12 April 2017

Introducing two societal partners for Dynamics of Youth

Fascinated by what the next 20 years will bring

How can an 11-year old boy growing up in a rough neighborhood gain from Dynamics of Youth? What kind of research would benefit parents of a chronically ill baby? And what scientific knowledge helps a primary school teacher to recognize the autistic traits in one of her pupils? For such and other vital questions DoY-researchers need to keep in close contact with the daily grind of society.

Netwerk

In order to know what’s needed and what’s not in children's health, social well being and education, DoY-researchers need connections with The Real World. We’ve established some valuable contacts already and call them our Societal Partners. In a series of interviews we'll introduce them to you. In this issue:

  • Annette Roeters, director general of the National Board for Child Protection. She is a member of the DoY-Societal Advisory Board.
  • Martha Grootenhuis leads a research group on pediatric psycho-psychology. She works at the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht and is one of our so called Campus-partners.

What do Roeters and Grootenhuis hope to give and gain from their partnership with Dynamics of Youth?

Annette Roeters

Annette Roeters, who studied Dutch Language and Literature and has worked in education for decades, is interested in language development in children. In fact, being the chairwoman of the National Board of Child Protection in the Netherlands, she's interested in everything concerning children, but feels she has to narrow it down a bit when asked about her expectations of such vast fields of research as Dynamics of Youth will cover.

“I've accepted the invitation to become member of the DoY-societal board because A: this is such an important group to study and B: I've never seen such an expansive research plan – I can't wait to see what will happen in the next twenty years of Dynamics of Youth. There are so many exciting connections to be made when even fields as veterinarian science are involved!”

Give and gain

'I expect to gain knowledge – preferably preventive knowledge!'

“Experience is what I have to give to Dynamics of Youth as a societal partner - I can share what we encounter in our line of work. We deal with situations wherein things have already gone 'wrong', or are on the brink of escalating. Our estimations and investigations make up a report of advice for the judges concerned. So we see divorce in its most uncooperative ways, grave dilemmas in upbringing, child abuse – also the kind that maintains itself from generation upon generation.

And what I hope to gain? That’s not my main motivation to be professionally interested in DoY, but yes, when asked: eventually I do expect to gain knowledge – preferably preventive knowledge! – from insights in the complex interactions that make up an individual child, that make up a family, that make up a neighbourhood.”

Room for education

Together with fellow education expert Jelle Kaldewaij (also member of the DoY Societal Advisory Board; he’ll be the next runner up in this series), Roeters hopes to see education play a big part in DoY-research projects. Schools and educational institutions are very important as partners for the Board for Child Protection; children spend a major part of their life in classrooms, thus making teachers and school directors important ‘eyes’ to signal possible child abuse, or parents having serious difficulties with raising their children.

Leraar van een basisschool met leerlingen.

“I'd like to see those teachers, parents and children who are so valuable to the current cohort-studies to gain something, in the shape of practical knowledge, and to be kept in the loop of research results that concern them. They invest a lot of practical energy: for all the encounters which make the cohort-studies in Utrecht possible, thousands of children need a day off from school, which means some considerable organizational fuss for schools and parents.”

Express progress

How would she herself like to be kept in the loop of DoY-ongoings? “As the DoY-societal Advisory Board we met in February 2017 for the first time. We then agreed to meet twice a year, and of course we need to stay informed in the meantime. Press exposure will no doubt come, and I’m sure DoY-newsletters will keep us posted. In short: do please show us your progress!”

 

Martha Grootenhuis

Martha Grootenhuis believes in generic solutions. Interventions that apply to many more children than the ones she’s involved with: children with cancer. Her research field is medical traumatic stress and coping; how children and their family handle their chronic illness differs greatly. And while Grootenhuis and her group focus on children with cancer and their families, she’s convinced that interventions designed for them can work for other chronically ill children too. “Because the problems and obstacles in daily life that children with cancer encounter, are largely the same issues that children with for example diabetes face.” For Grootenhuis, exploring and inventing more generic solutions to better children’s lives is the main attraction to be involved in DoY.

At risk

“Finding out which children are at risk in our society is where my group and all other researchers involved in DoY come together. For I may focus on children who are ill, but our aim is to develop meaningful things for all children. For years we’ve been examining how chronically ill children and their families react on and cope with stress. Our goal has always been to prevent stress as much as possible, and to prevent medical and social trauma's. The outcomes and interventions based on our knowledge so far can be used for healthy children too.”

One portal

'If all hospitals continue to use different systems, we can't grow.'

This may sound commonplace, but sharing information is crucial for children’s well being, especially if their illness and their daily life are so intrinsically interwoven. Grootenhuis and her co-workers from both the Emma Children's Hospital AMC (where she is still employed for two days per week) and the Princess Máxima Center established and worked on the KLIK-portal for over ten years. KLIK is an internet-based means of communication developed to be used by health care providers and as many children and parents as possible in the Netherlands.

“At the Princess Máxima Center we strive to use one e-portal for everything; medical information, psychological, research, intervention possibilities... For patient reported outcomes we have developed a good example with KLIK and it would be so efficient if such a portal could be used by other hospitals! Because if all hospitals continue to use different systems, we can't grow.”

Gamende kinderen

Serious gaming

Another vivid example of one of the many interesting fields of research Dynamics of Youth could touch upon is serious gaming. As Grootenhuis is a believer in generic interventions for all children – be they ill or healthy – she sees lots of possibilities here. “We’ll be writing a position paper for DoY, to explore the values, roles and possibilities of play for children.”

Circles

On another serious note: “It's great that DoY makes the effort to connect all those valuable circles that already exist, but it's a lot of work. I know everybody is full of good intentions, but working together is difficult. If research groups with their own history and intentions want to do so, they should put effort into getting connected.  My personal opinion: serious commitment between research groups is needed, as well as keeping projects small. This will make it less hard to get funding, and easier to achieve realistic goals.”

Dynamics of Youth will soon introduce more societal and campus partners: Jelle Kaldewaij, director of the NRO (Netherlands Initiative for Education Research); Hetty Linden, director of Public Health for the Municipality of Utrecht; Swanet Woldhuis, director of the Dutch Association for Autism, and others.

Dynamics of Youth

As one of Utrecht University's four strategic themes, Dynamics of Youth combines excellent child research from all seven faculties.Within Dynamics of Youth, researchers from different disciplines integrate their expertise to answer crucial questions for future generations. How can we help our children develop into balanced individuals, that are able to function successfully in a rapidly changing environment?