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Reforms to tailored education and youth care are counterproductive

6 March 2023
Public administration scientist Sharon Stellaard of VU Amsterdam has investigated why government policies on tailored education and youth care in the Netherlands have failed to achieve key goals for at least 40 years. Her research exposes patterns that make reform policies reproduce old problems, create new ones and thus make implementation more expensive and complex.

The Youth Reform Agenda (Hervormingsagenda Jeugd) has been on hold for some time due to a financial conflict between the national government and municipalities. As a result, the process of improving youth care is delayed. The Senate (Eerste Kamer) had instructed State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport Maarten van Ooijen to inform the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) by 1 March on how the national government intends to get out of this impasse. Recently, it became known that municipalities and the central government failed to meet this deadline.

That matters have gone amiss in youth care once again is no surprise to Stellaard. In her research, she reconstructed almost half a century of reform policies. This not only shows that government policy fails to achieve the most important goals but also demonstrates that reform policies create new problems. Invariably, new policy reform initiatives turn out to be primarily motivated by the unintended consequences of the preceding reform. The patterns of thought and action from which the policy problems arose are repeated to fix them. Stellaard: "As a result, both policy areas become increasingly complex, implementation becomes more expensive, but virtually nothing changes about the problems of children, families and schools."

Through the lens of her PhD research, Stellaard also looked at the content of the Youth Reform Agenda, through which the government intends to reform youth care again after the large-scale reform of 2015. "In it, the patterns I found in my research are repeated," Stellaard said. With this message, she hopes to inspire those in the field to recognise and break these patterns.

Sharon Stellaard conducted this research as an external PhD student at VU Amsterdam. She has been working in youth care for 20 years, at the crossroads with education. Sharon Stellaard's PhD defence will occur on 8 March 2023 at the Faculty of Social Sciences of VU Amsterdam. Her supervisor is professor of policy and administrative sciences Willem Trommel. For more information and to attend click here.

In Nieuwsuur, Sharon Stellaard talks more about her research findings, watch the episode here.