How young children, adults and communities benefit from intergenerational activities

Member Spotlight: Interview with Mathijs Euwema, Director, International Child Development Initiatives

Mathijs Euwema, Director of ICDI


1. Could you tell us about your background, what brought you into children’s rights sector? 

I’m a child psychologist by training. Being interested in different cultures, I volunteered initially for refugee children in The Netherlands and in Croatia. Afterwards I returned to Netherlands working “professionally” for refugee children and for children in special needs schools. This led me to working for an international NGO that implements psychosocial programmes for children in war affected areas. Since 2007 I am director at ICDI. My motivation lies in the wish to help children develop in the best possible way. 

2.    Can you explain briefly the work of ICDI and what do you hope to achieve?

We are a centre of expertise on children’s development through training, research, advice and partnership with other like-minded organisations and people. ICDI focuses on psycho social development, which means that you need to use an holistic approach and the network of professionals, parents and others who are in day to day contact with children. Our network is global.

We work in two teams, one focusing on the early years (0-8) and the other on children and youth (8-18). Each team has its own focal areas. 

As for children and youth, we can honestly claim that we have helped improve child protection services in various countries, from Eastern Europe to Africa. Our main asset is our specialist knowledge of and perspective on psychosocial child and youth development. Knowing what works best for children at what age is our unique added value.

In our early years programmes, we address the psycho-social development of young children, prioritising children’s interaction with their environment, through attention to play and access to nature. We also look at equity and diversity i.e. gender, language, socio-economic background, ability, disability and ethnicity to promote the access and inclusion of children. Currently we are embarking on a project to address social inclusion and development of young Roma children using intergenerational relationships.  

3. Does ICDI support children’s participation? 

Indeed! We have a training for children to become researchers. Children and young people are trained to do research themselves on topics they think are important, in their own environments. They learn skills on how to develop and implement a research activity. Then they also present the results to people in their environment so that everybody can learn from children. 

The Girls Quat is another example of how important child and youth participation is at ICDI. It is a tool that measures quality of services for girls. It’s interactive because girls can voice their opinions and these are then used to improve services that are meant to help them, like schools, shelters, girls ‘clubs. 

And we have many other projects in which participation of children and youth is a crucial element. 

4. Can you share an achievement that you are proud of? 

What I’m personally impressed by is how one idea expands and grows bigger. For instance, many years ago, we were involved in developing an after-school programme for children in multi-problem families in rural communities in Bosnia & Herzegovina. These children were at risk of being taken away from their families. So, these after school centres were built to offer them psycho-social support so they would not end up in dreadful institutions. By now 16 so called NEST centres have sprung up in Bosnia & Herzegovina. We trained staff, developed guidelines, evaluated the model and developed an international manual for the model. Now, we even have NEST centres for refugee children in Netherlands and there are also NEST centres in Ukraine, Palestine, and Nepal. That shows the power of a good idea!


5. Specifically on early years, what are the lessons from the award-winning TOY project? What recommendations do you have to governments to invest in the early years? 

TOY or Together Young and Old project attempts to solve the problem of less and less contact in western societies. It is important to develop these relationships. The TOY project has developed recommendations for local authorities. We also developed Inter-generational quality self-assessment tools for educational institutions and local authorities (they can receive a TOY Quality stamp). We will also be developing a Massive Open Online Course on the TOY methodology, with modules focusing on including newly arrived residents, migrants and Roma as a means to foster intercultural dialogue and social inclusion. 

Research shows that young children, adults and communities benefit from such intergenerational activities. Young children learn about traditions, food production, local history, develop new competences, become more calm, more structured, and learn about citizen’s values. At the same time seniors feel more valued and useful to society. Physical and mental health improves and communities as a whole benefit from all generations learning and having fun together. It can also reduce fears and prejudices when you engage different generations within the society. 

6. The situation of children on the move (migrant and refugee children) is a big concern in the children’s rights community. What is ICDI doing in this area? 

Apart from the NEST centres, we are also working on a project in Ukraine for internally displaced children. And we are about to be partner in an European project that aims to develop life skills of refugee children. We also try to inform people like for example teachers on different perspectives and approaches towards refugee children.

7. According to you, what role can the European institutions (EU, Council of Europe) or the UN play in the area of child protection and children’s rights? And how do you see the role of Eurochild network in relation to this? 

The EU is doing a lot in the area of children’s rights. The EU institutions are offering many guidelines and recommendations and monitoring mechanisms for countries. And there is money available for projects on children’s rights although it’s never enough. In general, the EU suffers from being a large bureaucracy. There are a lot of innovative, creative projects that never get a chance because of the way the funding process is organised. It excludes many good, grassroots initiatives. I’m afraid it’s a mixed story with the EU. 

Eurochild itself, as a network has allowed us to start many projects with other members. The exchange of experience is helpful. The network is a useful contribution to get cross-border cooperation going. 

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