Rudi Roose reports from Ghent on a networking
project aimed at transforming the way youth care is carried out in Flanders by
putting the client – not the organisation – centre stage.
Flemish government is currently reforming youth care. According to the
government and care workers, youth care should become more client-centred.
One way of achieving this is through
establishing networks: youth care organisations should work together or at
least know what other organisations do, how they work, who their clients are,
so that the whole of youth care can be made more compatible and more effective.
This new concept of youth care is being
implemented in three experimental regions. After a period of
"testing", the results of these experiments should be implemented in
the whole of youth care in Flanders. One of the main criticisms of this project
is the fact that – despite the purpose – the reform mainly deals with
organisational questions, rather than with needs of clients. The process is
also strongly steered by the government, and leaves little room for input from
care workers and clients.
With these criticisms in mind, some other
regions started their own projects with financial support from local
government. One of these projects is the Network Youth Care Waasland (NYW) – a
research project of about 35 organisations in collaboration with the University
This project approaches the reform of youth
care from a different angle. It looks to focus mainly on the interaction
between organisations, their care workers and clients.
The idea is that a better organised youth
care doesn’t necessarily stand for better care for the client. We know very
little about how clients experience care and whether they believe that care is
useful or not. Reorganisations can lead to more satisfied care workers, but
does this also lead to more satisfied clients?
The basic assumption of the NYW project is
that building a network demands a movement towards a shared perspective: not
only on organisational problems but – more importantly – on the purpose of
social care itself and the perceived quality of the care of clients. Networking
demands a shared commitment towards people in need. This shared commitment is
not obvious. Organisations and care workers focus mostly on their own practice
and their own clients.
It also demands a shared view on the purpose
of care itself. Care workers report growing problems: drugs, psychiatric
problems, antisocial behaviour, and so on. The question "should or can
youth care solve society’s problems?" is not so easily put in focus.
Building networks in youth care should also
be guided by the question: "who is the client?" Youth care still mainly
concerns questions of adults, rather than questions of children, although the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should be the cornerstone of this
NYW wants to work with these questions,
dealing with specific cases of people in need and the practice of care workers,
to lay the groundwork for a reorganisation of youth care that not only concerns
the interests of organisations, but also focuses on the relation between these
interests and those of clients.
Rudi Roose is an ex-social worker in youth
care and now teaches at the University of Ghent.
Belgium, which is legally bi-lingual French and Flemish, covers 30,510 sq km
(about one-eighth the size of the UK) and has a population of 10.3 million.
About 17.5 per cent of the population are aged between 0-14.
Ethnic groups: Fleming (58 per cent), Walloon (31 per cent), mixed or other (11
Ghent (Gent) is in Flanders, one of three regions in Belgium (along with
Wallonia and Brussels), and is the capital of East Flanders, one of 10 Belgian
provinces. The population of Flanders is 5.9 million – about 58 per cent of the
total population. The population of Ghent is 224,800 of which 7.3 per cent are unemployed.