ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary Education

ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary EducationLead advisor on early childhood care and education 
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Publisher of the New Zealand-International Research in Early Childhood Journal


Learning from the Netherlands and its approach to ECE Policy

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The Netherlands Study

A report prepared by Rowe Davies Research for Every Child Counts (August 2012)

The report focus is on what we in New Zealand can learn from the Dutch to improve outcomes for NZ's children.  

The Netherlands was selected by Every Child Counts, an NZ political lobby group, for study because it stands out as a country that achieves a very high OECD ranking in outcomes for children while spending a lot less than countries, such as Denmark, with similar high scores.

NZ is well down the OECD rankings for many child well-being outcomes, with severe disadvantage concentrated among Pacific and Maori families, solo parents, and low-income families. Abuse and neglect figures are high. NZ has relatively low wages and low labour productivity.  

The Netherlands is described as having a culture of respect for children and of the caring responsibilities of parents. There is a strong social consensus on the central role of families in bringing up children and this translates to a very different understanding of the State's role in relation to families and children. There is an expectation that parents will provide much of the care and education of children during their first four years.

Childcare subsidies are available including when the child is cared for within the family.  There are limited early childhood educational facilities for children 2-4 years and the priority for access is for children who are disadvantaged or have language difficulties. There is co-location and co-ordination of all children's services. Parent education and support is widely available and very large in scope. This means that services and policies have a strong role in the prevention of family and child problems. 

"The take home point from this report is that we need political leadership to build a consensus around the importance of supporting children", said NZ Member of Parliament Jacinda Arden at the report's launch at Parliament.

The Netherlands Ambassador H.E. Mr Arie van der Wiel spoke of his country's success. The Netherlands has high female employment rates, but most mothers are in part-time employment and there is greater availability of out-of-school care for 4-12 year olds. The role of men has changed and fathers are involved in children's care.  More men work part-time in the Netherlands than in comparable countries.  A robust economy, until now, has given the Netherlands a greater ability to invest in children.  Productivity is very high.  The child poverty rate is less than half of what NZ's is.  There are greater universal entitlements and children are at the centre of policy in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands study reveals some interesting policy options.  But the Dutch ambassador warns us not to set out to copy it. 

"Copying the Dutch system will not work in NZ, but provides interesting food for thought" said Mr van der Wiel. 

There are differences between countries such as NZ having an indigenous population and a high rate of solo parenthood.

To read the full report click here.

Below we have cut and pasted in the full set of recommendations made in the report.

Recommendations for programmes

We recommend that further investigation be made into the efficacy of additional investment in:

Expanding the reach of effective parent support and education programmes such as Early Start (effective) and HIPPY (emerging evidence), perhaps making them mandatory (but not exclusive) in mainstream programmes, and ensure -

  • Programmatic fidelity to the original policy design;
  • Staff are well-trained (local knowledge and contacts, however deep and longstanding, is not enough for fidelity); and
  • The program is well-managed - getting to scale is hard and has been the cause of many disappointing results in New Zealand. This is not a one-off event. It involves the development of high programme standards, in-service training, technical assistance and a cycle of continual assessment and improvement over time.

Expanding Plunket and well-child services to include access to practical help with childcare and a broader range of household tasks.

Developing effective services for mothers with post natal depression to improve their sensitivity to infants by investigating the applicability of the well-managed, researched and resourced Dutch programme (Kersten-Alvarez et al., 2011).

Expanding the availability of out-of-school care.

Increasing statutory parental leave to at least 18 weeks; improve the pay rate to the average OECD percent of wages; and widen eligibility criteria so the scheme is available to mothers with less stable employment histories.

Housing: improving the effectiveness of State-funded housing for parents by:

  • Allocating more of the increasing supply of social housing to low and modest income parents Giving parents, especially sole parents, priority access to public housing, especially in mixed developments
  • Regulating the quality of housing
  • Increasing the income range of those who can occupy social housing
  • Including active measures to improve the social mobility of low income parents in any regeneration projects by, for example, expanding their access to childcare and educational and work opportunities; and 
  • Continuing to encourage the growth in housing associations. 

In addition, we recommend the government considers:

* Adopting a set of principles for rebalancing the relationship between families and the State as a basis for any future changes in policy or practice for children, young people and families, perhaps articulated in a Children’s Action Plan. We suggest the following principles as a starting point:

  • Increase parental choice/agency to decide on the mix and provider of evidence-based services
  • ƒIncrease the voice of children in deciding on the mix and provider of services
  • Adopt an approach that the State’s role is to provide what families need to bring up their children well, so the government is responsible for investment in services, certification of quality, ensuring policies and programmes do not harm children and equitable regional distribution of services
  • ƒAchieve a better balance between supporting families and managing risk, and
  • ƒAchieve a better balance between national and local control of policies for children and families.

* Adapting the digital child file currently being developed in New Zealand for health information so it can be used for tracking vulnerable children, as will be the case with the Dutch system.

* Developing a public campaign to change attitudes to children, reinforce the central role of parents in bringing up their children, and shift the way services are organised so they support parents.

* Investing in a wealth creation strategy with the objective of enabling more effective investment in children and families.

Keeping an eye on progress

Adopt national, regional and local indicators of child well-being, so progress can be tracked and widely shared.

Monitor current and new services and support for take up as well as effectiveness, so there is evidence for adapting policies, continuing and expanding those that are effective and, if warranted, shifting funding from policies the evidence suggests should be stopped to those that should be continued or expanded.

Evaluate the implementation of any new legislation designed to improve outcomes for children after five

Establishing a dialogue

We recommend an on-going dialogue be established between Dutch and New Zealand officials so good ideas can be explored and both parties can learn from their experiences in implementing and maintaining new policies.

This dialogue could be usefully supported by dialogue between non-governmental organisations in each country. We suggest the dialogue focus on:

  • Different models of clustering and co-location of services in New Zealand and the Netherlands, including how decisions are made about the mix and monitoring of services;
  • Both countries’ experience with devolution of services and its impact on improving child outcomes;
  • The development and impact of community schools
  • The effectiveness of the Dutch advice and support agency for professionals and others who are concerned about possible child abuse and neglect
  • The likely causes of the low NEET figures in the Netherlands
  • The risks of mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect
  • Monitoring the implementation of the tracking system for children in the Netherlands, with a view to adapting the digital child file being developed for health and other relevant information in New Zealand
  • Monitoring the Reference Index for Youth at Risk that is being implemented throughout the Netherlands

We also recommend the OECD, and Dutch and New Zealand officials explore the factors Dutch officials consider were the most significant in achieving the good outcomes demonstrated in the data collected from 2005 to 2009.


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