Dutch Welfare Minister, have you got a Named Person up your sleeve?

It came as a bolt from the blue: Rudy and Karin were informed that four different state guardians were being appointed for their four young children. “It was our impression that this had not been made law yet, so we just wondered why we were getting it already now,” says Rudy.

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The imposition had been prompted by a letter from their family doctor, forwarding all their children's confidential medical records to four unnamed state guardians.

As Karin puts it: “I know my child better than anyone else, I love my child better than anyone else, and so for the government to tell me that I needed someone who knew better about my child to see to their 'wellbeing' was really quite belittling to me as a parent!”

Rudy adds: “There is an implicit lack of trust that we are the best people to bring our children up. It seems to be operating on a principle of suspicion, that you're almost guilty until you're proven innocent. It does seem to be a bit Big Brother. If parents disagree with what the state decides is right, where does that leave you?”

This is not a made-up story, although the names have been Dutchified. The original version is the real story of James and Rhianwen McIntosh, an appealing couple from Falkirk, Scotland. The developments that led up to their shock story are now being brought to bear here in the Netherlands, too.

Are child protective services in the right hands?

Children and young people are perfectly able to grow and develop well in normal, stable families, but what are their chances when problems occur? Whether it be due to divorce, a family member's addictions, violence, prison time, serious physical or mental ill health of someone in the household or of the young person himself: whenever the child's wellbeing is jeopardised, the Dutch Youth Care Agency (Bureau Jeugdzorg) and the Child Protection Council (Raad voor de Kinderbescherming) will swing into action. It's a great system if it's in the right hands, but sadly much is going wrong in it. After all, these bodies are well-known in the Netherlands for their frequent heavy-handedness in intervening in the lives of vulnerable children and families, or for intervening belatedly or wrong-headedly. The situation is far from ideal and it can be an utter disaster when things go completely wrong.

Nodded through by government

By about 2006, there was already plenty of criticism being voiced about the far-reaching jurisdiction that these bodies had appropriated over the decades, often nodded through by the government and regional councils. In 2009, the Dutch National Ombudsman aptly summarised as "disturbed" the freakish growth in the number of foster placements and supervision orders that involved a burgeoning number of guardians, social workers, welfare teams and more. Often, parents were powerless to act as they saw their child suffering from the excessive interference of the so-called 'care system' and the long arm of the country's Children Act.

Jeugdzorg monster getting out of hand: a nightmare for local authorities

Things changed with the adoption of a new law on 1 March 2014, with the unmanageably long title “Act on Regulations for Municipal Authority Responsibility for Prevention, Support and Assistance to Young People and Parents in Problems of Growing Up and Upbringing, Mental Health Issues and Disorders”. This new law — the Jeugdwet ("Children Act") for short — was intended to devolve child protective services from national and regional level, where the countrywide agencies had grown overmighty, to local authority level.

The thinking was that bringing child protective services closer to the people would allow for quicker access to the care that young people needed and would thus reduce costs. For the sake of convenience, care budgets were pre-emptively slashed and the local authorities were left to sink or swim without much lead-in time, with no qualified staff and without the resources they needed to flesh out the ever-growing monster of Jeugdzorg, and this at a time when the catchment group of young people and families in need of help continued to grow.

The outcome was an even worse mess than before, with even longer waiting times and even more egregious cases of isolated and often suicidal young people.

We have reached a point where a substantial part of the Dutch population can now experience these problems for themselves: how are their local authorities going to fill in the financial hole that has opened up? Are they going to have to close libraries and swimming pools? Will there have to be a hike in council tax? Are municipalities in danger of going bust?

Political debate

What has gone wrong? Which national politicians actually bear the blame for the Dutch turn of events, and were there really no reports or studies conducted beforehand that could have foreseen this situation?

The House of Representatives in The Hague held a plenary session on 5 June 2019 at which these pressing questions were asked. The debate was entitled An integral approach to helping vulnerable children and young people.

Enter the Scottish Model: profiling EVERY child

First, however, let us zoom in on Tilburg in the south of the Netherlands, where the city council decided to take an innovative approach to resolving this problem: using what they call a Kansencirkel or "Opportunities Circle".

