Things have been quiet since the presentation of the report on abuse in the youth care sector. ‘Deafeningly quiet’ in fact, thinks Rieke Samson, chair of the committee that presented the report in October 2012. ‘This is only partly true’, counters Greetje Timmerman, Professor of Youth Sociology at the University of Groningen, ‘there is also an opportunity to improve youth care in the short term on the basis of thorough research.’
‘There is clearly a will to do so. The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences [HBO-raad] has already discussed modifications to the training programmes for youth care workers and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport
has also voiced its desire to set up improvement programmes. An important cause of abuse in youth care is group dynamics: more than half of the abuse reported involved sexually deviant behaviour among children and adolescents themselves. Group leaders often lack the expertise to distinguish between normal juvenile behaviour and coercive and inappropriate conduct.’
‘Little is known about group dynamics as yet, but research on this phenomenon could result in interesting knowledge and insights in the short term. The results could be incorporated in training modules for degree programmes and extra training for the group leaders. The research should also try to discover how group processes can be influenced. An obvious experiment would be to start up single-sex groups. Does separating boys and girls result in a safer environment? The Samson report revealed that opinions are divided on this question. Some care workers want to separate the girls from the boys because a proportion of the girls indicate they prefer this option. This preference is most commonly heard if they have a history of prostitution, for example. Other care workers prefer to keep the two sexes together.’
‘Another option is to separate the groups on the basis of age. Combining 13 and 14-year-old girls with boys of 17 and 18 may well create unsafe situations. Research on such options can be conducted in the short term and the results can be used immediately, because alternative group structures are simple to create within the existing structures. Many of the recommendations in the Samson committee’s report involve a change of culture in the youth care sector, which is only achievable in the long term. Changes in group dynamics and extra training for group leaders will show results much faster. Furthermore, such changes will also contribute to changing the culture in the sector.’
‘The youth care sector is about to undergo a major structural change – again. The problem is that this change is focussed – as such changes so often are – on the organizational and administrative aspect of youth care. As such, the core of the problem – providing a safe learning environment for vulnerable youths – does not get the full attention it deserves.
The Scientific Council for Government Policy noted many years ago that the youth care sector in fact lacks pedagogical vision. The current structural changes in the youth care sector should be focussed on this aspect. What do the children in the care of the youth care sector need for their development? What are the criteria for creating a good pedagogical and safe environment for these children?’
The Samson committee’s report has already resulted in many changes: there is help for the victims of abuse in youth care, there is a telephone number for complaints, etc. But now is the time to really make youth care safer. The ministry itself will need to initiate new research aimed at increasing safety in the sector. The information I am receiving reveals that they are keen to do something about this, but that the decision-making is taking some time. This is why the impression has been created that nothing is being done with the Samson committee’s recommendations. Likewise, the new committee led by André Rouvoet and established to implement the recommendations has not made itself heard yet either. The ministry and the Rouvoet committee should inform us of what they are doing right now – albeit behind the scenes – and so break this “deafening quiet”.’
Prof. Greetje Timmerman is a Professor of Youth Sociology at the University of Groningen. She was responsible for part of the research for the Samson committee. See also Timmerman’s staff page for more information about her research for the Samson committee or read the press release of 8 October 2012 on the presentation of the Samson report: ‘Radical change needed in youth care’.
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