needs two months ago – a facility operated by a private company. That case is still under investigation by the police.

An internal review by the Social Affairs Ministry revealed a disturbing situation: There is almost no supervision of the thousands of children who have been removed from their biological families and transferred to foster families. The report, which was submitted to senior ministry officials in early 2020, describes an important service that is in the process of falling apart. The organizations that run the foster services are short on staff, and so is the Social Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for them. Combined with a growing workload, this has led to “substantial failures" in supervising the assistance and care given to foster children, the report said.

The report revealed that in 2018, the ministry ordered inspections of the case files of 810 foster children cared for by various organizations. But this was a hollow order. In practice, only 42 case files were checked, representing slightly more than 1 percent of all children who were in foster care that year. Until early 2020, the central district had just one supervisor for more than 1,000 children placed with some 900 families. And the situation in other districts wasn’t much different. Under such conditions, government oversight is meaningless. This is what systematic neglect looks like.

The Social Affairs Ministry has insufficient information about these children, as well as about the care plans devised for them. It doesn’t even know whether these plans are being implemented. Nor does the ministry know why some foster placements were abruptly terminated or whether any problems that were discovered had been corrected. The review, which was of a small sample of case files, found that roughly 60 percent of them contained no record of a monthly visit – just one – to the foster family’s home. In most cases, the report said, there was likewise no record of a separate meeting with the child, which is required by ministry regulations. “I can’t get around to inspecting case files or talking with foster families, except in emergencies,” one supervisor said. The internal report described the oversight system as “putting out fires.”

The Social Affairs Ministry said it has added staff positions since that review was conducted, but declined to give any details. While the need for foster care has risen significantly in recent years – in 2021, 5,200 children were living with 4,500 foster families – supervision capacity has lagged far behind. This neglect requires an immediate solution. Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen must stop betraying the trust he was given. He must bolster the foster system’s supervision system immediately.

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