Author Lisa Jordan December 10 2013: The Dutch are very proud that, according to UNICEF’s research, children here are the happiest in the world. But averages hide extremes. Sadly, in the Netherlands, neglect and abuse are on the rise. The University of Leiden found in 2011 that one in 30 Dutch children suffer abuse.
Privacy is held dear in the Netherlands. Interfering in family life is frowned upon, and violence in children’s lives is almost a taboo discussion. So how could we, as a small foundation, try to prevent violence in children’s lives when an entire society appears unwilling to have the conversation?
As is often the case, where adults fail, children prevail. Klokhuis, a national children’s programme, took the first leap and produced a four part series on child abuse with our financial support. Children told their own stories, empowering other children to help those who they know are in need.
This show was honored last week with not one, but two national awards for best non-fiction TV show and best children’s TV series. One of those awards came from a general public jury of children. So, children are encouraging adults to be brave and take up the issue.
We wanted to build on this success by helping kids who have been in contact with social protection services to provide feedback on how those services could be improved. On October 28th, the Bernard van Leer Foundation and the Alexander Foundation concluded a year-long project with a conference called "I want to tell you something".
At the conference, teenagers told professionals their stories. One explained how he had to talk to 61 different social workers before he eventually found one who was able to help him. The conference distilled the stories of the teenagers into ten simple messages for professionals:
1. We do not want to have to go to an office to tell our story. We feel more comfortable talking in in a child-friendly place, such as a park.
2. Take the time to build a lasting, trusting relationship with us.
3. Tell us what our possibilities are. Help us to feel that we can be who we want to be, in spite of our problems.
4. Get training on how to be empathic.
5. Speak openly with us. Tell us what you see. Ask concrete questions. Keep asking even if a child says there is nothing wrong.
6. Listen to the younger kids, even - and especially - if their parents don’t want you to.
7. Choose carefully the moment to talk to our parents.
8. In a crisis moment, when the police are at the door, ask us what has happened, and then tell us what is going to happen.
9. Place the child first - even, when necessary, before the rules.
10. Make us feel like we are part of the decision. Ask us what needs to change.
The Bernard van Leer Foundation has been working to reduce violence in children’s lives since 2010. Research shows not only that violence has toxic effects on children’s development, but also that solutions are not well known. Projects like this bring us another step closer to finding them.
Lisa Jordan is Executive Director of the Bernard van Leer Foundation. This blog was originally posted on November 14 2013 on the BvLF website. Image credit: Bernard van Leer Foundation