The Youth Protection System has not been successful in guiding parents and children with serious problems to a better and healthier home situation. This makes it difficult to justify government interference in family situations – a serious method. This is what researchers from Leiden University said Wednesday in a critical assessment report on the Child Protection Measures Review Act. “Government may in fact only intervene in the case of the family if the situation improves,” says Marielle Bruning, professor of juvenile law and lead author of the assessment report.
More than 10 per cent of Dutch youth under the age of 18 received some form of youth sponsorship last year. These may be situations in which parents receive help at home on a voluntary basis to bring up their children. But there are also families in which there are many problems that threaten the development of the child. Until the end of 2021, 32,000 children were covered by youth protection, 1 percent of all young people under 18 years of age.
Families where parents cannot care for their children may be placed under supervision. If safe home status is not established after years, parents can permanently lose custody of their children. The juvenile court always has the final say in these proceedings.
Not enough help
In practice, it is often impossible to provide adequate help to the child and parents in a timely manner due to waiting lists, lack of staff and foster families, for example. As a result, juvenile court judges must base their decision on whether or not to remove a child from their home based on how long it has been since they have been placed under supervision, not on whether the support provided to family members has been effective – in law there is a term during which supervision is transferred temporary loss of parental authority.
According to Bruning, juvenile court judges have become less emboldened in recent years to move forward with termination of custody, the most severe precaution, because many lighter interventions cannot be attempted. This often means “choosing between two evils”: keeping parents who have had little help away from their children or allowing the child to return to an unhealthy home setting, researcher Browning says.
The researchers also concluded that the legal position of fathers and sons is weak. According to them, this can be best seen in the so-called foreseeable decision, where youth protection institutions make a decision about where the child should remain until they reach adulthood. This decision is applied by the young mother-in-law when the child is taken out of the house, but it has no legal basis. For example, youth protection institutions can decide that a child must remain in a foster family until the age of eighteen rather than return to the parental home.
How this decision was made is often shrouded in mystery. Neither the parents nor the children can oppose such a decision before the institution or the juvenile court. Browning: “It is very strange that such a drastic decision cannot be reconsidered by a court.”
With regard to her and her fellow researchers, this also applies to the implementation of the guardianship procedure: when a young defender makes a decision, the parents (adoptive) and children cannot challenge it in court. Consider calling the parents or moving to another nursing home.
Another form of living
The assessment, which took about a year and a half and was conducted on behalf of WODC, the knowledge center of the Department of Justice and Security, shows that in no way do all protectors move to another form of housing in a timely manner. Juvenile court, even if legally required. Bruning’s impression that “Young custodians find the law too complex”, which could partly be due to the fact that their training does not teach them to think legally.
She also sees this in the emergence of a system within youth welfare where families are urged by youth guardians to accept help “on a voluntary basis” before measures are taken. This is also not regulated by law, which makes it obscure the rights and obligations of parents and children. “The protectors of youth are very hostile to the law, but we lawyers believe that the law can also help the protector of youth,” the professor said.
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In line with this, the evaluation report questions the role of the Child Protection Board, which reviews the decisions of youth protectors. When the Youth Protection Foundation decides on the basis of a file that the family should be placed under supervision, the Child Protection Board must issue an independent opinion on that proposal – usually on the basis of the Foundation’s own file. Then the judge decides what action to take. Browning: “So you have three organizations that have something to say about one metric. The question is whether this is effective.”
It is not without reason that the legislator has decided that “independent evaluation is necessary” on a procedure that violates family life, the Council responds to Norwegian Refugee CouncilYes, the judge is independent as well, but “you cannot ask them to supervise the entire situation in the family during a short period of the hearing. That is why the judge needs an independent opinion.”
According to the council, the biggest problem is that municipalities have been responsible for youth welfare since 2015. The organization points to the decentralization of the Youth Act in 2015, which turned out to be disastrous: demand for care grew against all expectations, and costs spiraled out of control. As a result, the availability of help for children has deteriorated.
“We felt that the system had abandoned us for a long time,” says the young Limburg protector, Frans Clasens (57). For a long time, his work was about finances, permissions, codes, and hours rather than people. According to him, it regularly happens that if a juvenile court judge judges the need for assistance, the municipality does not buy it for financial reasons. And if the necessary care is purchased, according to Claessens, the municipalities will still be involved, for example, with the duration of treatment. “It’s strange, so you’re going against the court’s decision,” says Professor Browning.
to the empire
all concerned Norwegian Refugee Council They have spoken out and advocated for central regulation and funding for the care of children with the biggest problems. In short: the national government must protect young people once again. The coalition agreement of the Cabinet Rutte IV stipulates that half a billion euros must be deducted for youth welfare.
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“The most stupid cut you can think of,” FNV manager Mike van der Ar replies. “If you want to save this sector, you must not let the people who are still out there fall.” At the beginning of July, the union sent Minister Frank Werwind (Legal Protection, D66) an ultimatum in which it is structurally required an additional 400 million euros for youth protection. Research has shown that 5,000 new young protectors are needed to ease the sector’s workload. An objective and timely response from the minister was not forthcoming, and the ultimatum expired on August 19.
“The absolute majority of our members indicated they wanted action,” van der Ar says. This means that action will be taken “even before budget day”, including warnings for an indefinite period. “We are not going to give up on real crises, but it does mean that others will have to wait longer for help.”