“Children growing up in poverty is a serious problem in the Netherlands”
Children who can’t go on a school trip. Or who stay home ‘sick’ on their birthday so no one notices that their parents don’t have enough money to pass out treats. According to Judith Hermelink, that happens much more often than people realize. “Children growing up in poverty is a serious problem in the Netherlands. We estimate that it affects one out of 12 children, or an average of two per classroom.”
Four clubs work together
Fortunately, the Netherlands has several organizations that exist specifically to help these children. To be even more effective, four of these organizations have joined forces within a new partnership: Vereniging Leergeld Nederland, Jeugdfonds Sport & Cultuur, Stichting Jarige Job and Kinderhulp. Judith Hermelink serves as the coordinator in charge of supervising the partnership.
Reaching the target group
What’s the main challenge facing the four organizations? According to Judith Hermelink, it’s reaching the target group. “People living in poverty are often ashamed of that fact. So they don’t seek help, either because they don’t know that help exists, are afraid that any assistance will be deducted from their state aid, don’t speak the language or are simply too proud to ask. But that has some major consequences for their children. You can only spend money once, so food is more important than a membership in a sports club or a school trip.”
The organizations behind Sam& voor alle kinderen (Sam& For All Children) believe it’s important for all children to participate in society. Hermelink: “But that’s not as easy for children growing up in families with less money. They can’t play sports, don’t have the right school supplies, can’t celebrate their birthdays and don’t have money for an excursion. As a result, these children don’t have the same opportunities for social, emotional and intellectual development as other children do.”
Parents and intermediaries can submit a request for assistance in kind from Sam& to allow the child to participate. “Things like the fees for a child that wants to play a sport.” Judith emphasizes that the assistance isn’t a gift. “These kinds of facilities help the child develop and contribute to financially self-reliant people who’ll be able to make a contribution of their own later on.”
To make it as easy as possible to submit an application, Sam& set up the online portal samenvoorallekinderen.nl. According to Hermelink, this accessible portal hides a complex back-end that ensures requests are sent to the right organization. “Fortunately, we’re getting better at contacting one another. And that’s important, because children growing up in poverty often have multiple needs. Vereniging Leergeld focuses on educational facilities, for example, but during a home visit they might also notice that a child needs glasses in order to read. The organization can then contact Kinderhulp to arrange financing to meet that need. Sometimes two organizations can also cover part of the cost of a facility like swimming lessons or riding lessons.”
Things didn’t always go smoothly in the beginning, explains Hermelink. “The organizations each have their own work methods. And they’re also occasionally competitors, for example when it comes to fundraising or municipal grants. Money is always a tense issue, but fortunately the organizations also see the results they can achieve thanks to the partnership.”
And those results are impressive. In 2016, before the organizations joined forces, they helped children more than 250,000 times. But in 2020, they provided assistance 390,000 times; an increase of 55%. “That isn’t 390,000 unique children; some children receive support from more than one of our partners. But we still have a long way to go. So we want to expand the partnership in the future.”
More than money
Rabo Foundation supports Sam& with a financial contribution. “Part of it was used to build the online portal”, says Hermelink. “But at Rabo Foundation, it’s about much more than the money. The organization also helps bring parties together. We wanted to conduct a study of allowances among children just starting secondary school. That way, they could ‘keep up’ with their peers. But getting an allowance also teaches them how to deal with money. We talked about it to Danielle van den Akker at Rabo Foundation, and she put us into contact with the HAN University of Applied Sciences. Together we set up a scientific and educational pilot project to study allowances for young people.”
“The great thing about Sam& is that it actually does something about the problem of childhood poverty”, says Hermelink. “A lot of municipalities, organizations and companies are active in that area, and they often talk about the importance of collaboration and joining forces. Via Sam&, we actually do something about it.”
How wonderful it would be if all parents with less money knew that there are opportunities to get help. You can help with this! Do you come into contact with (working) parents with money worries? Then you can refer them to Sam&. We support Sam& from our financial reliance program where we aim to tackle the debt problem at its roots.