Public Management

It takes a village to raise a child

November 13, 2014

On the surface, this African saying seems to have become a reality in Dutch municipalities, with extensive decentralization taking place in education, upbringing and healthcare. Responsibility is being placed at lower levels in society. As a result, the village (municipality) is going to play a far more important role, even though the village seems to have lost its bearings to some degree. When it comes to the children, it's decentralization galore: youth welfare work has become the work of municipalities, coordination-oriented consultations as part of collaborations are necessary to ensure suitable education, and childcare is being decentralized back to the family. The municipalities can no longer support debt repayment, which means that process servers can take children’s toys away from families with impunity.  

A knee-high view  

It goes without saying that the above is controversial and therefore not very subtly put. But it is also not wrong and with that, a heartfelt cry to look at all these changes and services relocation, from the perspective of a child. Looking at all of the adults running around from a knee high perspective (toddler height), what do you see and how does it feel? If you were a trapped adolescent, who cannot get support at home, what would you think of all those different counters and departments? Who will help a teenage mother fine-tune her child-rearing skills? And if you are parent concerned for your child’s emotional health, who can you turn to for help?  

The entire village at work  

If you consider each of the sub-operations separately (youth welfare, fitting education, education housing), they all follow an imitable logic: activate the citizen, organize everything in the neighborhood, encourage positive behavior and minimize bureaucracy. Jacob Hacker wrote a monumental analysis almost ten years ago, on how this type of logic can crash, when it converges in wrong at the basis of society. Shouldering more risk for your insurance is not a problem in itself, but if you lose your job and have an accident, your entire life is turned upside-down. When it rains, it pours - also in families. Debt, poor social networks, learning disadvantages and problematic behavior often go hand in hand. It is precisely at this point that the entire village needs to set to work to help the children get back on the right track and support their families and schools in doing so. And the village needs to do this effectively, goal-oriented and justly. Due to current developments, all three of these requirements have come under pressure - hopefully only temporarily. One would be hard pressed to find a coordinated approach for children in need of support. Many organizations are so busy defining their own roles and setting boundaries, that children fall between the cracks. The fact that someone needs to be capable and well informed to find the road to help at all, is injustice in itself.  

Stand down or run away?

Public interests are not being served sufficiently and in the case of children, this is extremely worrisome. All in all, the crucial question is whether it is a matter of the government standing down or running away? Standing down may be a logical pedagogical step: let go of a child’s hand and he will learn to walk on his own. Running away is always disastrous from a pedagogical perspective. It removes direction and overview, leaving children to their fate. They are not ready for this and it teaches them at a very early age, that they can expect very little support from the public system. It takes a village to raise a child. In that same village, children become citizens who want to feel a sense of responsibility and learn to take it, too. For themselves and for each other, now and in the future. 

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