Fall 2008



Youth Care in the Netherlands: an overview of government policy and program culture


In this lecture, I will take you on a tour of the government policy with regard to Youth Care in the Netherlands, as it was given shape to in the last fifty years. I will describe which developments have been important and have led to the present policy. I will try to make clear to you what the consequences are of that policy for the study programmes in the Netherlands. I will show you the tremendous growth these study programs have experienced. As a starting point, I take the attention for child abuse as it has manifested itself in the last 10 years in the Netherlands.


Is government policy in Youth Care an independent concept? Independent in the sense of separate from social reality? Or is government policy with regard to Youth Care an expression of social reality? Is government policy lagging behind social reality or does  government policy create favourable conditions? The government only too readily wants us to believe that the latter is the case, but the question is whether this is true. Is the game around government, society, committed workers in youth care and developers of study programmes not much more intricate?


Child abuse 


In December 1998, Jan Willems earned his Ph.D. at the Dutch Maastricht University with a thesis entitledWie zal de opvoeders opvoeden”(Who is going to educate the educators?). In his thesis he exposes by means of the UN-Treaty the Rights of the Child the little effective approach of child abuse in the Netherlands. A workshop was organised about this thesis on  October 20,1999. During this workshop professor Van Dantzig asked a question about why there was so little political and social attention for the approach to end child abuse. Making a comparison with women’s emancipation and the gay movement, Van Dantzig thought the answer might lie in the direction of the lack of any extra-parliamentary action for the banning to child abuse. "Everybody is against it and too little happens."

Early 2000, Defence for Children International took the initiative for a meeting to discuss this theme. This resulted in the group RAAK (Reflection and Action group Approach Child Abuse), which will try to give a boost to the social and political discussion and action for the approach of child abuse.

In the first manifest that was written in late 2000 by the initiators of RAAK we find factual evidence that is shocking for the Netherlands:

Every year at least 50.000 children are abused in the Netherlands. At least fifty children die. This involves basic figures. The numbers also depend on the question whether the line is drawn with serious or very serious abuse. And estimating this differs from child to child and from witness (bystander or professional) to witness.

The statement of principles signed by a large number of social and scientific bodies and worked out in detail was as follows:


The approach to end child abuse should be much higher on the political and social agenda. A   lot happens, but not enough by far. That is what the figures show. An attack plan should be drawn up to fight back child abuse. Child abuse is the most serious violation of the UN-Treaty on the Rights of the Child in the Netherlands.(citaition).



A History of Youth Care and Child Protection in the Netherlands

In their overview of youth care and youth policy in the Netherlands, Van Montfoort and Tilanus paint the history of Youth Care and Youth Protection by means of a number of anchor points.

The first orphanage in the Netherlands was founded in Utrecht in 1491. In the 16th Century, many other cities followed this initiative. Initially, the circumstances in the orphanages were bad and of course not comparable to the present standards. Government intervention can be seen in the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th Centuries. From the early 19th Century more and more attention was paid to criminal, neglected and problem children. Orphanages were slowly replaced by houses of correction, where the education of the youngsters was central. This no longer involved day care only, but education was offered too. In that time, parents had complete control over their children and so, could take children from the houses of correction to make them participate in the labor process.

Government intervention finally led to the 1901 Child Protection Legislation being implemented. In these acts the possibility was provided to end parental authority to protect the child. In the acts juvenile penal law was also provided for. The legal foundation of child protection was laid in these acts. We see in child protection as it still holds a clear connection between what is called by Van Montfoort and Tilanus: the endangered child and the dangerous child. A large number of those working in the child protection organisation have duties in the field of juvenile penal law and the child’s civil protection. In 1922 the placing in custody was introduced. With the placing in custody the parental authority was not taken away. It was, and is still used as a preventive measure. With the placing in custody a separate juvenile judge was also introduced in legal practice

Still, the conditions in the boarding schools that the children stayed in were very bad. In the thirties of last century the development of the boarding schools and the work in it stagnated.  Many boarding schools were closed in World War II.

