Characteristics and Needs of Adolescent Girls in the Care of the Service for Women and Girls of the Ministry of Social Affairs

The Service for Women and Girls of the Ministry of Social Affairs serves some 17,000 girls who face extreme difficulty in their relationship with their parents, at school, in their relationships with boys, and in their personal and emotional state. Some of them attend an education framework, some are doing national or military service, and some are not in any normative framework. In recent years, their distress has received extensive public attention, and budgets have been allocated and initiatives undertaken to expand and adapt the services for them. As part of this effort, the decision was made – for the first time in Israel – to conduct a study that would lead to an in-depth understanding of the characteristics and needs of girls in the care of the Service for Women and Girls. Its findings were meant to support the continued development of new services for them and the adaptation of existing ones to meet their unique needs.

This study is part of the “girls on the map” study, which has generated additional reports: a national mapping of services and programs for girls, and an analysis of findings about girls from existing studies of risk behaviors among girls, as compared with boys. The current study population comprised all of the girls in the care of the Service for Women and Girls as of 2003: girls being treated in the community (“girls in care”), and girls being treated in the community who were on the waiting list for admission to a locked institution (“girls on the waiting list”).

Data were collected on the socio-demographic background of the girls and their families, relations within the family, school and work, significant events and situations in their lives and those of their families, risk behaviors, recreational activities and social relations, plans for the future, the girls’ strengths, sources of support, and the responses provided by the Service for Women and Girls and other service providers. The following are selected findings:

  • A large percentage of the girls (30% of those in care and 45% of those on the waiting list) were from families in which at least one parent has an illness, disability, or trouble functioning in society (e.g., substance abuse, crime).
  • About 60% of the girls in care and about 80% of the girls on the waiting list were alienated from their family, or had rejected or been rejected by their family.
  • The girls were involved in a large number of risk behaviors, including criminal behavior, loitering with a street gang, relationships with friends who were criminals, and abuse of drugs or alcohol.
  • The girls’ emotional state was poor: 24% of those in care and 31% of those on the waiting list had attempted suicide.
  • About 60% of the girls in care attended some type of school; 34% of them were not attending school, working, or doing military or national service.  The latter percentage was even higher among girls on the waiting list (57%).

Discussion of these findings generated directions for action, including increased integration of parents, especially mothers, into care and increased emotional support for the girl; greater emphasis on integrating the girls into alternative education frameworks, vocational training and appropriate jobs; and more effort to prevent risk behaviors, such as substance abuse. These directions are being discussed in a special forum of professionals from the Service for Women and Girls, for the purpose of planning responses for the girls that will meet the needs revealed by the study.  Also, an inter-organizational forum, led by Ashalim, is discussing the coordination and cooperation of services for girls, in light of the findings of this study. One new initiative is a drop-in center for girls at risk, which the Institute is now evaluating.

This study was made possible with a special grant from Annie Sandler, Virginia. It was conducted with the collaboration and support of Ashalim and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Citations in the professional and academic literature

Peled, E., & Cohavi, A. (2009). The meaning of running away for girls. Child abuse & neglect33(10), 739-749.

Hakak, Y. (2016). Battling against interfaith relations in Israel: Religion, therapy, and social services. Journal of marital and family therapy42(1), 45-57.

Peled, E., & Lugasi, R. (2015). How Israeli social workers perceive adolescent girls in prostitution. Child abuse & neglect42, 20-29.

Krumer-Nevo, M., Berkovitz-Romano, A., & Komem, M. (2015). The study of girls in social work: Major discourses and feminist ideas. Journal of Social Work15(4), 425-446.

Aviad-Wilchek, Y., & Ne’eman-Haviv, V. (2018). The relation between a sense of meaning in life and suicide potential among disadvantaged adolescent girls. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology62(6), 1474-1487.