Arab sector survey

ICEJ-funded study identifies most urgent social needs in Israel’s Arab sector

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Posted on: 
2 Mar 2011
Arab sector survey
The results of a pioneering nationwide survey funded by the International Christianity Embassy Jerusalem and commissioned by the Forum of Social Services Directors for the Arab Community were released last week identifying the most pressing social needs and funding priorities among Israel’s Arab minority. Considered the most comprehensive study ever conducted of Arab sector welfare bureaus, the results will be used to guide Israeli authorities in targeting the most critical problems revealed by the survey: social workers overburdened by case loads involving large families, and not enough specialists in handling at-risk children.

Now 20% of Israel’s population, the Arab sector is well ahead of most Arab populations in the region in terms of economic development and well-being. Yet there are still many daunting challenges within the Israeli Arab community, which lags well behind the national averages according to most economic indicators. This gap is growing again due to the increasing number of large Arab families with low wage-earners and multiple children.

Carmi Ashboren, a consultant for several non-profit agencies combating social ills like poverty and domestic violence, approached the ICEJ AID department last year on behalf of the Forum with a request for funding of the ground-breaking survey of Arab social needs.

“There were prior surveys done of the Arab sector, but their conclusions were never adopted by the government,” said Ashboren. “This time, the Ministry of Social Welfare has commented positively on the findings and is much more likely to use the results. New minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud) is also receptive to the survey’s findings.”

“We were extremely pleased to fund this first systematic study of the welfare needs of Israeli Arab society,” added Rev. Malcolm Hedding, Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy. “It is also our hope that the results will be used effectively to lift many deserving families out of poverty and its ill effects, while also demonstrating Israel’s credentials as a fair and just society.”

The Forum is an umbrella organization set up in 2003 to coordinate efforts among directors of welfare departments in the 75 Arab-run municipalities throughout Israel. Working in unison, the Forum has managed to secure increased expenditures for the Arab sector from the annual state budget in recent years. But this has failed to keep pace with the growing numbers of large families in need of social welfare services. In addition, municipal sources of funding – which by law account for one-quarter of social welfare budgets – have been cut due to the global financial downturn. This in turn reduces the state’s 75% share, as it is based on matching funds.

“Due to severe pressures, most welfare departments devote their time and resources to extinguishing fires, rather than on planning and activities which can prevent them,” explained Emile Sema'an, chairman of the Forum and the head social worker in the mixed Druze-Christian town of Peqi’in. “This problem is even greater in the Arab sector since most of the population falls within a low socio-economic category.”

Using a NIS 115,000 grant from the ICEJ, the Forum commissioned the Massar Institute for Social Research, Planning and Consultation, assisted by a team of researchers from the (non-profit) Organization for Equal Opportunities, to conduct the comprehensive survey with the aim of pinpointing the most glaring deficiencies and recommending solutions. Social welfare managers in twenty of the 75 Arab-majority municipalities took part in the extensive interview process concerning current practices and needs. The results have been compiled in an 85-page report that has been sent to all social welfare departments in the country.

Ashboren is confident the study will lead to increased resources and enhanced performance for the Arab sector and applauded the Forum for deciding to conduct it. “The Forum does not focus on protests and complaining, but has a professional approach for constructive action in close cooperation with governmental authorities, local and national, with proven success” noted Ashboren.

The main findings of the survey include:
  1. Most managers of Arab welfare departments are saddled with too much daily case work themselves to engage in proper planning, budgeting and administrative duties.
  2. Half the Arab welfare departments have no case workers trained in the field of at-risk children, which is the most urgent problem area in the Arab sector.
  3. Over 30% of the households in Arab communities are in need of social assistance, rising to 50% of households in four municipalities.
  4. The two main types of social aid recipients were at-risk children (37%), and individuals living in poverty (20.5%).
  5. The social problems that have steadily grown over the past five years are poverty, unemployment and violence.
  6. Lack of manpower, specialized training and budgets are the major obstacles to the adequate handling of most of these social problems.
  7. Social workers in the Jewish sector handle 43% fewer cases on average than in the Arab sector, with the average size of assisted Jewish families standing at 3.5 persons in 2008, as against 4.8 in the Arab sector.
  8. During the years 2007-2009, some 252 new social worker positions were added nationwide, of which 42% went to the Arab sector. This slightly reduced the gap in case loads per social worker, but more are still needed.

Among the primary recommendations are:
  1. A mechanism to guarantee a more equitable sharing of case loads between welfare departments in the Jewish and Arab sectors, taking into account family sizes.
  2. A more equitable formula for allocating budgets.
  3. More training programs for Arab social workers, including in specialized fields like at-risk children, which is the most prominent social problem in the Arab communities.
A non-partisan organization serving all Muslim, Christian and Druze communities in Israel, the Forum will now seek official approval for implementing the survey’s recommendations while also working in partnership with private charities to promote social services nationwide from a systemic perspective.

For more information, contact the following:
For more information, please contact:
David Parsons,
ICEJ Media Director
Cell: +972 52 381 6214
Carmi Ashboren,
NGO Consultant
Cell: 050-7630636
Emile Sema'an,
Forum chairman
Cell: 050-3133766
Kher Elbaz,
Segev Shalom welfare director
Cell: 050-5605819


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