Foster care in Israel is an important part of the out-of-home services provided by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Services (MSAS). The services are designed to meet the needs of children and youth at risk who are unable to continue living at home due to poor parenting. The foster placement is designed to provide a temporary response until a permanent solution is found – either the child’s return home or adoption. This follows the policy of “a permanent home for every child.”
This study, conducted in 2011-12, examined the implementation of foster services from the perspectives of the implementing organizations and the foster families. It reviewed the trends and changes in foster care from 2000 to 2012. One striking change is the partial privatization of foster care in Israel, begun in 2001. Four implementing organizations became responsible for providing support to foster families while the MSAS continues to be responsible for formulating work principles, supervision and funding. The data were collected using the following tools and from several sources: questionnaires for foster social workers on the characteristics of their work; questionnaires completed by the social workers on some 400 children in a representative national sample; telephone interviews with foster parents of some 250 children; administrative data from the MSAS payment system, and in-depth interviews with senior personnel and professionals in the organizations and at MSAS.
These are some of the findings:
From 2000 to 2012, the overall number of children in out-of-home placement decreased while the number referred to foster care increased. These trends reflect MSAS policy, which favors community care or out-of-home foster placement over residential care, especially for young children.
Foster placements are stable: Unlike many countries where children pass through several foster homes, in Israel, for 68% of the children in foster care, their current families are their first out-of-home placements.
Foster arrangements are long-term: Though foster care is defined as temporary, children remain with the families for an average of seven years. This finding indicates the difficulty of finding “a permanent home for every child.” It shows a need to examine in depth the barriers to implementing the policy and to take steps to remove them.
Foster-care social workers expressed high satisfaction with the care provided by the families. Like the foster parents, they estimated that most of the children had shown improvement in a variety of areas. Furthermore, 82% of the children maintain ongoing contact with their birth parents.
In the in-depth interviews, respondents were asked their opinion of the partial privatization. According to them, it had helped strengthen the support given to families and promote professionalism. Nonetheless, in some areas, gaps were found between MSAS policy and actual implementation; e.g., the professional experience and seniority of the social workers at the start of their work in foster care fell below MSAS requirements, and there is too limited training of foster parents.
The findings were presented to the steering committee of the study and will be presented at additional professional forums. They are helping decision-makers formulate policy to improve care and find ways to better translate policy into action.
The study was initiated by the MSAS Research, Planning and Training Division and conducted in cooperation with its Child and Youth Service at the Division of Personal and Social Services, the Welfare and Rehabilitation Services, and the Division for Persons with Developmental Disabilities. It was funded with the assistance of a special grant from Annie Sandler of Virginia, USA.