It was an unlikely place, it might seem, for both such a conference and its major sponsors. But for two days the Israel-based Haruv Institute, the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network ran a two-day gathering on child abuse for 85 child maltreatment professionals.
The Haruv Institute, founded by the Schusterman Foundation-Israel in 2007, seeks to develop knowledge and advanced training programs for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect within families.
With this week’s conference, the institute is trying to position itself as an international leader in combating the maltreatment of children.
“Hopefully, down the line Haruv will be to the teaching and training of prevention of child abuse what the Weizmann Institute is to science,” said Lynn Schusterman, benefactor of the Schusterman Foundation.
At the heart of the effort is forging what leading academics in the field agree has been an elusive partnership of research, public policy and field practice for professionals dealing with maltreated children. The broad category covers physical and sexual abuse as well as neglect. In fact, the 13 academics who gave public talks last week gathered for a private meeting the day before to discuss how to better disseminate knowledge from their areas of research to practitioners in the field.
Between 700,000 and 900,000 reports of child maltreatment in the United States are reported each year, Richard Gelles, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, said at the conference. Estimates including non-reported incidents can reach as high as 3 million annually, he said.
Haruv’s director, Asher Ben-Arieh, said Haruv in the coming year will initiate a mentoring program for eight Israelis and eight American young researchers, each of whom will be matched with two well-known experts.
“Our main goal was to lay the basis for future collaboration between the U.S. and Israel, and I feel we got it,” said Ben-Arieh.
Such initiatives are critical on numerous levels, according to Neil Guterman, dean of the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. “Child maltreatment is a primary source of many of the deepest social problems that we face, whether it’s crime or substance abuse or mental illness,” Guterman said in an interview.
“We now know that children’s maltreatment also has a significant impact on all the major medical and health outcomes, and even strongly predicts life expectancy. Given this, we should all pay attention because it’s a huge drain on our economy and broader well-being.”
While the conference did not have a specific Jewish component, for many of the participants and its organizers, the broader application of Jewish values was clear.
Schusterman said her passion for the topic is “totally Jewish” and goes back to when she moved to Tulsa as a newlywed nearly five decades ago and began volunteering at a police-run shelter through the National Council of Jewish Women.
“I vowed that when we could, we would put money into these efforts,” she said of herself and her late husband, Charles.
Guterman, who did post-doctoral work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the 1992-93 academic year, said the reason he went into the field is “because of our own collective historical experience with traumatic victimization.”
“So it’s not a surprise that there are a number of Jews in a field dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable,” he said. “To me this work is a form of tikkun olam,” repair of the world.