Research: System to identify at-risk children failing

The national IT system care workers use to to exchange information about at-risk children, does not work. The system is unclear, hardly ever provides caregivers with new relevant information and is often seen as an administrative burden.

This is the conclusion of Inge Lecluijze in her PhD thesis at Maastricht University, the Volkskrant reports. She has been following the use and effectiveness this so-called Reference Index for At-Risk Youths. "It is highly questionable whether the gain outweighs the time and money the reference index costs", Lecluijze writes.

The Reference Index was introduced five years ago with the aim of putting an end to multiple caregivers - from teachers to doctors to police officers - working at cross purposes with the same child with out knowing about the others existence. Caregivers are expected to report risks to the healthy development of a child. If two caregivers report on the same child, a match is made and the professionals can then consult with each other about possible solutions. According to the Volkskrant, the approximately 200 thousand annual reports on the system, leads to some 26 thousand matches.

One of the problems Lecluijze found with the system, is that different types of caregivers have different ideas about what an at-risk child is. "A teacher at an elementary school interprets it differently to a youth worker in a disadvantaged neighborhood who daily sees teens drinking or using drugs." Another problem is the broad list of criteria the government gave caregivers to assess whether a child is at-risk. "But the criteria are formulated so broadly that almost every child should be registered as at risk."

An evaluation report commissioned by the Ministry of Public Health early this year came to similar conclusions. According to the newspaper, it states that three quarters of the matches made were between caregivers who already had contact with each other about a particular child. And a match only led to actual action in 10 percent of the cases.