This Kansencirkel is not actually a Dutch idea; it was developed in Scotland, where it is known as the "Wellbeing Wheel". It is a scorecard to allow the child's "wellbeing" to be evaluated, under the slogan of "Getting It Right For Every Child" (GIRFEC). This way, a profile is obtained of what a young people's guardian (jeugdbeschermer) or personal care provider can do to build up a case for intervening. The child's and the family's data are now shared freely among all the bodies concerned — in order to provide optimum care, we are told.

Adder lurking in the grass

This might sound lovely, but there is an adder lurking in the grass: in Scotland, these young people's guardians — known as Named Persons — arrogate to themselves the parent's role by using a Wellbeing Wheel to profile the child. And this is far-reaching indeed: not just children who are the subject of supervision orders are documented, but every child in the country is plucked from under its parent's wings in this way. The Named Person is a de-facto state guardian who can now make the decisions on choice of school, medical treatment, access to siblings, and a lot more besides. Treatments can be initiated or discontinued without the parents having the least say in the matter: the Scottish Government has given the Named Person parental authority. Quietly, surreptitiously and under the radar.

Kayley was approaching full term with her second child. Her family guardian had been a loyal source of support and practical help to her, and a relationship of trust had gradually formed between them during the many home visits. During a planned risk analysis, it had been Kayley herself who had let slip that on occasion she felt a bit stressed out and sometimes even had dark moods, but that these dips always resolved themselves soon enough.

To her astonishment, she was told she would no longer be allowed to give birth in the local hospital where she had been intending to check in. Instead, she was referred to a larger urban hospital, on the ostensible grounds that there was a mental health services unit there — just in case, you understand.

Even after accepting this referral, Kayley was faced with a second shock immediately after he son was delivered: she was not going to be allowed home until she had had an appointment with a social worker, a support worker and a health visitor. It had all been arranged and prescribed behind her back by her state guardian. Kayley was not about to agree to this: “This is way over the top; I'll decide that myself, and I'm going home now.” Then came the real stinker: Kayley would not be allowed to take her newborn son home with her.

She stood firm and managed to get home in one piece with the baby, but Kayley was determined not to let this rest, and exercised her right to see what data was held on her. To her disgust, she found that a 120-page file was being kept on her, stuffed full of secret recordings and confidential notes on every aspect of her life.

Forcing a bad idea on us: How is this going to be shoved down the Netherlands' throat?

This is the system now being piloted in Tilburg, and its pushers are busy touting it to other local authorities and organisations involved with Dutch young people. One example was a so-called study morning held in Tilburg in November 2018. Giving briefings that morning were the Netherlands Youth Institute and visitors from Who Cares Scotland, offering practical tips on how to shove this dictatorial approach down the throats of the Dutch people using politicians and influential national organisations. You can't simply impose the GIRFEC way: “It has to grow bottom-up — if people want it to,” as the Scottish GIRFEC ambassador Ronnie Hill put it. “Only then can you achieve change — cultural change, systemic change, changes in practice.” 

GIRFEC went belly-up in Scotland

But was the GIRFEC policy, with its Named Persons and its Wellbeing Wheels, such a runaway success in Scotland anyway? Anything but. It derailed completely, because as soon as parents could see the heavy hand of the state bearing down on them, they teamed up to take a legal case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which covers Scotland for civil cases. The Supreme Court judgment pulled no punches:

"The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world." (p. 33)

This was the coup de grâce for GIRFEC: their high-handed interference with families, and the unbridled data storage necessitated by that policy, was found by the highest court in the land to be unlawful and unwarranted. In spite of the judgment, these practices are being continued at Scottish local authority level. Are we going to be seeing the same abuses in the Netherlands now?

Seeing the June 2019 Dutch parliamentary debate in context

Having sketched these Scottish developments, we can now view in a rather different light what it was that Dutch members of parliament were actually urging in their 5 June debate. A representative sample of the speeches made that day:

Ms M. Agema, Freedom Party (PVV):

Perhaps what we need to do is reverse the whole process of decentralisation.