In the period following World War II, child protection was innovated on many fronts. Ample attention was paid to diagnostics, treatment plans, and education methods that focused on specific target groups. Very soon, there were study programs for specialized workers in child protection. However, a clear planning of all these activities was not under discussion immediately after the war. Only in the 60’s this changed. From 1966, we see that a youth policy is gradually developed that affects almost all sectors of society. The government starts talking with the young. Policymaking and policy execution are decentralised to the local authorities.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, criticism on traditional social work to youngsters increased. Social work was reproached for working oppressively. The number of homes quickly decreased in the 70’s and were replaced by smaller units where a kind of family life was established  as much as possible. Social work no longer took place in residential institutions only, rather, there was more emphasis on ambulant forms of social work and early forms of parenting support. Especially, the juridical child protection received much criticism. Criticism on social work and child protection finally led to starting points in 1976 that were formulated for a Youth Services Act. The starting points were, for many politically involved people, too controversial or maybe even too progressive. Existing ideas on what is good for our youngsters and which part the government, social initiative and e.g. the churches had to play in this, could not just be cast to the winds. Only in 1989, did the Youth Services Act become effective.

The Youth Services Act was, as were many acts in post-war Holland, an act based on a number of compromises. The starting points formulated in 1976 can be found in this Act however. The following starting points are at the basis of the Youth Services Act:

1.     The social work has to take place as briefly as possible, as close by as possible and as timely as possible. The effect of this starting point  is much attention for prevention and a preference for ambulant social work over (semi-)residential social work and for foster care over placement in homes. Regionalisation of the youth services was also opted for so that the help could generally be given as close as possible to the home situation.

2.     Voluntary social work is preferred over juridical social work.

3.     Doing away with the compartmentalisation and fragmentation at executive level by intensive cooperation of facilities (the facilities were mentioned by name in the Act and the mentioned facilities were eligible for subsidy).

Although the Act was certainly an important step ahead, grave objections were also attached to it. The limitative summing up of the facilities, e.g. frustrated innovations. In the Act, facilities that were more about public health (youth and child psychiatry) had not been included; neither did facilities for mentally handicapped children get a place in the Act. The connection with youth welfare and education was completely ignored. An even bigger problem occurred, however, with the implementation of the act. The regionalisation and the division of the budgets for youth social work produced endless discussions. The starting point was that the compartmentalisation and fragmentation had to be overcome. Unfortunately, this was never worked out well.

In the political discussion about the realisation and the implementation of the act, by referring to the Treaty on the Rights of the Child a right to youth services was advocated. However, as the Dutch government was afraid of “open end” financing this right was never included, as opposed to the “Children’s Act” in England and the “Kinder- und Jugend Hilfe Gesetz” in Germany.

In reply to the still existing compartmentalisation, fragmentation, and poor organisation of the care for youngsters, in 1994 it was proposed by a government committee to see that youth services, youth protection, and mental healthcare was available for tthe young as a whole. In 1994, the concept of Youth Care was introduced. The municipality’s responsibility for the preventive youth policy was emphasised. The regions remained responsible for the youth services.

In the second half of the 90’s, all over the country Youth Care offices were founded. It is true there was much consultation and cooperation between youth services and youth protection and authorities and health insurance companies in each region, but there was no national attuning. The Youth Care offices differed considerably. Things changed from virtual (as a system of arrangements) to real, and with a great deal of variation in the latter. All initiatives were ultimately brought together in a Youth Care Act.

The Youth Care Act that became effective in 2005 speaks for the first time about a right to Youth Care for youngsters and their parents. The Youth Care office gets a legal basis and is as a result unambiguously organized. There is also a clear division between the Youth Care offices and the care providers. The Youth Care office is to be the central access to the youth services, youth protection, mental healthcare for the young, and the care for youngsters with a slight mental handicap. The funding is adjusted too.

