Not going to school because of autism, giftedness or because you are bullied. In the Haarlem region, around a hundred students are forced to stay at home. It is a problem for the parents, but also for the school. That’s why there is now Kennemer Kids, a new organization aimed at home caregivers.
‘An intermediate step and shelter between home and school’, Kennemer Kids founder Sarah Berkhout (41) calls her new organization, which has been active since this week.
“We are based in a classroom in an old school building at Nova College in Haarlem-Noord. It is a suitable place. Here, among other things, we have started a day activity for young people who sit at home, with space for 6 children per day (max 18 per week). We can also guide and coach home carers, with the aim of getting them back to school.”
According to Vereniging Balans (a national organization for parents of children who need extra guidance with learning or upbringing), there are around 15,000 children at home throughout the Netherlands. The organization explains how difficult it is for parents to keep a child at home.
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“School is the norm, and if you leave your child at home, you are in violation. It is a very big step not to let a child go to school,” says a spokesman for Balans. “Also consider the financial aspect, some parents have to work less to supervise the child.”
So why do parents choose it? “We see it, among other things, with children on the autistic spectrum or with giftedness. If they have to go out every day in an environment where they don’t fit in, which in some cases is detrimental to the child’s well-being, a parent can still make that choice No matter how difficult it is,’ says Balans.
“My son was bullied so much that I chose to leave him at home”
Haarlem Sibel Özoğul-Özen chose years ago to keep her son at home. “He was bullied so much at the elementary school in Haarlem (the name of the school is known to the editors) that I saw it as the only way out.”
That choice brought her into contact with education officials—her son had an obligation to teach, after all—and it eventually turned into a lawsuit. At first she lost that case. But on appeal, Özoğul-Özen was right, because according to the court, the parents’ duty of care outweighed the duty to go to school.
The case of Özoğul-Özen is extreme. Her son has never found a connection through his school years, suffers from mental disorders and is currently in a GGZ program for trauma support.
According to Özoğul-Özen, there should therefore be an organization that ‘also accompanies the parents’.
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Together with the school and the child, parents form the important ‘triangle’ for Kennemer Kids. According to Berkhout, the home carers are often mentally tired, do not feel heard and have arrears. The step of going back to school is often a big one.
“They think they are the only ones. By letting them work here together with fellow sufferers on their well-being through sports, creativity, play and nature, we think they relax. Because a less busy head and that gives room for growth,” Berkhout said.
“This is really the intermediate step between home and school”
Nevertheless, there is already such a thing as special education, so what else does Kennemer Kinds offer? “That special education is also education, and they stick to it,” says coach Rosalinda de Haan of Kennemer Kids. “We’re not a school. Sure, we teach school skills, but this is really a step between home and school. We make them feel comfortable again.”
From February 1, the old classroom in the old Nova College building will be filled with six children every day. With sports, games and nature they learn to find joy in education again.
According to figures from Haarlem municipality, there were 73 home carers in the 2021-2022 school year in Zuid-Kennemerland and the Ijmond region. Of these, 14 young people have been helped, and the municipality has identified the remaining 59 home carers.
To tackle this problem, the municipality works together with partners such as CJG (Central Youth and Family), GGD and of course also with the parents and the young person in question.
Every two months, the home sitters on the list are discussed again by Partnerships, Leerplein and, where necessary, with CJG, GGD or other partners to offer solutions. In some cases, the problem is that an offer is not seen as appropriate by the parents. Sometimes help is needed first. The municipality sees that an appropriate adaptation is required in the individual case, and the municipality also tries to offer that as best as possible.
Where can children with problems go?
The Appropriate Education Act imposes a duty of care on school boards. This means that schools are obliged to create a suitable teaching place for pupils who need extra support.
Sarah Berkhout is also care coordinator at Hageveld College in Heemstede. If a mentor identifies a problem, she will be called in.
If the problem has to do with the family situation, the Youth and Family Center comes to help. If the child is truant, is too often late or is absent, the headmaster is called. Both bodies are part of the municipality.
If appropriate education is to be found for the child, the school will work together with Het Collaboration. The thing about Hageveld College is that the South Kennemerland Partnership. This organization is very busy. That was one of the reasons why Berkhout created Kennemer Kids.