Corina Brekelmans en Jan-Kees Helderman
Corina Brekelmans en Jan-Kees Helderman

Knowledge exchange crucial for good youth care

Since the decentralisation of government tasks in 2015, municipalities have been responsible of youth care. After a shaky start and a steep learning curve, the future is starting to look brighter, with knowledge pooling and knowledge sharing playing a crucial role.

“The decentralisation of government tasks was introduced with the intention of bringing healthcare closer to the people,” explains professor of Social Policy and Governance at the department Public Administration, Jan-Kees Helderman. “But the involved parties were extremely naive when they started in 2015 and had to rethink and redevelop everything. On top of that, the government imposed a 15% efficiency discount, the thought being that municipalities are closer to the problems and can therefore solve them easier and cheaper.”

Corina Brekelmans is familiar with the situation. Trained as a social psychologist, with a long track record in mental health care, she was hired as a youth policy officer in 2015 by the municipality of Nijmegen. ”I didn’t feel seen as a public official. The municipalities were given a variety of tasks following the decentralisation, but didn’t have the tools, the knowledge or the infrastructure to carry them out.”

Knowledge-driven approach

Brekelmans immediately got to work implementing a knowledge-driven work method. “I established relationships with the university and got involved with youth knowledge workshops in the region, in which healthcare providers, researchers, clients and policymakers work together. I helped to ensure that municipal policy issues became a key research focus. I am continuing this exchange of knowledge with the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG), for which I was appointed Knowledge and Innovation Advisor for the Sociaal Domein collaboration platform this summer.”

Portret Corina Brekelmans

Major strides

Municipalities have taken major strides since 2015, says Brekelmans. “We’ve learned a lot in a very short time. Rates were a controversial issue for some time, but a cost-coverage policy was recently implemented. The long wait times are still a serious problem for some forms of youth care. Municipalities and healthcare providers will have to work together to find supraregional solutions to get young people the help they need more quickly.” Betekent dat dat de jeugdzorg verder op orde is? “Nee”, zegt Helderman, “we hebben nog ontzettend veel te doen. Sociaal beleid is een oneindig groot experiment waarmee je nooit klaar bent. Wel denk ik dat we de afgelopen zeven jaren meer hebben bereikt dan in de decennia ervoor.” Welke knelpunten nu vooral aandacht behoeven? Brekelmans wijst op de onderbenutting van bijvoorbeeld toeslagen. “Veel voorzieningen zijn zo versnipperd en ingewikkeld dat mensen ze niet gebruiken.” Helderman: “En er komt een enorme armoedegolf aan, dat is echt een uitslaande brand.”

Portret van Jan-Kees Helderman

New perspective

Yet they are both optimistic. “We are enthusiastic, passionate and hopeful,” says Helderman. “In fact, there’s plenty to be optimistic about. People everywhere are doing the best they can.” Brekelmans agrees. “There is a growing sense of compassion and awareness for society’s most vulnerable groups. Mental health care is not as stigmatising as it used to be. In that sense, healthcare has become a universal problem.” Both Helderman and Brekelmans agree that knowledge exchange is crucial to the provision of quality youth care. “I learn a lot from universities and colleges," says Brekelmans. “In fact, I wouldn’t be able to do my job without Corina’s knowledge,” says Helderman.

The importance of knowledge exchange is a key theme in the inaugural lecture Helderman will deliver on 10 November. “In it, I will discuss ways to develop and manage a learning system. This calls for a good infrastructure in which we invest in one another and embrace each other’s perspectives. Relationships like these – between knowledge institutions and professionals – are of crucial importance.”

Text: Machiel van Zanten

Photos: Duncan de Fey

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