With its headquarters in the Hague, the Bernard van Leer Foundation has a long history of working in the Netherlands. Even though the Netherlands is a well-developed and prosperous country, around 15% of families face serious challenges in being able to give their children a strong start in life. Our programming aims to support these families to improve their children’s life chances and close the gap in health and education outcomes in the Netherlands.

Working with caregivers

With our partners we support disadvantaged caregivers to improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing, and enhance parenting skills – for instance by supporting campaigns and policy changes that show the value of, and improve the lives and wellbeing of, caregivers. In addition, we strengthen the professionals and services that support them during the crucial first 1000 days of their children’s lives.

The Ode to Parents campaign is part of the Healthy Generation 2040 project, which aims to make the next generation – who will be young adults in 2040 – the healthiest in the world by improving the social and physical environment and lifestyle of Dutch families now, starting with the first 1000 days. The campaign aims to celebrate parents of young children, and lower the threshold for giving and receiving support.

Centering Pregnancy is an innovative approach to making early years services more accessible and effective for disadvantaged caregivers by organising group care. During the Covid-19 pandemic the live group care model, supporting Eritrean refugees during pregnancy, transitioned to an online model. This allowed the service to scale nationally. More recently it has also been adapted to serve other migrant women, including Ukrainian refugees, and caregivers after birth.

Photo: Courtesy of Caro Bonink

We are also working to improve the methodology of monitoring and assessing child development in the Netherlands through new digital tools that place caregivers in the lead, guiding them on their child’s achievements and next steps while also checking for developmental delays.

Working with cities

We envision a future in which every city in the Netherlands offers easily accessible and cost-effective services for families with young children, and more equal opportunities for a safe and healthy start in life. We support the scaling of specific initiatives, for instance on clean air; provide technical assistance; and work with the national government to support the implementation of the Solid Start Action programme in all Dutch municipalities in the next four years. The latter will improve early years collaboration between the social, medical and informal community domains, make early years interventions more widely available and help create healthier towns and cities.

We are supporting the national and international scale up of the “green and blue schoolyards” model, initiated in Rotterdam, to develop schoolyards which are mainly comprised of natural elements (the “green”) and designed to support climate adaptation, for instance through water (the “blue”) and health management. These schoolyards are open to the community outside of school hours, so they benefit families in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where green public space is sparse.

Green and Blue schoolyard at the Margrietschool in Rotterdam. Photo: Courtesy of Melissa van Well-Dijkshoorn

Together with the Public Health Service (GGD) of Amsterdam, we support training of frontline professionals and informal community partners on ways to better work together to support parents in disadvantaged circumstances, taking cultural and other contextual sensitivities into account.

We are supporting Health KIC, along with health insurance companies and the national government, to apply its data-driven Kavel model to identify ways to improve children’s health in the early years that will reduce the burden on health care services in the future, through a focus on disease prevention rather than treatment. It allows stakeholders to jointly improve health in a defined geographical area and includes cross-sectoral organising, financing, learning and monitoring.

Working with early years champions

By sharing knowledge and coordinating leaders, we aim to improve conditions on all levels of government in the Netherlands – from local to national – to scale up policies and practices that support disadvantaged families in their children’s early years.

Early years champion Tessa Roseboom's book launch. Photo: Courtesy of Vudinh Photography

Our work includes the above-mentioned support for early years leaders implementing the Ministry of Health’s Solid Start Action Programme; supporting the creation of an integrated early years data infrastructure to improve policymaking and cross-sector collaboration; and supporting and monitoring the effects of policy changes such as universal access to childcare and extending paid parental leave.