Transforming Care: The New Welfare State
By Ted Wachtel
Rob van Pagée, founder of Eigen Kracht Centrale—an agency that has organized more than eleven thousand FGCs in the Netherlands—has criticized his own “system thinking” as a young professional social worker.
In an article entitled Transforming Care: The New Welfare State he wrote:
“They were my families.
“They adapted to my way of working.
“They came to my office, at a time chosen by me.
“They learned my professional jargon.
“It was about my explanation of their problems.
“Our organization prescribed the solution.
“We generally used one, not particularly broad, range of solutions.
“I saw countless problems that were connected, such as poverty, poor housing, debt, medication use and unemployment, but I focused mainly on upbringing and development opportunities.
“I didn’t know the debt restructuring, housing association or job centre experts; these were in other offices.”
As Van Pagée came to recognize the shortcomings of the system, he embraced the New Zealand FGC and brought it to the Netherlands and other countries in Europe. He further explained how FGC is changing the attitude of the system toward families.
“We recognized that those families described in my first job as ‘people with problems’ are also the experts regarding the history and development of their issues. Their own stories, told in their environment, which developed within their own network and with people who count for them, also provide the source for a solution.”
Because Eigen Kracht Centrale’s conferences are high quality, the research results are compelling. A world leader in conferencing, the Dutch non-profit organization has developed a reliable and cost-effective approach: using non-professionals trained as coordinators.
Hundreds of volunteer coordinators accommodate the wide diversity of foreign languages and cultures among immigrants in the Netherlands, something that government itself would struggle to afford.
“Research shows that Eigen Kracht conferences are effective, even in complex situations where youth care is involved, in cases of domestic violence, as well as where so-called multi-problem families are concerned…
“Most plans are executed, the problems are solved and escalation is prevented.”
Eigen Kracht conferences are also cost-effective. This is because families tend to use their own resources. Instead of requesting residential care, as professionals often do, the families arrange for help at home or for foster care instead of residential youth care. When there is not an FGC, typically those cases cost about twice as much as those for which there was an FGC (Eigen Kracht Centrale, 2004-2009, 2).
Still, social work professionals often resist the idea that families can make their own decisions, finding all kinds of reasons why a conference “wouldn’t work” and why professional decision-making would be better.