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Education and Child Studies and Child Law to continue successful interdisciplinary collaboration

Researchers from the Institute of Education and Child Studies and the Department Child Law will be collaborating in two new research projects. The research will focus on the return to the family home for children after they have been taken into care and surrogacy in the Netherlands. For these projects they received substantial grants enabling them to continue the successful interdisciplinary collaborations in the upcoming year.

The importance of interdisciplinary collaboration

Both the Department of Child Law and the Institute of Education and Child Studies conduct research into children dealing with judicial measures. Think of situations where the child’s situation at home is not safe – for instance due to abuse or neglect. In the worst-case scenario, the child may be taken into care by means of a verdict issued by a judge and end up in a foster family.

Such cases are often approached from both a legal and a child studies perspective, even though both perspectives complement and strengthen each other. When children are taken into care, for instance, the legal protection of parents and children can be addressed from a legal perspective: in some situations, a judge may not have made an assessment whether a the taking into care or return home is in the interest of the child. If a child is then transferred to a different foster family, this is a serious breach of the stability of the child.

From a child studies perspective, the development of children, including risk and protective factors, is the key focus. Because both perspectives include pieces of a combined puzzle, the researchers involved decided to join forces a couple of years ago. 

Joint research that packs a punch

It is definitely not the first time that researchers from Leiden Law School and Behavioural Sciences join forces and collectively tackle issues that are relevant to society. The results of their research have made a difference in politics and practice.

A few years ago, for instance, there was a big discussion in politics and society about the participation of juveniles during judicial procedures. Are juveniles being given enough opportunity to be heard in family and child protection cases and is it desirable to increase their legal position? Think of children over the age of twelve who are allowed to have a say on the divorce of their parents in front of a judge, even though younger children are not commonly invited.

In this case, a multidisciplinary collaboration was relevant and essential: not only is it vitally important to look at the judicial possibilities for minors in different procedures, but it is also important to investigate whether younger children are capable of participating in procedures. This joint approach resulted in an elaborate research project, commissioned by the Dutch Scientific Research and Documentation Centre (WODC). As a result, the research group recommended to lower the age barrier for this appeal right to the age of eight years.

The Zeeland – West Brabant court also started a pilot to include children from the age of eight and older and provide feedback on the verdict in a child friendly manner. The findings of this project will also be used in a legislative proposal on adequate education to address the issue of how minors can more effectively participate in educational matters.

Relevant recommendations

Past spring the Tweede Kamer (Dutch House of Representatives) debated about custodial placements, because of considerable concerns about the legal position of parents and children in these situations. The media has also paid considerable attention to the issue: are parents being provided with enough help and chances to improve their situation? In a system dominated by waitlists and shortages, this is open for debate.

Prior to the discussion in the Tweede Kamer, researchers of the Department Child Law and the Institute of Education and Child Studies created a factsheet on the current academic information on the topic at the request of the Tweede Kamer. Relevant recommendations were included in the factsheet.

Recently, those recommendations have only become more relevant and pressing, after an interdisciplinary research team from both faculties concluded an extensive research project into legislation on the revision of child protection measures that addresses issues such as custodial care.

In September 2022, the researchers published their research report in which the ongoing and urgent issues regarding the execution of child protection measures were addressed. The researchers call on the government to take emergency measures and immediate action, as they have emphasized in various media channels.

While the government still has to officially comment on the research report and the recommendations of the researchers, the first pledges for improvements have already been made. Minister for Legal Protection Franc Weerwind has already agreed to implement the recommendation that the entire family should be provided with legal support during custodial care proceedings on Dutch television programme ‘Nieuwsuur’.

New and ongoing collaborations

While awaiting further steps from the government based on the previously mentioned research projects, the researchers have already been obtained a follow-up grant from the WODC on the topic of custodial placements. They will start a collective research programme into the return to their family home of children that have been taken into care, in other words reuniting children with their parents. In the upcoming year, they will make an inventory of the issues that underlie a custodial care case and what happens to the child and the family from the moment the child is actually taken into care. An important question is how much action is actually undertaken to facilitate a return to the family home.

The researchers will also be collaborating in supervising a promotion research project into decision making at child protection round tables.

The researchers are also convinced that their combined expertise is of great value on a number of other issues surrounding children who are faced with judicial procedures. With a second new research grant by the WODC they will widen their scope with a new topic, namely surrogacy in the Netherlands. Not only the legal perspective from family law will be addressed, such as obtaining legal parentship and custody, but also questions from a child studies perspective will be taken on board. Think of conversations with children on how they were born.

The successful collaboration between the Department of Child Law and the Institute of Education and Child Studies will be strengthened further in the upcoming year as a result of the implementation of both projects.

Symposium on Culturel Aspects of Child Abuse

The collaboration between the Department of Child Law and the Institute Education and Child studies started with teaching the minor child abuse and neglect: a life spanning perspective. Another reason for celebration, because this minor, that also involves other faculties, has been existing for ten years now.

On 28 November, a symposium will be organised on the intercultural aspects of child abuse to commemorate the occasion for which everyone is cordially invited! More information (in Dutch) >>>


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