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Welfare and Social Work group

Head: Dr. Alex Altshuler, University of Haifa

The Welfare and Social Work group focusses on four main research issues: (1) implications of natural and human-made disasters for people’s quality of life and welfare; (2) types of help needed during and after natural and human-made disasters; (3) preparations for natural and human-made disasters; and (4) developing accurate social welfare policy to be implemented during and after natural and human-made disasters. As part of the mental health professions, social workers and psychologists have been involved in research, helping emergency teams, and developing aid programs since the 1960s. This involvement has increased in the last four decades.

  1. Implications of natural and human-made disasters for people’s quality of life and welfare. Research focusing on the implication of a disaster or an emergency on individuals, families, and communities. Studies published in the last decades have shown that in addition to physical and instrumental damages, disasters cause psychological and social damages that affect individuals' mental health and wellbeing, as well as relationships within families and communities. Such damages diminish the ability of individuals to function and to cope, qualities that are required to handle the consequences of any disaster in a resilient fashion. Despite existing knowledge regarding implications of disasters for different levels of human systems (individuals, families, communities, and societies), further research is needed to identify the interactions between the types of damages and specific populations – taking into account culture, history, group attributes of resilience, as well as specific instrumental and psychological resources. Researchers will focus on the interaction among these variables and the implication on understanding and assessing the quality of life and welfare of individuals and systems during a disaster, as well as in the short and long-term periods which follow. Special attention is on the implications of natural disasters for 'vulnerable populations' (i.e. children, elderly, women, and people with various types of disabilities). On the theoretical level, researchers attempt to develop research-based definitions of the types and characteristics of vulnerable populations in emergency situations, taking into account variables related to culture, resilience, and resources.
  2. Types of help needed during and after natural and human-made disasters. This activity includes elements of both research and practice. The type of programs that have been used in past emergencies in Israel and abroad are being assessed, attempting to identify the programs that were found effective, analyze the elements of these programs, and develop aid programs that will take into account (a) the type of disaster, (b) the focus of the interventions (individuals, families, institutions within communities, the state), (c) the type of damage (instrumental, psychological, social), and (d) cultural, historical, and policy aspects of disasters and coping mechanisms. The results of this first phase will be presented to policy makers, attempting to train relevant professionals (social workers, community workers, teachers, educational psychologists, nurses, physicians, fire fighters, etc.). The effectiveness of the programs will be evaluated through simulation of its applications in non-disaster situations. The second phase will apply these insights. Based on the evaluations, revisions will be made to the programs. In the event of an actual emergency and implementation of the recommendations, further evaluations will be conducted post-disaster.
  3. Preparations for natural and human-made disasters. These activities were partially described in the previous section. One of the most difficult challenges in evaluating preparation has to do with the multiple elements that affect various social workers and other welfare helpers in providing aid during and after disasters. The Welfare and Social Work group will cooperate with the Public Health and Emergency Medicine group to establish an ethical research design that will make possible the assessment of these impacts and see how to address or minimize them in the pre-disaster preparation phase.
  4. Developing accurate social welfare policy to be implemented during and after natural and human-made disasters. Based on research outcomes (1-3 above), welfare policies for different types of disaster and emergency situations will be developed. To the extent that policies will be implemented, process and outcome evaluations will be put in place.