Magazine showcasing Utrecht University's child and youth research

Voorkant van het magazine, skatende jongens met de tekst 'Be Real'
Photography: Sandra Stokmans

The magazine Be Real focuses on the interdisciplinary cooperation in Utrecht child and youth research, and is a publication of Dynamics of Youth (one of Utrecht University's strategic themes) and Child Health (one of the six spearheads of UMC Utrecht). It includes contributions from (among others) researchers Joost Huijer and Jet Tigchelaar (both affiliated with Utrecht Centre for European Research into Family Law, UCERF), Thomas Van Huizen (affiliated with Utrecht University School of Economics) and Kathrine van den Bogert (affiliated with Utrecht University School of Governance).

In the (Dutch language) magazine Be Real, researchers from different fields share their views on equal opportunities and how to make this happen for children and young people. They observe a culture change in healthcare, for example that the view has become broader and more integrated in recent years. Researchers from very different backgrounds are now working together in research programmes such as Dynamics of Youth. In these, attention is growing for the circumstances in which children grow up and the (un)equal opportunities this entails. The long-term TRAILS study (TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey) is a fine example of multidisciplinary research into the psychological, social and physical development of adolescents and young adults. It highlights the connection between social, psychological and biological factors.

The first period of life is very important, if not determinant of later inequality

That is why investing in pre-school facilities is important. "That is where we can really make a difference," says Thomas. On the other hand, he sees that the differences are so great that it is unrealistic to think that an equal opportunity world will ever be entirely possible. "You are dealing with an stubborn problem," he says.

Right to equal opportunities for children

Jet Tigchelaar wrote about the right to a fair, equal chance in life in light of the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. She addresses the dilemma of unequal opportunities. How can it be avoided? "A just society starts with equal opportunities for all children. It is a fundamental right and, above all, I see it as a duty of all of us to realise this."

Think of the right of access to education, or the right not to be discriminated against. So, legally spoken, things are well regulated. But day-to-day practice proves less amenable.

Vaccination: a regional or global issue?

Does an academic children's hospital only provide for the children in its region, or does the hospital also bear a responsibility towards all children worldwide? Joost Huijer considered this question together with paediatric infectiologist Louis Bont. Take the common cold virus RSV, for example – still the second leading cause of death among infants worldwide. Fortunately, two vaccines are now being developed; if they are included in the National Vaccination Programme, the problem will be solved in this part of the world.

The right to medical care may clash with other fundamental rights.

Yet in a lot of places around the world, there are no hospitals where you can easily go with your infected child. Can we do something about that from here? There is a legal basis in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for a hospital to reach all children, including those in developing countries. Paragraph 4 of Article 24 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child states with regard to children's right to health: "In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries." Vaccinations are an important means to this end. 

An important prerequisite for raising awareness consists of providing proper government information. Joost: "The right to medical care can clash with other fundamental rights, such as the right to religious freedom. More knowledge can help people make a considered choice for their children."

Practicing sports makes young people fitter – in all respects

Earlier in her career, Kathrine van den Bogert studied how girls from migrant and Muslim backgrounds in the Schilderswijk district of The Hague organised their own football training and matches. Now she focuses on sports participation at football club SVO De Dreef in Utrecht Overvecht, where informal membership offers young people the chance to play football in a club context who would otherwise fall by the wayside.

In my research, I see how important it is to offer sport as accessible and informal as possible.

At De Dreef, only a third of the members are officially registered KNVB (Netherlands Football Association) members. The other footballers do not participate in official competitions. "These are, for example, young people with divorced parents, who live in different places, making it difficult to join regular competitions. Or there are money worries or practical obstacles such as transport, so they cannot be full members. But with this informal membership, they can still participate."

Read the magazine here (only in Dutch)