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Prof. Tom van Yperen: ‘Youth care system at serious risk of becoming disjointed’

05 June 2013

Problem families are likely to suffer the most from the forthcoming organizational changes to the youth care system. From 2015 onwards, local authorities will have greater responsibility for this type of care, but there is no guarantee that they will give it the priority it deserves. On the whole, local authorities are not sufficiently familiar with the expertise available in youth care, so it is not unthinkable that the best knowledge and experience will go to waste. This is the message contained in an inaugural lecture given by Tom van Yperen to mark his appointment as professor by special appointment of Monitoring and innovation of youth care at the University of Groningen.

Tom van Yperen
Tom van Yperen

Van Yperen wants there to be no doubt: the youth care system already has a wealth of functional knowledge and has been innovating for years. ‘What is really missing, now that youth care is about to be decentralized, is a coordinating system that will enable local authorities to monitor performance and the targeted application of the expertise and experience that has been accumulated over the last few decades. Once local authorities take over responsibility for the youth care system, there is a real danger that the expertise needed to make the youth care system even more efficient will no longer be developed.’


The aim of decentralization is to make youth care more efficient and effective. The transfer of duties and responsibilities to local authorities in 2015 is merely another step in a process that has been going on for decades. ‘The demand for youth care has increased dramatically’, explains Van Yperen. ‘But a lot of the children and adolescents referred for specialized youth care could easily be helped by an efficient primary youth care service. This is what’s missing.’

District teams and intensive care

The preparations for decentralization are in full swing. ‘Many local authorities are already setting up district teams, a kind of primary healthcare aimed at offering swift and effective help to young people and their carers with minor problems. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem. There will always be a need for more intensive care too. Local authorities are running out of time to decide on the type of intensive care they think will be needed and the quality criteria they intend to set’, says the professor.


This latter point involves a risk, continues Van Yperen. He is not convinced that all local authorities know what to expect. There is a real danger that some authorities will not pay equal attention to these two different aspects of youth care (primary care and specialized care). ‘I have already been asked to help think about setting up district teams in two cities. Their particular concern was how to deal with families with complex problems. Nobody seemed to realize that the specialized youth care sector already has effective methods for coping with this problem. The implications for families with complex problems could be enormous if we are unable to deploy the existing successful methods as and when needed.’

As from 2015, maintaining and expanding the wealth of collective knowledge will be the job of the local authorities. ‘But are they fully prepared? Is every local authority going to reinvent the wheel or will they hook up with the state of the art and try to continue developing a joint knowledge policy? Going down the “every man for himself” path will inevitably mean a return to a disjointed system. It doesn’t bear thinking about.’

Monitoring and improvement drive

Van Yperen fears that monitoring results and using the available knowledge to improve performance may soon become a thing of the past. ‘If this operation means that we lose sight of the current body of collective knowledge, we are on the wrong track. We should stick to what we know best.’

A good course of action would be to involve the local authorities in what Van Yperen refers to as a ‘monitoring and improvement drive’. ‘The current youth care service must implement a system that records the results of care for every client. All existing knowledge will be incorporated into assistance methods and professional guidelines. Constantly monitoring the results, and using the new methods and guidelines to improve them, will make the youth care system more effective as a whole. As programme coordinator of Effective Interventions at the Netherlands Youth Institute, it’s my job to keep this subject on the agenda, at both national and local level.’

Read the full text of Tom van Yperen’s inaugural lecture (in Dutch)

Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Tom van Yperen is Professor by special appointment of Monitoring and innovation of youth care at the University of Groningen. Van Yperen is a remedial educationalist and an expert at the Netherlands Youth Institute. He trained as a primary school teacher and later as a researcher/lecturer at Leiden University and Utrecht University. In 1995, he moved to the Netherlands Institute for Care and Welfare, which was later reorganized and became the Netherlands Youth Institute (NJi). As a result of his job at the Netherlands Youth Institute, he was Professor by special appointment of Effective youth care in Utrecht between 2002 and 2012.

The ‘Monitoring and innovation in youth care’ chair is anchored in the Department of Orthopedagogy of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the University of Groningen through the Netherlands Youth Institute. An important part of the teaching and research mandate is to contribute to the realization of the required monitoring and improvement drive via research, teaching and collaboration with the field.

Last modified:05 April 2019 11.17 a.m.
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