Youth care for complex problems
Children, young people and parents with complex problems are not always well served by youth care services. What can we learn from their stories and from the experiences of professionals? And how can we improve the care and assistance provided to other children and families?
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Netherlands Youth Institute


Could you help us collect and interpret stories and experiences about youth care for families with complex problems?


  • in-depth interviews with families and youth professionals
  • analysis of the shared stories and experiences
  • session with families and professionals
  • describing the benefits and lessons


  • interim report on joint learning in complex situations
  • final report including practical working cards

A major challenge in youth care is providing assistance to children, young people and families with complex problems. These families often face several problems at the same time – such as educational disadvantages, behavioural problems, addictions, financial difficulties, psychological problems or child abuse. Assistance to these families does not always lead to a better situation. The Netherlands Youth Institute wanted to gain a better understanding of why this is the case, based on the life stories of a number of young people and their parents and the experiences of professionals.

in-depth interviews

In a series of in-depth interviews, we talked to young people and their parents about the complex situations they found themselves in and about their experiences with youth care. We went back to the beginning, marked turning points, dwelt on moments when youth care stagnated, and discovered decisive factors and individuals who made the difference. Next, we conducted extensive interviews with five youth care workers who were involved with this family. What choices and considerations did they make? How did they experience this? And how do they look back on it now?

patterns and insights

During the interviews, the families and professionals generously shared their insights, lessons learned, reflections, criticisms and compliments. Recurring elements emerged and patterns became visible. In a special meeting, we discussed and deepened these together with the family and the professionals. On the basis of this, we identified four themes, which run through the stories from practice and experience and are important for future assistance to families with complex problems. We elaborated on these themes in an interim report, which was later incorporated into a final publication with work cards to support youth professionals.

“In the context of a learning movement around complex youth safety issues, Mark was involved in a special project in which he recorded the life stories of a number of young people and parents, and the experiences of professionals. Mark’s working method corresponded seamlessly with the intention of this project. With complete equality and an empathic, genuinely interested attitude, he spent some time with them and immersed himself in their stories. He then wrote down the stories in such a way that those involved could recognize themselves in them and felt acknowledged. The stories contribute to the knowledge that is needed for children in vulnerable situations to grow up and develop to their full potential. In addition, Mark participated with us in a constructive way in the process and in getting the results right.”

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