Statement | Child out of the house in case of trouble? Invest in family care

Sam is seventeen years old. His father has worked a lot and not a lot at home since he was little. Sam can get very angry out of the blue. He used to have that. In second grade, he was the only boy who pounded his fists furiously on the door. In seventh grade, Sam started gym class, but he had trouble concentrating and made the wrong friends. He no longer sees many of these friends, they are in prison. Not Sam. He lives in a juvenile facility and considers himself lucky with the trauma therapy he receives there. His head is less full and he can learn better again.

Sam’s mother often asked for help when he was little, but help never really came. Remarkable, because what would have happened if Sam’s mother had gotten that help? Had he also lived in a youth institution? Was he still in high school? And had he also attempted suicide when he was fifteen?

The view of youth care must change drastically. Let’s stop ‘youth care’ and focus on ‘family care’. Helping parents instead of just helping children. This is a solution that remains underexposed in the current debate, which is mainly about staff shortages and lack of financial resources.

Symptom treatment

The focus on family care is necessary because children’s behavior problems usually stem from the parents’ problems. Sam’s tantrums were triggered by trauma. And the basis of that trauma is not with Sam, but with his parents. Research into 46 children living in a youth institution shows that 72 percent of them have problems with their parents. Parents struggle with debt, mental health issues or an addiction. As a result, they cannot always look after their children properly. Now all too often symptomatic treatment is carried out. For example, guys like Sam get “aggression management therapy” instead of trauma therapy. Or even better: instead of helping parents with their problems.

Also read: Child protection does not help children to a better home situation

The health care system is not designed to provide family care. The Youth Act addresses problems caused in other areas such as work and income, debt relief, housing, psychiatric care for adults and substance abuse care. With the ultimate goal of placing children in care. What if we replace the Youth Act with a Family Act? A law where zero deprivation of liberty is the goal. So those involved do everything they can to prevent custody. For example, by mapping the entire family’s problems and concerns. By introducing a family budget instead of up to four separate cash flows for a family. By giving parents priority on the waiting list in psychiatry. And with an ultimatum to (temporarily) place the parents out of the home instead of the children.

Network collaboration

When Minister Weerwind (Legal Protection, D66) and State Secretary Van Ooijen (VWS, ChristenUnie) are back in the room to explain their plan for youth care, it would be good if they are aware of a family law as an alternative to Youth. Action. But even without a political stick behind the door, we can start offering family help to families like Sam’s. It requires network collaboration involving not only youth care, but also experts in addiction, psychiatric care for adults, welfare, work and income, housing and debt relief. Where there is one familiar face involved in each family, instead of fifteen well-intentioned professionals working across the board. Where professionals ask questions and listen to children and parents. As a result, parents feel heard and dare to share their own concerns. A world where parents accept help because it actually helps them move forward and not out of fear of more serious measures such as detention.

Family support as a solution is more complex than releasing financial resources or recruiting new youth guardians, but it provides a more structural solution. It must be used. For Sam. And for all the 43,999 children who have been placed in care in the Netherlands.

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