On 26 April, Prof. Margrite Kalverboer was appointed Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau. She has been at the University of Groningen since 1990, is Honorary Professor by special appointment of Pedagogy, Child Pedagogy and Orthopedagogy & Children’s Rights, and Migration Law at the Department of Pedagogical & Educational Sciences that is part of the UG’s Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. In 2016, she was appointed Children’s ombudsman in the Netherlands for a period of six years. As a champion and advocate of children, she carries out her work in an impassioned way and with huge commitment, vision and dedication, whereby the children’s interests, as laid down in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, are her guiding principle.
Kalverboer studied Orthopedagogy at the UG and also studied at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen. After she gained her PhD, she worked as a behavioural scientist and Head of Pedagogical Policy and Treatment at juvenile detention centre Het Poortje in Groningen and as a lecturer at the Department of Pedagogical & Educational Sciences at the UG. She was Professor by special appointment of Pedagogy and Child Pedagogy and Orthopedagogy and Migration Law in the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences from 2012 to 2016. As from 2002, she combined working as an Assistant Professor with studying Dutch Law, specializing in children’s rights, because she realized that she needed knowledge of the law to better study and look after the interests of vulnerable children.
Kalverboer always focuses on the interests of the child. As a scientist, she made an extremely valuable contribution to the pedagogical definition of this legal term. Furthermore, she founded the interdisciplinary Study Centre for Children, Migration and Law within the UG: there is no other centre like it anywhere in the world. Her approach requires expertise in two separate areas: understanding of the threat to and the development of the child and knowledge of migration law and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In an impressive way, she managed to use her research to draw attention to the inequality of the rights of refugee children in legal procedures and focused on improving their position. In 2010, she received the National Youth Prize for her huge dedication.
Kalverboer is known internationally for her vast expertise and her interdisciplinary approach to research. Before becoming Children’s ombudsman, she was a member of various European networks of researchers that focused on migration and she was a frequent speaker at international symposia and conferences, contributed to international publications and worked as a reviewer for various international journals. Her philosophy about the interests of the child and the theoretical model (BIC model) that she developed has been incorporated in the vision of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This committee monitors internationally the compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child that has been signed worldwide by almost all countries. Her work is therefore held in high regard internationally and she is widely considered an absolute authority in the field of children’s rights.
The social significance of Kalverboer’s work is reflected in the authoritative way in which her research contributed to the knowledge about the development and the safe perspective on the future of refugee children who have been resident in the Netherlands for a long time. This knowledge was used to provide the basis for the arrangement that has become known as the ‘Children’s pardon’. Her work also contributed to the improvement of the reception and support of unaccompanied minor refugees. In addition, she founded a clinical department for the implementation of the Interests of the Child Assessments. These assessments are aimed at allowing the individual interests and needs of children to play a significant role in the legal decision-making procedures. Consequently, it will be easier to bring the suffering and dangers that these children face to the attention of decision makers and policy makers. It is remarkable how patiently Kalverboer listens to the accounts of the children and their parents. She is able to grasp what people feel inside and, consequently, children and parents place great trust in her and dare to share their often poignant life stories with her. If she notices that the interests of children are being seriously violated, she will selflessly and without doubt defend and look after their interests.
Kalverboer was a source of inspiration for the students she taught and a tremendous example because of her drive and interest in the interdisciplinary approach of children’s rights. In the years before her appointment as Children’s ombudsman, she also made a significant administrative contribution to the vision development and the setup of the Department of Pedagogical & Educational Sciences and she is still involved in an advisory role. As a supervisor, she encouraged her staff to undergo self-development and to build their careers around following their hearts and their capacities. She was also involved with the Council for the Administration of Criminal Justice and Protection of Juveniles, whereby she contributed to a sensitive report about adoption. In addition, she held the position of president of the Board of Appeal of the Association of Educationalists in the Netherlands (NVO).
In 2016, Kalverboer was appointed Children’s ombudsman, which means that she can make even more of a difference and achieve even more to guarantee children’s rights, both nationally and internationally. In her position as Children’s ombudsman, she spends all her time and energy on the interests of often vulnerable children. She gives advice (solicited and unsolicited) to the authorities about the compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and in doing so, she gives the child a voice. For example, she organized a Children’s Rights Tour, for which she travelled throughout the country, including the Caribbean Netherlands, for several weeks to gain an insight into the needs of children and adolescents. What makes her so exceptional as Children’s ombudsman is that she uses scientific knowledge when carrying out her duties: she manages to continue and expand the research field that she developed within the University. She uses her own research on behavioural and legal aspects of children’s rights in her work and selflessly contributes to the expansion of knowledge by making data available. For instance, she allows her functioning during the Children’s Rights Tour to be analysed and uses the outcomes to improve on this. Since her appointment, she has released publications on various topics, including domestic violence, poverty, foster care, young informal carers, refugee children and the effect of coronavirus restrictions on children. Moreover, she was the first person to put the children who grow up in the gas production region in Groningen on the agenda and she did a lot for the protection of Dutch children who have been taken by their parents to the IS caliphate in Syria.
Kalverboer has always carried out her activities with determination and conviction, even when she encountered some personal setbacks concerning her family. She continued to take note of others and is praised all around for her warm personality, intelligence, perseverance, modesty and drive. Her actions are based on pure intentions, she is firm and modest and always communicates in a straightforward, no-nonsense and clear way. She is a woman who bravely and tenaciously perseveres, even under difficult, political conditions, whereby she does not shy away from controversial issues, always with the goal of looking after the interests of vulnerable children.
Scientists in focus: Margrite Kalverboer
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