Youth care strike: Workers demand solutions to staff shortages, waiting lists

Child playing with chalk
Child playing with chalkPhoto: halfpoint/DepositPhotos

A large part of the 30 thousand youth care workers in the Netherlands are striking on Monday, for the first time in Dutch history. They demand that the government provide solutions for problems caused by budget cuts and decentralization in the past years. Staff shortages lead to heavy workloads and waiting lists for children who need help, reports.

Youth care, which covers youth aid, youth protection, and youth rehabilitation for young people up to the age of 23, became the responsibility of municipalities instead of the national government in 2015. The idea was that municipal institutions will be better able to work together to give the kids in their municipality the help they need. 

But municipalities are struggling to keep up with the increasing demand and costs involved in youth care. Last year almost one in ten kids were in contact with youth care in one way or another. That is a total of 428 thousand children, Statistics Netherlands reported earlier this year. Multiple institutions have sounded the alarm. "We do not understand that the government continues to ignore all those signals, all those cries for help", FNV director Maaike van der Aar said to

The association of Dutch municipalities VNG recently warned that municipalities will have to make budget cuts in other areas if the government does not make more money available for youth care. Some municipalities are already considering drastic measures, such as closing libraries or cutting back on road maintenance. The government recently announced that a total of nearly 1 billion euros extra will be pushed into youth care over the next three years. But this is just a one-time investment and not structural financial support. This amount is not enough to fill the holes, unions FNV and CNV warned.

Earlier this year Children's Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer warned that the problems in youth aid, youth protection, youth mental health care, and suitable education are only getting bigger. She received many signals that vulnerable children are not getting the aid they need. Waiting lists are rapidly getting longer, to the extent that children are sometimes left in acutely dangerous situations for weeks at a time. The problems that decentralization were set to solve, have only increased, she said.

Youth court judges also sounded the alarm about the shortage of youth care workers and rapidly increasing waiting lists. 

According to FNV director Van der Aar, the direness of the situation is shown by the youth care workers' willingness to strike. "Youth care workers will always put their clients first. But that is also one of the problems in the sector. Out of loyalty, everyone pushes through all the time, even when the limits have already been reached. The gaps have been filled for a long time by working yet a little harder, even when the working day is over or if there is no extra money for it. But they've been stretched enough, The Hague must really start moving. Otherwise things will soon go very wrong and we will head for a disaster", she said to the newspaper. 

The Netherlands currently has around 30 thousand youth care workers. According to union FNV, they can barely cope with the work. Absenteeism and staff turnover are high in the sector. Absenteeism stands at 18 percent. And 50 percent of new workers quit again within a year due to the heavy workload and relatively low wages. As a result, the sector is aging rapidly. Many employees will retire in the coming years. "So you not only lose hands, but also knowledge and collective memory", Van der Aar said. "These are very important, certainly in this profession. A sector like this cannot run solely on inexperienced people."

"People's own strength are counted on more and more. But some groups just can't do it", Van der Aar said to the newspaper. "The number of disturbed people on the street is increasing, the number of homeless people has doubled, mental health care cannot cope with the workload, education is struggling with a chronic shortage of manpower. Its nice that [Prime Minister Mark Rutte] wants to give our country more prosperity. But what good is it if it comes with a terrible diminishing of so many children's  wellbeing?"