The work of the Youth Care offices concentrates on the deciding what youth care clients need. These clients then choose which institution they want to get the care from. The executors of the work in care become in the new system (for it meanwhile involves drastic changes) care providers with a competitive position towards other care providers. The subsidisation of institutions as it developed in the past is slowly replaced by a system of a fixed price per service.

What stuck after the coming about and implementation of the Youth Services Act discussed above also holds now that existing structures are not simply overthrown. Even in 2003 the government established, in spite of the in 1994 detected compartmentalisation and fragmentation, that youth policy was divided over at least seven ministries. Unity in governmental policy was a long way off. Research into improvements finally led to the setting up of a ministry for Youth and Family. This so-called Program Ministry formulated in 2007 had the ambition to fight back problems with parenting and growing up in our country by means of three main themes:

1.     growing up takes place in a family

2.     converting to prevention: detecting and tackling problems sooner

3.     being non-committal is over

In the policy program attention is paid to family policy, a healthy life style and a healthy youth culture up to and including the streamlining of youth care and youth protection. The center for Youth and Family will be the future contact for all parenting problems in municipalities and quarters. The Youth Care office mentioned before threatens to disappear again before it grew up.


Which trends can we see now in the developments in youth policy?

Van der Laan and Van Montfoort described in 1994 trends in care and welfare and trends in youth care, that are still recognisable today.

1.     The first important trend emerging from the picture painted is of course the increasing government intervention throughout the years. Until the start of World War II (and also in the first 20 years following it) private initiative was the most important decider of policy, even though the word policy is actually out of place here. On the basis of very general guidelines initiatives were developed in our country, causing a hotchpotch of facilities in the field of child protection to come into being. From the second half of the 60’s of last century, government intervention increased. The first building stones for a youth policy can be seen in the Youth Services Act and later all of Youth Care was covered in integral legislation. Working this out in regional youth care offices and Centres for Youth and Families is the latest trend, which tries to cover the whole of youth care.


2.     An important substantial trend is extramuralisation. This is not a trend limited to youth care only. In psychiatry and care of the mentally handicapped we see this too.

Since the 70’s, the policy in Youth Care has been focused on the decreasing of placements into care and on the solving in one’s own environment of problems and childrearing. It is not only a policy issue, but clear choices are also made when the funding is involved. Funding of ambulant help programs and programs aimed at prevention and light, early help get priority. As emphasized before it involves youth services that are “as light as possible, take place as briefly as possible and as close to home as possible”. This principle has for the first time been laid down in the Youth Services Act and is also mentioned in the Youth Care act.

3.     A striking trend is the decentralisation of powers to lower authorities. The already mentioned main trend of increasing government intervention has restrictions when executed. The work in youth care takes place in provinces and municipalities. The national government sets frameworks. Those frameworks, including the accompanying financial basis and allocation of resources (as an example, I mention the setting up of youth care offices and Centres for Youth and Family) can be seen as centrally directed elements in youth care. The execution in provinces and,increasingly in municipalities too, are an example of decentralisation that has not ended yet. It is clear that the more administrative responsibilities are decentralised, the more direction there will be at the executive institutions.

Content of the Youth policy

The government policy in all areas has consequences for parenting and growing up. Youth Care can be seen again in almost all sectors of current society. We see the following important developments that are developed nationally.

·       In the early 60’s the family was seen as the cornerstone of society. After a period when the government interfered less in the family, we now see (in the year 2006) a renewed interest in family policy. Where earlier exploratory notes were still mainly   about the combination of family and participation in the labour market, now attention is mainly paid to childrearing. Parenting support is considered a self-evident basic facility.

·       There is an increasingly profiled policy with regard to the income policy for families with underage children. Educators are entitled to child benefit and a child rebate in income tax. The income development for families with children is relatively more favourable than for households without children.