Mr H.P.M. Hijink, Socialist Party (SP):

Look at the example being set in Heerlen: they have a neighbourhood team with a fresh way of working.

A personal care provider for every young person who needs help — what does the minister think of that? (The minister, Hugo de Jonge, gave a knowing chuckle.)

Mr R. Raemakers, Democrats (D66):

A single point of contact in the neighbourhood team, flagging up things at an earlier stage, intervening with help earlier on.

Ms J.Z.C.M. Tielen, Liberal Party (VVD):

We need to be moving towards appropriate young people's assistance. There is too much talking about the children going on, and not enough talking with them. Young people have to have a voice.

A single co-ordinating provider of assistance, who also arranges how the care is delivered: there would be much to gain from that.

Mr H.P.M. Hijink, Socialist Party (SP):

How can a council official decide what's right for a child? Council staff are not close enough to them. It would be better to have someone who can see in [the child's] home what the solution is. Care providers who know and see the children.

Mr J.S. Voordewind, Christian Union (CU):

[We need to be] providing support even before potential problems develop. Early intervention. More help to families, fewer referrals to family doctors.

The way forward to introducing state guardians

This might have appeared to be a debate with a variety of opinions in it, but all these members of parliament were going down a strikingly recognisable road: the road to state guardianship standing between the parents and the child; a Named Person breathing down the child's neck, a gooseberry figure in the family even where there are no problems at hand, ready to spring into action, able to fence off courses of action that the parents might want to take.

To round off this article, there are four questions still outstanding for Hugo de Jonge, the Minister of Public Health, Welfare and Sport, which were not raised in the debate:

1. Has the prevailing chaos in Dutch Jeugdzorg been allowed to happen deliberately in order to pave the way for a Dutch version of the Named Person scheme?

Fleur Agema MP came somewhere close to hitting the nail on the head with this remark in the debate: "Has decentralisation become a débâcle, rather than the start of this transformation? … The funding shortfalls were deplorable and made the failure [of the decentralisation policy] a foregone conclusion … [The past five years of transition to decentralised young people's care] have been a fraud … Dogma, lies, trickery. They have been cheating for five years already now. Dirty politics."

2. Is the minister aware of the judgment of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on the unlawfulness of the Named Person scheme?

3. Does the minister know that there is an ongoing Scottish Parliament petition for a public inquiry into the harm caused by illegal data sharing under GIRFEC?

4. Has the minister already considered the issue that his plans, modelled as they are on Scottish GIRFEC, are impossible to enact in any legal framework?

After all, Scottish public bodies are carrying on regardless. Scottish local authorities and young people's care organisations have amply demonstrated their contempt for human rights and the rights of the child. Children continue to be separated from their parents; autistic young people are being ripped out of their familiar environments; behaviourally normal young people are being locked up in institutions; and there are many more such abuses besides, being caused by power-crazed, indoctrinated Named Persons. All the laws that are in place to protect the people and the children of Scotland are being ridden roughshod over. Nevertheless, these laws are sound and they cannot be disregarded — not in the Netherlands, either. Hugo de Jonge, do you have something equally sinister up your sleeve?

A crucial week in The Hague

Mr de Jonge, how can you as the responsible minister explain why it is that the whole Dutch Jeugdzorg system appears to have been deliberately driven into a pitiful state of crisis in order to achieve sinister objectives?

Innocuous-looking bills have now been tabled in the Dutch House of Representatives for various strands of the agenda, including reversing the decentralisation of Dutch child protective services and launching a preventive scheme which would make possible the introduction of a Scottish GIRFEC-style Named Person. The vote was held yesterday, Tuesday 11 June, and four of the seven motions for the topic were voted through. The question now is whether Hugo de Jonge, the minister in charge, will decide in favour of young people's welfare or the welfare of the state.


For more information:

- The Transitional Committee to Review the Dutch Jeugdzorg System: tellingly, the decentralised system has been scored and was given only 7 out of a possible 40 marks

- All the lobbying letters and petitions to the Dutch House of Repesentatives at a glance