Significant decline in the influx of children into youth protection: better help or lack of staff?

Last year, more than 16 percent fewer children were placed under supervision or guardianship or were removed from their homes than in 2019. In 2021, 7,910 new children entered youth protection, according to Statistics Netherlands Youth Monitor. The decline was sharpest for babies and toddlers, 1,365 of whom were at such a risk to their safety or development that the judge ordered a restraining order. A total of 41,000 young people received youth protection, 1.4 percent less than in 2015.

CBS finds it difficult to look ‘under the hood’ and assess whether this decline is good or bad news, says spokesperson Tanja Traag. Is it a result of waiting times in youth care, or were children really safer in 2021 than two years before?

Ungdomspleje Holland also has no decisive explanation for the decline. “There are big regional differences,” says a spokesman. “The neighborhood team works better in one municipality than elsewhere, and those teams must prevent measures from being necessary.” A municipality like Raalte, for example, has a low proportion of youth care with 5.9 percent of young people, Tiel scores high with 18.8 percent. Amsterdam and The Hague are around the national average with 10.5 and 10.9 percent respectively, scoring low with 7.8 percent and Utrecht high with 13.3 percent.

Successful youth care should prevent the introduction of youth protection measures. In 2021, 450,000 parents and children received support for psychological, psychosocial or behavioral problems, a developmental disability in the young person or the parents’ parenting problems. This is much more than in 2015, when there were still 363,000 youth care recipients.

waiting lists

But the lower inflow could just as well be the result of failed aid. According to the spokesman for Youth Care Holland, this can be explained by waiting lists at the Child Protection Board, the body that refers families to youth care. Another explanation could be that judges do not impose a measure because they do not have confidence that it can be implemented due to staff shortages in youth protection. “But all this is not yet settled.”

The staffing problems in youth care are primarily due to heavy specialist medical care. Last year, the cabinet made 225 million euros available to reduce waiting times in specialized youth care, but State Secretary Van Ooijen had to admit in March that it did not have an immediate effect.

Meanwhile, the ‘explosive growth in the number of confrontational divorces’, according to the experts questioned by CBS, is a threat to the continuity of youth protection. It is estimated that around 6000 children are affected by this every year.

Two-thirds of the families supervised by youth protection officers are divorced. The parents of 92 percent of the young people who have been placed under supervision or have been removed from their homes are divorced. “Additionally, there is an association between youth protection measures with parents accessing specialist mental health services, often in the context of a divorce.” For youth guardians, these are extremely work-intensive families. According to the trade union FNV, 5,000 extra youth protectors are needed to bring the current workload back to normal proportions.

Positive signals

The youth monitor also reports a number of positive signals about young people’s well-being: There are fewer reports of domestic violence in Trygt Hjem, and fewer children grow up in a family on social assistance. In addition, crime is falling among young people, and they are less likely to be victims of a crime. There are also fewer young people with a youth supervision measure. The job market for young people is improving and they have stopped using drugs in 2021.

However, this has not led to an improvement in the young people’s well-being in the past year, which surprised spokesperson Tanja Traag. “Perhaps the consequences of the corona year are still lingering. Young people have been bent for a long time, but at some point the stretch is gone.”

Young adults, and especially girls, were less likely to be happy in 2021, less likely to be satisfied with their lives and scored lower on average on personal well-being than a year earlier. In addition, for the first time, young adults score lower than people aged 25 or older on all three aspects. In 2021, their personal well-being decreased in terms of self-confidence, social life, health, financial future and education and occupation. They also had less weekly social contact with family, friends or neighbors and more often experienced strong feelings of emotional loneliness.

“The question now is when they will come back, but the world has changed in the meantime,” says Traag. “Because of the European war, the nitrogen crisis and the housing shortage, it may take a while.”

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