We had a chance to sit down with Prof. Hillel Schmid of Israel’s Haruv Institute, a Jerusalem organization that was started in 2007 with seed money from the Schusterman Foundation, which has offices in Israel and in Tulsa, Okla. The foundation also started two child protection centers in Israel, which are meant to aggregate all parties relevant to an abuse/neglect case so families can go to one place and meet with them as necessary.
Schmid, who came aboard at Haruv in 2008, discussed plans for the institute and child protective services in Israel. Below are some notes from the conversation.
Schmid sees the institute as a national leader on training and research. One of its first projects focused on the paucity of medical professionals who were trained and approved by Israel to examine for and confirm child abuse.
Before 2008, there were two physicians in all of Israel who were trained and trusted to verify abuse for the state, Schmid said. Now there are 20, after Haruv hosted a 12-month training program that took 18 new physicians and included a 6-week tour of Western cities Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and Toronto.
Schmid also believes Haruv can serve as “worldwide institute” of sorts, which convenes leaders of various state/national systems and produces research and training to assist practitioners and policy makers.
The institute will live “on the border of academia and the field,” Schmid said. The goal is not to supplant any government responsibility to train, but “to supplement… and create new knowledge.”
There will inevitably be pressure on the institute to support or oppose Israeli policy on abuse and neglect; it will be a slippery slope, Schmid concedes. He fully expects Haruv will receive government grants to work with child welfare officials. Schmid expressed a pragmatic wariness at the prospect of “biting the hand that feeds” Haruv.
Israel Child Welfare, by the Numbers
Schmid cited the following figures about the size and scope:
-2.5 million youth overall in the country.
-350,000, about 15 percent, deemed at-risk.
-140,000 receive government services.
-approximately 34,000 annual cases of abuse reported.
-8,300 kids are served after being removed from the home.
Schmid said that Ultra-Orthodox families and Arabs are under-represented when it comes to abuse and neglect. Both groups are extremely wary of allowing government intervention in their homes, he said, so few people in the community would risk telling an agency about abuse.
U.S vs. Israel
The biggest difference appears to be the process for removal. In Israel, a suggestion to do so comes from the social worker/investigator, but a full committee of government and health officials must approve any and every removal. “They discuss it…there must be strong evidence to support it,” Schmid said.
When they do remove youths from homes, the majority are placed with residential programs or are adopted; only about 2,000 of the 8,300 are placed in foster care, Schmid said. Many of the group living arrangements for removed children are near a kibbutz.
A U.S. state placing more than half of its removed youths in group care would surely be blasted, but Schmid said the residential industry is generally more respected in Israel than it is in the U.S.
Foster care is something that the government only recently started to fund an increase in available foster homes, not to increase the ability of the system to remove kids, but to relieve pressure on residential providers with waiting lists. Foster care is four times cheaper than residential placement in Israel, Schmid said, and is a “better practice” since the child stays near the family.
Foster care services are managed by three non-profits and one for-profit in the country. Part of their contracts is to help Israel double the number of foster homes, a venture with which Haruv is assisting. “It’s going very slowly,” Schmid said.
The hope is that moving away from a reliance on group settings will be better for kids already in care, and help Israel shift away from a child welfare budget that invests heavily on the back side. Schmid estimates that system spends 88 percent of its funds on intervention and therapeutic services, and only 12 percent on prevention of the circumstances that often lead to abuse or neglect. The government has agreed to reach a 75-25 percent ratio soon, Schmid said.
There are no good figures on the subject, but Schmid said the major challenge Israel has in common with the U.S. is connecting older children removed from homes to permanent situations.