The youth care system needs to be overhauled. I know because everyone says it. “Youth care needs to be overhauled, and soon too”, writes a professor of forensic psychology in August 2021. ‘Youth care is going to be overhauled’, promises de Volkskrant in May 2022. “In the long term, the youth care system needs to be overhauled”, says the NOS in September 2022. Model Kim Feenstra say it in Metro news also: ‘System on the shovel’.
Unfortunately reports Youth care Netherlands this month that the system is far from being overhauled. The Minister and the State Secretary do have plans to solve acute bottlenecks in the youth protection chain, but there is no hurry.
Youth care reads in the plans “mainly agreements that will follow ‘this autumn’, an action plan that still has to be made, a non-binding guide, a conversation, an ‘exploration’ into ‘the possibility’, an inventory.” And money, oh well, Youth Care adds worryingly.
Here’s the story in a nutshell. A cracking system, damning reports, no prospect of improvement and half a billion cuts in youth care in the coalition agreement of the Rutte IV cabinet. So is there money to be made? Yes, of course, money always has to be added. That half a billion was “the most stupid cutback you can think of”, says FNV union director Maaike van der Aar in NRC. Aid workers urgently need support.
Then the same Maaike van der Aar comes in Metro news speaking about financial interests and perverse incentives in the healthcare market. Institutions get paid per occupied bed, she says. “Then you as an organization have to ensure that your beds are covered. While ideally we don’t want to place children out of the house.” In short, money needs to be added, but you shouldn’t put children out for fun that shouldn’t be moved out at all. In other words, the system must be overhauled!
Well, what else can I add to this? Perhaps I think that the system has long since been overhauled and that little attention is paid to it. Certainly, it is true that the government is training. That she has to do so much at once, with so little, that she has tempered her belief in the malleability of society. System on the move? she sighs. First an exploration, a guide, an inventory.
But look, that’s where the cavalry comes in through a back door, in the form of AI. It will enable governments to solve all problems as if by magic. Get rid of the bottlenecks: projects are started in one municipality after the other to track child abuse with data analytics. You search all the data of all children in the neighborhood and then you can simply determine which child you should remove from the home with the help of risk indicators. Smart!
Under the name GIRFEC (Getting it right for every child) this approach has been blown over from Scotland, where he has long since withdrawn, there are problems with it. But in the Netherlands people are more flexible about this. Do you want to link data from education and care, while that is not allowed according to ‘the letter of the law’? A director of an institution for children with serious behavioral problems cheers in conversation with the Dutch Youth Institute that the ban has been circumvented by asking the children for ‘permission’. Boy boy.
The system appears in one municipality, is withdrawn again due to unrest, and reappears in another municipality, under a different name. Now back in Maassluis, Vlaardingen and Schiedam: municipalities and care providers believe that they ‘need a dynamic insight into the development per (sub) target group and for the individual neighborhoods and districts in the municipality as a basis for our actions’. Here too, young people are asked for permission to share data.
Sounds great, but this lurking in sub-target data in individual neighborhoods isn’t all that beneficial. What really goes wrong with prejudices about abuse, goes at least as wrong with computerization. Because what is abuse? The information systems have no clue. Are children abused by their parents if they are not fed because of the high gas bill? Are broken shoes a sign of neglect? Or just poverty? Do the systems know a lot!
Searching data is the showpiece of manufacturability optimism. But youth care already has enough problems. She cannot also use prejudices about sub-target groups that are hidden in systems with which you as a parent or care provider cannot have a conversation. Yes, youth care needs to be overhauled. By being nicer to children. Not by digitizing old mistakes and perverse incentives.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 24, 2022
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