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Youth workers and radicalisation in the Netherlands





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In May and June 2015 the National Association of Professional Youth Work Netherlands (NAPYN) organised two expert meetings on the subject “Youth work and radicalisation”. The reason of this initiative was that more and more youth workers in the Netherlands have to deal with radicalisation but most of them do not know, when confronted, what to do and who to turn to for support.

Especially in some bigger cities with a substantial part of Islamic inhabitants the attention goes to radicalisation of Muslim youth. Both young girls and boys have left to take part in the war around Islamic State, either as a Jihad fighter or, the girls, as a Jihad Bride.

This type of radicalisation started some five years ago and is very hard to tackle for youth workers. A lot of attention goes to the repression of Muslim radicalisation as part of the national and local policy. Youth work is seen as a partner in the prevention approach but, as the expert meetings have shown, from their position and relation with young people, youth workers are urged to share their information to benefit the repression.

Youth workers are trained to pick up signals of problems that young people might encounter or notify changes in their behaviour

During the expert meetings youth workers had the opportunity to exchange their experiences, sum up the bottlenecks they encounter in their work and to investigate the ways of support they need to deal with radicalisation amongst “their” youth.

Youth workers are trained to pick up signals of problems that young people might encounter or notify changes in their behaviour. As in many other cases it is important to check these signals carefully to be sure that they are interpreted on their true value. Youth workers at the expert meetings had various examples of cases where young people where stigmatized because their behaviour was interpreted as being at risk of radicalisation while they were simply in a process of exploring their religion.

In the Netherlands youth policy is a responsibility of the municipalities. For youth workers this means that the approach to youth subjects like lover boys, drug abuse, criminality and radicalisation, differs per municipality. Some major cities cooperate in their approach because there are direct links between the involved groups in the different Cities and the recruiting of young people is organised on a regional level.

The lack of an overall policy on this theme means that there is no national approach and youth workers have to find their way around themselves when confronted with radicalisation. In most cases this means that youth workers do not have a clue who to turn to for support and, very important, who they can trust: what does the person you share your information with do with it and what does that mean for your relation with the young person (see for instance the above example of stigmatising)

Another contribution youth work can make as a part of a comprehensive approach , aside signposting, is prevention. Stay in contact with the young people, get to know the area you work in (analysis), get in contact with schools, mosques, organise information activities focussed on the perception of the young people but for instance also on the perception of parents and be open minded on religious matters in your contacts.

Build up and maintain a local network with involved partners, both formal and informal, and key figures in the area. This network should be based on mutual trust and a common belief in shared objectives more than bureaucratic imposed covenants.

We acknowledge the contribution to this article by:

The National Association of Professional Youth Workers Netherlands


The Dutch Youth Workers attending the expert meetings

What do youth workers need in order to fulfill their part of the comprehensive approach?

What do youth workers need in order to fulfill their part of the comprehensive approach?

A good training with enough knowledge on the Islam, departing to by I.S. dominated countries, signposting, how to bring signals and religion up for discussion;

Active support within your own organisation, a trustworthy management and a place to share and exchange experiences;

Clear agreements in local networks where the role and tasks of each involved is well determined and the network partners are aware of the precarious relation youth workers have with young people at risk;

A person within the organisation or external with whom the youth workers can share experiences without having the risk that action will be undertaken, for instance on matters that the youth worker does not even dare or wants to share with colleagues;

The possibility to work low-profile, meaning that there is no publicity on the fact that youth work is interfering with radicalisation;

A safe and trustworthy environment concerning sharing information (internal and external).


by Dick Smit (2015)

Dick Smit has been working for Stichting JONG for over 20 years as trainer and coach. Currently his function is manager detached youth work in the city of Gouda.

Cover: © Paul Posse, youth workers meeting: © Stichting JONG


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