·       In the social environment much attention is paid to the space young children occupy. One aims at sufficient outside-play space and facilities for sporting activities are situated in the vicinity of where people live.

·       There is, of course, an extensive net of facilities around education. Day-care for children is striven for from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In education itself, much attention is paid to special-needs policy and early school-leaving. Child-care has tremendously increased in size, both demand and supply.

·       A healthy lifestyle is continuously brought to the population’s attention. This does not only involve eating and drinking, but also the promotion of sporting activities. Much attention is paid to the dangers of drug use, smoking and alcohol use.

On municipal level we see policy that is mainly aimed at prevention.

·       Of old Youth Health Care was organised by municipalities.

·       From the early nineties the term parenting support is increasingly used. Programmes with regard to parenting support grow and are developed along lines the way we also see in other countries.

·       In youth work we see a shifting from activities aimed at recreation, encounter, sports and information and advice to more educational activities. One speaks of “local educationalists”.

·       There is permanent attention for youth unemployment.

·       Prevention of youth criminality is an important issue in local policy. Police, justice and bodies of care and welfare closely cooperate in this.

The intention is to coordinate all common activities in the centers for Youth and Family. This center has to become the joining of  local facilities and will also become the coordination point towards the other facilities (such as the youth services and the regional youth care offices). In order not to make the care chain extra long again an electronic child file will be worked with, from 2009 on.,

Youth Care and study programs

It will be clear that the attention for youngsters and the sketched development of youth care resulted in an increasing number of study programs in these areas. Immediately after World War II, the first study programs for specialized workers in child protection came into being. These study programs were followed by programs in the field of youth services and in them more and more specialisations were developed. The study programs started to pay attention to child and youth psychiatry, care of mentally handicapped children, etc. The number of study programs in welfare for day-care of young children increased explosively. Especially in the last group, we also see a permanent call for refresher courses focusing on educational duties. The last 10 years the growth of study programs and students (concurrent with the attention to growing up and parenting policy) only seems to increase. The following figures show the numbers of entering students enrolling with the Educational Studies study programmes in the Netherlands. This involves higher professional education:

Intake fulltime






Fontys Hs.












Hs. Rotterdam






Hs. Utrecht






Hs. van Amsterdam






Hs. van Arnhem en Nijmegen






Noordelijke Hs. Leeuwarden












These figures are illustrative for the whole sector.

Apart from the parallel between the attention in policy and the size of the study programs and number of students we see a clear parallel in the content focus of the study programs

The second trend that has been described here in youth policy is extramuralisation. One works more and more ambulantly and the attention for prevention and parenting support close to the families is increasing. Study programs traditionally focusing more on “special needs” shift their focus to parenting support and prevention and information. We see this development too in the content focus of the master study programs. The Master’s Degree program in Educational Studies in Rotterdam calls itself the master program “Growing up in a big city”. The strong increase in the number of institutions and the need for cooperation between institutions in the Youth Care chain requires also on the professional master level a different study program. From 2003, the professional field insists on professional Master’s Degree programs that can give direction to “change in educational situations”. The links between the executive level and the management and policy-deciding level are now lacking in many cases. Many professional Master’s-programs in Educational Studies focus on positions and work content in that border area.

The described trend with regard to the decentralisation of policy and powers results in creating a demand for professionals who are able to develop on a local level and to give further shape to the work in the centres for Youth and Family in consultation with the local authorities.

I have tried to sketch for you how there is in the Netherlands in the field of Youth Care, a continuous interaction between the executive work and a following government policy, a policy-formulating government, and following executive work. I have described to you the reaction of the study programs to the developments at policy level and at the level of executive work. One important aspect has not yet received the attention it deserves, however, and that is the influence of the social debate on themes in youth care on the policy developments.

I started with the initiative of Defence for Children and the working group RAAK. The attention for child abuse that they put on the political map has led to investigations and to direct action at ministerial level. By the ministry of Youth and Family a number of measures have been announced that have to prevent child abuse in the future. You might also say that it is distressing that things had to go that far.


