Important role for students in breaking intergenerational poverty in de Veenkoloniën

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Annelies Kassenberg
Saskia Duursma

Intergenerational poverty in de Veenkoloniën is a large and complex issue. An effective approach to reducing this form of poverty in the area is still lacking. Together with the 42 partners of the Alliance of Strength, Hanze University of Applied Sciences therefore launched the Living Lab (IWP) on Intergenerational Poverty in February. Students have an important role to play within the Living Lab. "The fight against poverty has not delivered what it should have done in recent years."

The fact that the focus of the Living Lab is on de Veenkoloniën is no coincidence. It is an area where 14,000 families live in poverty, and it is the largest rural area in the Netherlands with this poverty problem. A child who grows up in poverty is twice as likely to end up in poverty later on. "People in this area have been living in poverty for generations and therefore have low self-esteem," says Professor of Youth and Living Environment Annelies Kassenberg. "Parents say to their children: “the rich are getting richer and are getting poorer”. Because intergenerational poverty is so persistent, we consciously pay a lot of attention to the children. By offering children every opportunity and broadening the world for them, we want to investigate whether they will succeed in breaking the pattern." 

Alliance of Strength 

The Living Lab Intergenerational Poverty stems from the Alliance of Strength. Within this alliance, 42 partners work together to break through the poverty problem in de Veenkoloniën. Knowledge institutions such as the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and the University of Groningen, housing associations, municipalities, care and welfare institutions and experts by experience are represented within the Alliance of Strength. Kassenberg: "Together with the University of Groningen (UG) and CMO/STAMM, we co-wrote part of the programme plan for the Alliance of Strength a year ago. By means of the programme plan, we try to make visible what we want to achieve and, in particular, how. They are long-term goals over a period of twenty years. Within the Alliance of Strength, many parties are working on interventions to combat intergenerational poverty. Within the Alliance of Strength, we believe that we should work cyclically on improvement. Also, because at the moment we don't know which interventions are effective and which are not. Research is therefore included in the programme plan and is a very important part. On the one hand, it quantitatively monitors which interventions are made and what they yield. In addition, we also want more in-depth insight into why something works and for whom. We want to know much better how these interventions are experienced by both people living in poverty and the professionals who carry out the interventions. It is very interesting for the professional field to get answers to these small research questions and for our students they are exactly the right questions to do research on." 
Saskia Duursma is programme leader of the Alliance of Strength. About the importance of the innovation workshop, she observes: "We have been looking for solutions for years to break through the issue of intergenerational poverty. Research by the University of Groningen shows three things: we need to provide tailor-made solutions, stop doing projects and focus on the long term, and the third is that we don't really know what works and what doesn't. There is only one proven effective intervention and that is motivational interviewing. As for the rest, when it comes to poverty reduction, we do a lot on gut feeling and experience. If we really want to take steps in the next twenty years to break intergenerational poverty, we have put a spotlight on everything we do and ask ourselves: is it effective? Do the people concerned feel that it is improving something for them? With each intervention, the students will investigate whether it helps us move in the right direction. In recent years, the fight against poverty has not delivered what it should have done. More and more people are falling into poverty. We need to know better what works and what doesn't. Rolling out the right method is not possible without measuring effectiveness. Students play an important role in this. We can learn a lot from the people concerned." 

Research questions 

In the coming semester, five students will be working at welfare organisation Tinten. Students will map out what poverty interventions there are and turn them into a handy visual. This helps social workers and referrers in their daily practice. After the summer, the intention is that more students will be accommodated within the Living Lab Intergenerational Poverty. There is no shortage of research questions, says Duursma: "In addition to the research questions from Tinten, there are also research questions surrounding the Promising Talent programme in the short term. The aim of the programme is to guide unemployed people to a job or a next step in their development towards work. The programme focuses on basic skills in collaboration with the business community. We think this is very effective, but we don't know for sure. We want to have interventions, which we suspect are promising, tested by students for effectiveness. In addition to Promising Talent, there are more projects that we think are helpful, such as Kansrijk Groningen and Kansen voor Kinderen. These are large programmes that focus on breaking through poverty, where our gut feeling says that they are working. We want to prove that these are working initiatives for the people concerned to get out of poverty." 


Working in de Veenkoloniën is sometimes difficult for professionals, because you have to deal with people who are suspicious. "They often don't care much for government and professionals, because they feel that these agencies are not there for them," says Kassenberg. "By building trust, we want to break through that. That takes time and is certainly not easy." Duursma adds: "Within the Alliance of Strength, we work a lot with experts by experience, people who have been in poverty themselves and have come out of it. They help us give direction to the programme." Kassenberg and Duursma think that students will be able to gain the trust of the people in the region more easily. "We hope that students will be less threatening to residents, because they are young and still learning. Perhaps it will be easier for us to get into people's homes and students will be able to get information that professionals are less likely to get," says Kassenberg. 

Breaking generational poverty 

When will the goal of the Living Lab Intergenerational poverty be achieved? Duursma: "For me, it will be successful if we learn what works and what doesn't to break intergenerational poverty and that we do that by training the professional of the future." Kassenberg adds: "At universities of applied sciences, we have always said that professorships exist to serve the triangle of education, research and the professional field. Hopefully, we will make a valuable contribution to the research, gaining more insight into what works in de Veenkoloniën. In addition, we offer a wonderful opportunity for our students to do research. The professional field is also waiting for research, because they have many questions that they would like to have answers to. The facets of research, education and the professional field are served within this Living Lab." 
After the summer, there will still be plenty of room for new students, says Kassenberg. "We don't focus on students from one specific programme, the issues transcend schools. What qualities do you need to have as a student in order to take part? Above all, you have to have compassion for the target group, be genuinely interested, have a head for research and be curious."