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“When you started out it was fun, you could make a difference and mean so much to the child and family in such a short amount of time,” says youth protector Sabrina Bogguls-LeBron. She was a young garrison in Rotterdam for 9 years. “But it has changed to a desk job where you often have to say ‘no’ and make it clear that due to circumstances there is no help now.” LeBron Pujols sees her colleagues pulling out in turn due to the high workload in her area.
In a letter to Parliament, Minister Weerwind (Legal Protection) and Minister of State Van Ooijen (Youth Welfare) acknowledged that Youth Welfare is struggling with staff shortages and many complex issues, and as a result with a large workload. Parliament discussed it today.
The Council of Ministers has promised an additional 40 million euros for the next four years and wants municipalities to follow suit. The amount – 80 million in total – is intended for institutions providing protection and rehabilitation of young people.
Children end up protecting the youth if the judge interferes with the family’s situation. For example, a child could be placed under supervision or the parents removed from parental authority.
Ministers say they want to focus on measures that work in the short and long term. In the short term, the government must therefore add an additional 10 million euros annually to reduce the workload, over four years. In the long run, the youth welfare system needs reform. But how to do this is not yet clear.
Arina Kreithof, Rotterdam-Regenmond Youth Protection Manager, is happy with the extra money. However, the intended steps are not yet concrete enough regarding it. “There are many measures we agree with, but I miss their urgency. These measures need to be introduced tomorrow and not just after an investigation or inventory is done.”
The Dutch Youth Welfare Organization has already declared in an initial response yesterday that the measures are insufficient with regard to the organisation. “We are essentially reading the agreements that will follow ‘this fall’, a plan of action that remains to be drawn up, a non-binding guide, a conversation, an ‘exploration’ into ‘possibility’, and an inventory of the daunting challenges ahead.”
More responsibility, fewer opportunities
Young worker Pujulus LeBron worries that the extra money in the short term will give the sector little air. Since 2015, municipalities have been responsible for organizing youth welfare, which includes youth protection. According to Pujols Lebron, that was not successful.
“After decentralization, the pressure on us only increased. The lightest form of assistance is being provided by neighborhood teams. This ensures that we get the heavy cases,” she explains. Youth Protection specializes in this. But according to LeBron Pujols, there is now a lot of work to be done with very few young protectors. “You now have more responsibility with fewer opportunities to help.”
This frustrates her and her colleagues, Pujols-LeBron says. “This responsibility grabs you by the throat, you see the kids and the parents get put at risk and you can’t do anything.”
According to Pujols Lebron, feeling helpless is causing more young workers to drop out. “Many colleagues can see it more and leave the sector.” “You have sleepless nights and worry about the weekends whether it will go well,” she continues. Pujols Lebron: “Everyone protects themselves so you can stay upright.”
In addition, Pujols Lebron says she often now has to “squeeze” for money to help a child. “We started social work on the basis of idealism, not arguing with the municipality about whether or not something was paid.”
“You have to see them regularly.”
In a letter to Parliament, the Cabinet wrote yesterday that children now “must wait a long time” to be appointed Protector of Youth. This further threatens their development, putting the safety of the child and family at risk.
“Conversations with the children themselves are getting less and less,” answers LeBron Pujols. “Whereas, if you want to help a child well, you should see him regularly. The child deserves to really get to know him and offer help from there.”
Director Arina Kreithof shares those concerns. “Speed is needed now. The workload is so high that young protectors cannot do the right thing for vulnerable children.” She says a maximum of nine families should be allocated to protect young people, so that they have more time for each family.
Kruithof also believes there should be a national framework for how many families have a garrison under them, and how much money it might cost. She concluded, “The government intervened with these families, and the judge said that these families need help. Therefore, the government itself cannot fail.”