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'How can we better help families with long-term and complex problems?'

22 March 2022
Jana Knot-Dickscheit

In 2021, the Families with Multiple and Complex Problems center of expertise (FMCP) was established. The mission of this center is to improve the help of families with complex and long-term problems. Recently, the FMCP celebrated its one-year anniversary. Jana Knot-Dickscheit, head of the expertise center, looks back on an eventful year.

In the Netherlands, it is estimated that there are between 35,000 and 116,000 families who struggle with long-term problems in multiple areas of their lives. These people, also called families with multiple and complex problems, may for instance have problems in the areas of parenting and finances and may also have psychological problems. Sometimes the situation escalates so much that children are placed out of their homes. In 2021, 45,000 children did not live at home anymore.

Complex for social workers as well

According to orthopedagogical researcher Jana Knot-Dickscheit, a lot is done to help these families, but unfortunately it does not always have the desired effect. "Although several organizations, such as municipalities and youth care, try to support these families, the problems persist. This is not surprising as the problems are intertwined and are also chronic. Think of problems like addiction and financial problems. These cannot be solved easily. Moreover, the help provided to these families regularly lacks a scientific basis because little research has been done on this group."

Investigating what works

To better help these families, Knot-Dickscheit and her colleagues founded the Families with Multiple and Complex Problems center of expertise (FMCP) a year ago. One of the most important tasks of the FMCP is conducting scientific research. With this research, more insight is gained into which interventions work and which do not. According to Knot-Dickscheit the FMCP finds it important that the gained knowledge also reaches the right people. The research results are therefore regularly shared with care providers, institutions and municipalities in the form of lectures, training sessions, and advice.

Better cooperation

In addition to conducting research, the FMCP brings the various parties into contact with each other. "With complex problems like these, there are often multiple agencies and social workers involved. What you see is that these parties are working on the same thing without knowing it from each other. This also applies to researchers. We try to bring them together and to bundle their expertise. Our hope is that this will lead to better cooperation and that we will eventually be able to get everyone on the same page."

Corona concerns

February 2022 marked the one-year anniversary of the GMCP. Knot-Dickscheit looks back on a year that was extra difficult for many families because of the corona pandemic. "What you saw is that in the beginning of the COVID pandemic, these families received less direct help than usual. Because there are already so many stressors in these families, we were afraid of more child abuse and neglect. We were very concerned about that. But when you put the different figures side by side now, it's not clear whether the pandemic actually increased the risk of child abuse."


According to Knot-Dickscheit, important steps have been taken in the past year to improve help for families with complex problems. For example, several online lectures were given and more and more stakeholders know how to find the FMCP for information or advice. "We are of course settled in the north, but we also regularly get questions from other places. Recently, for example, from Almere and Amsterdam."

Complex healthcare system

Besides the corona pandemic, Knot-Dickscheit sees the current healthcare system as a major obstacle in helping families with long-term and complex problems. "There is a very complex legislative and regulatory system. I often think: shouldn't the starting point be that these families need help, and that it matters less which money pot this comes from? The system reinforces the problems for these families rather than solving them. We try to make policymakers aware of this."

Main driving force

Despite the complexity of the issues she deals with, Knot-Dickscheit remains positive. Her main driving force? The children in these families. "I keep on thinking: how can we improve their situation? We can't solve all problems but if we want these children to grow up safely we have to provide them with a sustainable form of support and care. That's what we're committed to."

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Last modified:09 May 2022 4.07 p.m.
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