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Vulnerable young people in Israel: Their stories about transition to adulthood


Aim. Vulnerable young people in Israel typically belong to the so called social and geographical periphery. That is, for example, families of immigrants or families with chronic condition of the parent/s or poor families. While children in some of these families spend their adolescence in public care, others remain living with their parents. Studies show that both groups lack familial support (Zeira 2009; Zeira, Benbenishty & Rafaeli 2012). Moreover, sometimes young people who remain living with their parents are required to support their families.

The transition to adulthood in Israel is somewhat different from other countries because of the mandatory military service. At the age of 18 young people are called for service - two years for girls and three for boys. Some populations are exempt from service and may substitute military service with national civil service. The military service is the first step into independent living: critical decisions must be taken; many young people acquire a profession during the military service; and many build social support networks for life. To turn this experience into a positive passage, young people need lot of emotional and financial support. For example, comfort equipment that the army does not supply must be purchased, in addition to a place to spend time off during weekends and holidays. For vulnerable young people, this period in life is an opportunity for upward mobility on the one hand, but given their lack of familial support it is also a challenge.

The public care system in Israel also differs somewhat from that in other Western countries. Due to historical and social processes, the vast majority of placements are to residential settings and not to foster families (Zeira 2004). There are two systems of out-of-home placements in Israel: welfare settings supervised by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services and educational settings overseen by the Ministry of Education.

According to the National Council for the Child (2011) about 9,000 children annually are placed in welfare settings based on professional discretion and/or court decisions due to a range of family and child problems. About 80% of them are placed in residential settings and only about 20% are placed with foster families. The other type of placement, overseen by the Ministry of Education, is voluntary and places about 19,000 children annually to residential settings. These settings were created to respond to the challenges of massive waves of immigration to Israel, aiming to support and enhance assimilation of mostly adolescent immigrants into Israeli society. Since the 1990s, these settings are receiving adolescent immigrants mostly from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia (Zeira & Benbenishty 2011). Today, in addition to immigrants, these facilities host adolescents who come from underprivileged families, mostly from the geographical or social periphery of Israel.

The present study compared the perceptions about transition to independent living of two groups of vulnerable young people: one grew up in out-of-home facilities and the other who have similar characteristics, but remained at home. The purpose of this qualitative study is to bring their voice in order to increase understanding about their needs and outcomes.

Method. Twenty vulnerable young adults (age range 19-25) were recruited in «Youth Centers». The centers are a platform offered by many local authorities to young people. They provide support in: preparation for post-secondary education; integration into the job market; volunteering in the community; and individual counseling. Using a semi-structured interview, the trajectories from mid-adolescence through emerging adulthood of the young adults were captured. Half of them spent their adolescence in residential care, twelve were Israeli born, eleven currently live with their parents, fifteen completed military service, and one is a (single-mother) parent.

 Findings. The findings provide a unique opportunity to compare the experience of young people who stayed with their birth parents with those that spent their adolescence in residential care - in both forms of placement: voluntary/educational and coercive/welfare. Their stories portray a complex picture. First, participants who remained at home said that their families sometimes could not contain and support them. Compared to the coercive/welfare group removal, youth with voluntary removal could better benefit from the opportunities offered by the residential services. Second, all participants indicated that the mandatory military service was a turning point in their life, even if they did not complete service. Third, their current use of services is inefficient, because of inadequacy of the services or because they are not aware of their availability. Last, all describe financial burden as their major need, but many indicate that lack of emotional support and guidance is even more troubling.

Conclusions. The findings of the study highlight the importance of continued support to young vulnerable people beyond the age of 18. Israel currently has no policy for vulnerable young people nor does it offer them designated services. There are several NGOs (mostly non-profit organizations) that attempt to fill this void. Some provide housing for care leavers and others support post-secondary education. Nonetheless, the needs presented by the participants stress the importance of developing national policy, guidelines and services not only to care leavers but to all vulnerable young people in Israel.

Key references

National Council for the Child (2011). Children in Israel: Statistical abstract. Jerusalem: National Council for the Child. (Hebrew)

Zeira, A. (2004). New initiatives in out-of-home placemnets in Israel. Child and Family Social Work, 9, 305-307.

Zeira, A. (2009). Alumni of educational residential settings in Israel: A Cultural Perspective. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1074-1079.

Zeira, A. and Benbenishty, R. (2011). Readiness for independent living of adolescents in youth villages in Israel. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 2461-2468.

Zeira, A., Benbenishty, R. and Refaeli, T. (2012). Transition to adulthood of vulnerable youth in Israel: Needs, social services and policy. The Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare. (Hebrew)

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