Much attention for the rust-preventing capacity of the bodywork of cars results in cars lasting longer and not winding up on the scrapheap so soon. As a European and lover of French cars, I was able to follow the whole development at close quarters and to my complete satisfaction! An effect like that is also to be seen in Youth Care.

This is sad; and is the big paradox in Youth policy and Youth Care.

When we look to the described trend of extramuralisation in youth care and the attention for light, ambulant and preventive forms of help, we can indeed establish that these forms of help have been much extended, but at the same time we see that this has not led to a proportional decrease of the number of youngsters in residential facilities. And the number of child protection measures is continuously increasing. Since 1990 the number doubled. In the past years, the capacity of juridical youth institutions has doubled to 2,600 places and according to prognoses of the Ministry of Justice this number will increase to 3,350 in 2010! The number of clinical places in youth and child psychiatry too is still increasing.

In the manifest of the RAAK-group that came up early in this lecture, figures were mentioned for child abuse that were shocking for Dutch society. Even more shocking were the outcomes of extensive national research executed in the following years. Research conducted among professionals by researchers from Leiden University in 2007 shows that in 2005 107,200 children between the ages of 0 and 17 were victims of child abuse. Research by the Free University in Amsterdam among youngsters age 12 to 16, led to an estimate of 160,700 children who have been victim of child abuse. Both investigations are endorsed by the Youth and Family minister. The estimate of 107,200 child abuse cases by the Leiden researchers the minister considers to be a minimum.

You can perhaps predict the reaction to these figures: an action plan has been developed and extra resources are made available. The action plan fits in with the trends mentioned, namely, much attention for prevention and information, small-scaleness in RAAK-regions and attention for high-risk groups. The following starting points have been formulated.

Fighting child abuse comprises:

·       Preventing the occurrence of child abuse.

·       Detecting child abuse as soon as possible when it does occur.

·       Then reacting adequately to this and stopping the abuse, with social work, youth protection, penal law or combinations of it.

·       Of course the harmful effects of the abuse have to be limited as much as possible.

In the Action plan “Children Safe At Home” is described how the ministry is going to tackle child abuse. The five most important activities are:

-       National introduction of the RAAK-approach: on  April 21, 2008 minister Rouvoet kicked it off.

-       Promoting the use of the “reporting-code child abuse”. This is a protocol to support professionals with the detecting of and reacting to (suspicions of) child abuse.

-       A big campaign in late 2008 to make all inhabitants of the Netherlands aware of their  responsibility with the reporting of child abuse.

-       Deploying penal law.

-       Speedier social work for children; this has ground in common with the Better Protected program. Better Protected aims at making the route between the first report of child abuse to the judicial sentence go more quickly.


I may have painted a rather sombre picture of Youth Care in Netherlands. It seems as if I have forgotten the most important trend: there seems to be a direct relationship between the amount of attention and resources for Youth Care and the size of the problems with parenting and growing up. In my opinion, it is our duty that when we speak in our study programs about evidence-based research or practice-based research, we are aware that this should also become visible in social reality.


Laan, G van der. (1994). Van turbulentie tot stroomlijning. Enige beschouwingen over de interventiemix in de zorgsector. Sociale Interventie, 3, 4, pp. 139 – 150.

Montfoort, A.J. van. (1994). Jeugdzorg tussen markt en regie. Sociale interventie, 3, 4, pp. 151 – 163.

Tilanus, C.P.G. en Montfoort A.J. van. (2007). Jeugdzorg en jeugdbeleid. Amsterdam: SWP-uitgeverij,


Reflectie - en Actiegroep Aanpak Kindermishandeling RAAK. (2000). Kindermishandeling. Een zaak van volwassenen.

Willems, J.C.M. (1999). Wie zal de Opvoeders Opvoeden?  Meppel:. Boom,



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