Dutch News

6 March 2014
The participation society: Dutch innovations in youth- and family care

The weekly De Groene Amsterdammer published an interesting article about innovation in the Dutch welfare state. In an age where the Dutch authorities want to push citizens into a so-called ‘participation society’, in some places this almost happens by itself. In Zaanstad, a small town just outside Amsterdam, proud inhabitants of a migrant area do not want their neighbourhood and its population to degenerate. A breeding ground for innovative social initiatives.

The change was initiated by Monique, a youth work coordinator at the local community centre. Her task was to stimulate cooperation between all the different youth work departments and organisations. And to involve the people. Especially the Dutch Turkish inhabitants were afraid of the youth care organisations, because they have the idea their children would be taken away without any clear reason.


Monique changed this by going into the neighbourhood with her colleagues and get in touch with the migrants. They selected and trained ‘contact women’ from the communities that help the youth care to bring across plans and policies in a far more personal way. The youth teams also asked parents what they needed and wanted themselves. Soon it came out that the wishes of the communities often did not correspond with the plans from the authorities. The new formula works, even for very problematic families. This innovative ‘broad neighbourhood team’ formula is now introduced throughout the Netherlands.  


According to Monique it was not easy to get cooperation from all the different care organisations. They had to detach one staff member to the neighbourhood team without any extra budget, with the goal to partly give away while losing part of the control. But it worked and now more of these teams have been established in other neighbourhoods to get more experience with the new approach. It is not the idea to  strive for a uniform method. On the contrary. The idea is that the method varies and that the approach is different in every neighbourhood. Monique: ‘these are all sort of experimental gardens and the city hall of Zaanstad had a lot of guts to agree to do this’.


Instead of helping a family with many different organisations, now the ‘broad neighbourhood team’ has all the different expertise in one group, which makes live much simpler for the families. What also has changed is that the team always starts with looking at the capacities of a family and its surroundings. Monique: ‘Often strength, help and solutions can be found in the close environment of a family. Help from other family members, social networks and in the neighbourhood’.


The new approach, just asking inhabitants what they think of something, has surprising effects. Monique explains that the youngsters often have a very bad imago, but practically nobody knows how much voluntary work they do. ‘After the establishment of the new youth team, I went to two Turkish and an African youth group and asked them what I could do for them. They told me that wanted to learn more about the social care system, facilities and activities. So I took a group to some of the social organisations. There they were so surprised, they almost fell of their chairs: ‘what a friendly and nice boys!’ It turned out that these organisations clearly never got in touch with these youngsters.’ These youth organisations now even help the police, by accompanying youngsters that are just released from jail.  


A beautiful example is the neighbourhood garden. An undeveloped piece of land on the border of Zaandam is now developed into the neighbourhood garden. And like it should be in the new network -civil- society, the plans are developed by the community. In the special neighbourhood community centre, just in an ordinary house, many ideas for the layout of the garden were discussed. Monique was impressed by the way the, mostly Turkish participants, managed to think about the process. Instead of losing time with making plans, they group decided to just start in the middle of the undeveloped piece of land and create a meeting point, with a huge sign stating that it is the garden for all inhabitants of the neighbourhood.


Monique: ‘the way the neighbourhood garden is realised, has the potential to make the community a lot stronger. More proud of itself, and more possibilities to meet others and to cooperate. Proud inhabitants will fight degradation of the area and will not neglect the neighbours. (…) We try to urge on ‘social power circles’, which make the neighbourhood stronger and the social workers less important.’ A very good example of the new ‘bottom-up’ civil society, and an interesting development in an age the Dutch authorities want the citizens to participate.



The Netherlands' bid to trim its welfare state






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