The Netherlands

Source: Annual Report 2013

In the Netherlands the Bernard van Leer Foundation has separate strategies for reducing violence in young children’s lives and for early learning. In our analysis of the Netherlands, we found that issues related to the physical environment were not a major priority for children, and for that reason we elected not to programme on that goal.

The two strategies overlap and complement one another, both having some components which are national in scope, but focusing mainly on the four largest cities in the Randstad (or coastal provinces): Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague, and two municipalities still to be selected from rural areas of Friesland and Groningen. The goals are:

A reduction in violence in families with children under 4 years of age growing up in social and economic disadvantage.

The National Prevelance study in 2005 estimated there were 107,200 cases of child abuse and neglect, 88% of them by the child’s biological parent. Although children aged under 4 represent only 22% of children, they were the victims of 31% of these cases.

Violence in the family affects children not only as victims but also as witnesses to intimate partner violence, which is also more likely when children are young. 1 out of 8 people in the Netherlands say they have experienced intimate partner violence, and it is estimated that up to 90% of incidents may go unreported.

Family factors correlated with child abuse and neglect included having low educational level of parents (risk increases 7 times); being in a large family (risk doubled); being in single parent family (risk doubled); and parental unemployment (risk increases 5 times when both parents unemployed), the latter being especially significant given the current economic instability.

Children’s TV breaks taboo on violence in the Netherlands

I am sharing my story because I want children who experience child abuse to know they are not alone.

Those are the words of Kim, a woman in her late 20s who was abused as a child. Every year, one in 30 Dutch children suffer abuse, according to research conducted by the University of Leiden in 2011 – yet the subject is barely discussed, due to a deep-seated culture of privacy in family life.

To break the taboo, the Foundation funded Het Klokhuis, a children’s programme, to produce a four-part series on child abuse. Airing on national television in April 2013, it featured Kim and other adults and children sharing their stories and encouraging others to speak up, for themselves or on behalf of friends who they know to be in need of help. A mother who had abused her children in the past also courageously told her story.

An impact study will not report formally until 2014, but initial results suggest the series did indeed lead to more children reaching out for help and talking about the subject with each other and with teachers. The show was honoured at Cinekid with both the children’s choice award and a professional jury award for best non-fiction TV show for children, and will be repeated in 2015.

The series was accompanied by a website and an educational package for primary schools that included a competition for children to create a logo against child abuse. The winners presented their logo to the State Secretary for Health Welfare and Sports, Martin van Rijn, and the government

Reduce the learning gap between children of low socio-economic status (SES) and other children in the Netherlands

Children of parents with a low level of education and of migrant families enter school with a disadvantage in Dutch language and mathematical skills. This is a double disadvantage for children in migrant families, who are more likely to have parents with limited education and grow up speaking a different language in the home.

This handicap is reflected in data from Cito tests carried out at the end of primary school. On the total scores, the gap between non-native, non-Dutch-speaking children and native Dutch children is 10 percentage points. The gap in language is 11 percentage points . The impact of this apparently small difference in their 12th year of life is a major factor in defining whether they are tracked into a school system that sends them to university, college or vocational education. The consequences for their role in the workforce are enormous and affect them throughout the rest of their lives.

In the Dutch context, where the principal reasons for poor learning relate to a poor educational environment at home and low proficiency in the Dutch language, there is a range of early learning services that have the potential to reduce this disadvantage. These include modalities such as home visiting, childminders, pre-schools, playgroups, daycare centres, after-school care, and the first years of primary school. However, the quality of these services, especially for children under 4, is low across the board and 16%  of low-SES children in that age group do not participate in any learning programmes at all.

Reframing the debate about day care in the Netherlands

Lobbying efforts of the Kies Nu Voor Kinderen (‘Choose for Children Now’) campaign resulted in the reversal of 185 million euros of planned cuts in funding for young children in the Netherlands in 2013. This should reduce parental contributions to childcare services, improve access for children from poorer families, and improve quality of childcare provision.

In general, the campaign’s call for day care to be of higher pedagogical quality, and more connected to primary schools, is also gaining momentum among both national and local governments. There is a shift in discourse from ’we need childcare so that women can go to work’ to ‘every child should have the opportunity to learn’.

However, much remains to be done to ensure that all children have affordable access to quality early learning, regardless of whether their parents work or not. The focus needs to expand beyond policymakers, as structural change is possible only with sustained demand from a range of stakeholders including the general public and the private sector. In addition local governments, who in the Netherlands are responsible for the early learning of young children, need to be monitored and encouraged to keep and increase budgets for quality early learning for all young children.

Programme strategy

You can download a summary of our Netherlands strategy on violence and a summary of our Netherlands strategy on early learning, outlining how we are approaching these two goals. Also available are two-page handout summaries in English and Dutch.


Do you have comments on our goals in the Netherlands? Please contact our Programme Officer for the Netherlands, Jeanet van de Korput:

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