NSM Focus | ‘Utrecht is learning from case histories in youth aid’

Many municipalities are struggling with the transformation of youth aid. Jan-Kees Helderman, Associate Professor of Public Administration, researched the situation in Utrecht and saw how that municipality is booking success, thanks to making bold decisions. The research report received a lot of publicity. “Other municipalities want to know what does work.”

Jan Kees Helderman"In Utrecht, they think about the details that matter", says Helderman. "That might sound a little prosaic, but the creed in the social domain is: one family, one plan, one coach. I have never come across a city where they have thought so carefully about what such a plan should be, how you jointly set it up and how it can act as an instruction leaflet for care and support.

Together with Jonathan Zeitlin (University of Amsterdam) and former Radboud Excellence visiting professor Charles Sabel (Columbia University), Helderman studied how Utrecht designed the youth aid. “One essential point is that the municipality started with the problem. That problem is a child and a family with a specific request for help. Based on that, the municipality asked itself: what do we need in order to provide basic generalist youth aid? What should the community team look like? Which professionals should be in it? And step by step, they redesigned the whole system.”

Bold decisions

On top of that, Utrecht made bold decisions. For example, basic youth aid was allocated to a completely new organisation (Lokalis). That means that the municipality is less dependent on what was historically available. The financing goes through something known as square financing. Helderman: “It's a system which considers not the existing youth aid options, but the question of which care individual clients need.”

For specialised youth aid, Utrecht collaborates with a few care providers. "They also show courage", says Helderman. “Many municipalities feel trapped by the old situation in which they had to deal with a great many different providers. Utrecht, on the other hand, has made a conscious decision to build a long-term partnership with just a few. In combination with the square financing, this results in peace and security for the care providers under contract."

And perhaps the major factor in their success in that professionals are constantly reflecting on and learning from case histories. Helderman: “There is no blueprint, so everyone has to learn what works and what doesn't, as they go. Utrecht professionals are constantly exploring the limits of what is not known and discussing them. They are also always researching which knowledge they should be sharing with each other. Thanks to all these aspects, Utrecht is achieving the main aims of the transformation which are prevention, early warning, de-medicalisation and where possible, finding solutions in the community."

Correlation is essential

The research report has received much publicity, including on social media. Helderman: “You see a lot of recognition in the responses, and a desire to understand how the Utrecht model works. There are so many problems that other municipalities really want to know what does work."

According to Helderman, there are some features of the Utrecht model which other municipalities could adopt straight away, such as deciding for a limited number of care providers and the square financing. “In addition, municipalities could learn a lot from the way in which the control and monitoring has been set up in Utrecht." However, Helderman also has a warning. "It's important that municipalities don't adopt just one element. It's the correlation that's essential."/MvZ


At the end of March, the Expertiseteam Reikwijdte Jeugdhulpplicht issued its recommendations. This team, of which Jan-Kees Helderman is a member, was commissioned by the VNG (association of Dutch municipalities) to study the extent to which municipalities are responsible for youth aid. The team finds that the Jeugdwet (youth law) provides enough options for organising or managing youth care and it does not advocate amendments to the law. According to the team, the success of the transformation requires more focus and effort.

The team also refers to the research into the Utrecht model in its report. For more information, please visit this website.