Cabinet to reverse youth care policy to better handle foster care, complex issues

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

The Dutch cabinet is considering a reversal of its policy of decentralizing youth care services following a harshly critical report from the Health and Youth Care Inspectorate. The report, produced with the Ministry of Justice and Security, said that staffing levels in the sector are far too low making it difficult or impossible for families to get help in dealing with either complex issues, or a multitude of issues.

In a letter to parliament on Thursday, Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge and Legal Protection Minister Sander Dekker said they believe youth care should be placed in the hands of 42 existing regions specialized in youth care. Those needing help addressing specialist health issues like anorexia, and also foster care services, will be the first to receive care from the more centralized system, according to NRC.

"As a municipality, you should not want to handle that yourself," De Jonge was quoted as saying by the paper.

The cabinet ministers stopped short of calling decentralization a failure. "That does not do justice to what has been achieved," he said to the paper.  "But I would not dare to say that it is going well. It is not going well." 

The cabinet pushed through policy that took effect in 2015 which made municipalities responsible for youth aid, youth protection, and rehabilitation for young people up to 23 years of age. The government decided that municipal institutions were better positioned to address the specific needs of children living in their territories.

However, the cities were unprepared for the rise in youth care patients, and the higher costs involved. Some 428 thousand children were in contact with care services last year, equivalent to about ten percent of the country's youth. 

It led to a large strike by care workers in the Netherlands in September, who walked off the job for the first time in Dutch history. Their complaints of understaffing and long wait times were not satisfied by the cabinet's pledge to pump an extra billion euros into the system over the next three years, because the government would not commit to any structural budget increases beyond 2022.