“When I started, it was fun work, you could make a difference and mean a lot to a child and a family in a short amount of time,” says youth defender Sabrina Pujols Lebron. She has been a youth worker in Rotterdam for 9 years. “But it has changed to a desk job, where you often have to say no and explain that due to circumstances there is no help now”. Pujols Lebron finds colleagues dropping out of shifts due to the high workload in her area.
In a letter to Parliament, Minister Weerwind (legal protection) and State Secretary Van Ooijen (youth care) acknowledge that youth care is struggling with staff shortages and many complex cases and, as a result, with a high workload. Today Parliament debated it.
The government promised 40 million euros extra for the next four years and wants the municipalities to do the same. The money – 80 million in total – is intended for institutions that provide youth protection and youth rehabilitation.
Children end up in youth protection if a judge has interfered in the family situation. For example, a child may be placed under supervision or parents may be removed from custody.
The ministers say they will focus on measures that work in the short and long term. In the short term, the government must therefore provide an additional 10 million euros per year to reduce the workload, over a period of four years. In the longer term, youth care will need an overhaul. But how this is to be done is not yet clear.
Arina Kruithof, director at Youth Protection Rotterdam Rijnmond, is happy about the extra money. However, the intended steps are not yet concrete enough as far as she is concerned. “It contains many measures that we agree on, but I miss the rush. Those measures must be introduced tomorrow and not until after an investigation or inventory”.
Ungdomspleje Holland already announced in a first response yesterday that the measures are insufficient for the organization. “We mainly read agreements that follow ‘in the autumn’, an action plan that still needs to be drawn up, a non-binding guide, a conversation, an ‘exploration’ of the ‘possibility’, an inventory. the enormous challenges that lie ahead.
Greater responsibility, fewer opportunities
Youth worker Pujols Lebron fears that the extra money in the short term will give the sector too little air. Since 2015, the municipalities have been responsible for organizing youth care, which includes youth protection. According to Pujols Lebron, it has not been a success.
“After decentralisation, the pressure on us has only increased. The lighter form of assistance is provided by neighboring teams. This ensures that we get the heavier cases,” she explains. Youth protection is specialized in this. But according to Pujols Lebron, there is now too much work to do with too few youth protectors. “You now have a greater responsibility with fewer opportunities to help.”
It leads to frustration among her and her colleagues, says Pujols Lebron. “That responsibility grabs you by the throat, you see children and parents perish, and you can’t do anything.”
According to Pujols Lebron, the feeling of powerlessness causes more youth workers to drop out. “Many colleagues may see it more and leave the sector.” She continues: “You have sleepless nights and worry at the weekend if it’s going well”. Pujols Lebron: “Everybody protects themselves so you can stay upright.”
In addition, Pujols tells Lebron that she now often has to ‘lobby’ for money to help a child. “We started doing social work based on idealism, so as not to argue with a municipality about whether something has been paid or not”.
‘You must see them regularly’
In the letter to parliament yesterday, the government wrote that children now “have to wait too long” until they are appointed youth protectors. This threatens their further development with the result that the safety of the child and the family is at risk.
“The conversations with kids themselves are getting less and less,” Pujols Lebron replies. “Whereas, if you want to help a child well, you have to see them regularly. A child deserves to really get to know them and offer help from there.”
Director Arina Kruithof shares those concerns. “Speed is needed now. The workload is so incredibly high that youth protectors cannot do the right thing for the vulnerable children.” She argues that youth protectors should be assigned a maximum of nine families, so that they get more time per family.
Kruithof also believes that there should be a national framework for the number of families that have a guardian under them and how much money it must cost. “The government has intervened against these families, the judge has said that those families need help. Then the same government cannot fail,” she concludes.