Protection of the Elderly in the Rural Sector

In recent years, many programs have been developed, in Israel and abroad, to address the issue of elder abuse, which has become a recognized social problem.

A unique situation exists in Israel’s rural sector, due to the fact that Israeli law and Land Administration regulations allow owners to transfer/bequeath farmsteads to only one of their children. These laws may cause rifts within the family and crises in relations between parents and children. In addition, the financial straits of families in the rural sector in general tend to exacerbate the problem. The geographical distance between rural localities and the large cities hinders access to services and creates greater dependency on family caregivers. As a result, there is an increased risk of abuse and neglect of the elderly by adult offspring.

This study examined a unique pilot program designed to reduce situations of elder abuse and neglect. The program was implemented in the social service departments of two regional councils: Matte Yehuda and Lev Hasharon in 2004-2006 and was supported by the National Insurance Institute’s Fund for Demonstration Projects in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs. It consisted of two thrusts: raising awareness among professionals who provide services in the community as well as among the elderly and their families and responding on the individual level, with a combination of protection, empowerment and advocacy.

The study reveals that great emphasis was placed on efforts at the community level. These efforts included informational and educational evening sessions for the elderly and middle-age groups, meetings with other professionals to strengthen cooperation, and the formation of a group of volunteers responsible for the information campaign on the moshavim. The group level interventions included a drama group and a support group for women.

The majority of the victims of abuse included in the program were women. Most were over 70 and had a high incidence of health problems and poor support networks. Most of the abusers were men and most were the adult offspring and/or spouses of the victim. In some cases, the abusers were caregivers who were dependent on their parents and lived on the same property. Notably, in comparison with other programs, a large percentage of the elderly victims had experienced financial abuse.

Apart from psychosocial interventions with the victims, the program offered family intervention for the abuser and other family members. The social workers reported that the program significantly improved the procedures for addressing cases of violence and reported an improvement in 77% of the cases included in the program. The program also raised awareness among residents and professionals and within the rural settlement movement in general.

The findings have been presented to the national supervisors of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services and to the management of the Matte Yehuda Regional Council, with the goal of enhancing awareness and addressing the issues that arose. Upon completion of the pioneering program, it was decided to produce a manual based on the knowledge, lessons and tools acquired through the program. In the coming months, the manual will be disseminated nationally to the professional community. The study was funded by the National Insurance Institute’s Fund for Demonstration Projects.