Summary Age limits - Better opportunities for vulnerable young people

Dutch Law is rife with age limits. The most ‘iconic’ of these limits is perhaps the one at 18, the age at which Dutch citizens reach the age of majority. However, other ages also play an important role when it comes to areas such as health care and support, work and income, education, criminal law, and the Civil Code. One can debate these age limits, not only on a matter of principle, but also because some age limits can form obstacles when it comes to the development of young people – especially for those who are considered to be vulnerable.

The Council for Public Health and Society (RVS) has identified four obstacles that can leave young people in difficult situations. First, certain age limits do not always suit the characteristics and situations of individual young people, which means they will not receive suitable care, support, or guidance. Take, for example, the age limit of 18 years until which municipalities are obliged to provide youth care for young people in need. Many of these young people have a serious need for youth care after this age as well. After all, they often receive little support from their family, and suddenly have to deal with a lot of new issues and responsibilities at 18, while they’re still developing. Moreover, they are often delayed in their development, meaning the cut-off at 18 is often much too early for them.

Difficulties with switching from one law or provision to another

Secondly, young people experience difficulties when switching from one law or provision to another. Like the transition from being legally underage to reaching the age of majority at 18 , or between the Youth Act and the Social Support Act 2015 (Wmo) or Healthcare Insurance Act (Zvw). This transition can go poorly because the young person is ill-prepared, or due to the bureaucratic and time-consuming process. Young people would be better served by a gradual transition, for which they also receive support. This way, they won’t fall through the cracks, and the continuity of care and support is guaranteed.

Care and support does not suit life experiences of young people

Thirdly, the care and support offered often does not suit the life experiences of young people. This can have severe consequences: vulnerable youths aren’t being reached, or the help that is provided isn’t enough – in some cases, it might even be counter-productive. It is also possible that some do not realise that they have a problem, and accordingly do not request help. Others are ashamed, had bad experiences, or simply don’t care.

Lack of financial stimulation and limited budgets

Lastly, innovation and prevention ‘across the boundaries’ of different domains are limited due to a lack of financial stimulation and limited budgets. Municipalities can barely afford youth care for their residents under the age of 18, never mind the voluntary extension of youth care for residents between 18 and 23 years of age. Moreover, young people over the age of 18 are sometimes entitled to care and support through the Zvw, Wmo, or the Long-Term Care Act (Wlz).

Cohesive programme of measures

With this advice, the Council wants to eliminate as many obstacles as possible. A cohesive programme of measures is suggested to better help guide vulnerable young people towards independence. These measures are focussed on youth care, because that area has the most, and worst, problems. First of all, in the short term, the Council recommends increasing the youth care age limit of municipalities from 18 to 21 years of age, with a possible extension to 23 years of age. In the long term, this limit could be raised even further. Also, the decision to provide or cease youth care should be dependent on the needs and situation of the individual young person, and not on whether or not the municipality has budgeted for it.

Care and support towards reaching life goals

Care and support should not work towards reaching a certain age, but towards reaching certain life goals. Like finding a suitable education, a suitable job, private living space, or individually tailored treatment. Municipalities and professionals should work together to guide young people from age 16 and up towards achieving these life goals.

Experiment with ‘transition budgets’

Raising the age limit means that there is more time and space for such personalised care. But that won’t be enough. Young people between the ages of 16 and 21 – with a possible extension to 23 – should receive suitable care, either through the Youth Act or through the Wmo, Zvw, or Wlz. This would require some harmonisation of the differences in personal contributions as well as a new funding structure. To accomplish this, the Council suggests that municipalities, health insurers, and health care providers experiment with ‘transition budgets’.

Development of more varied care

The Council also believes it is necessary for municipalities and care providers to develop more varied care, which would make young people more motivated and involved. Examples are low-threshold care centres, assisted living and protected housing facilities, and the use of JIMs (Personally Chosen Mentors) and experts with first-hand experience in youth care.

Helping vulnerable young people aged 18 to 21 years

The Council also wonders if other, more far-reaching measures are needed to help vulnerable young people aged 18 to 21 in their development. What should happen to ‘at -risk youths’ that flee mandatory youth care at 18? Should conditional forms of forced admission be legalised? Could professionals resort to freedom restrictions rather than full detention? Or do such measures contain too many legal and moral ramifications? And are there possibilities to keep parents involved between the ages of 18 and 21? More specifically, the Council wonders whether their involvement can function on the basis of ‘yes, unless’ instead of the current ‘no, unless’? The Council recommends that thorough and careful research be done before these questions can be answered.

Different age limits

Finally, the Council asked the question how all these different age limits within the law came into being. And what seems to be the case? Sometimes the reasons are not very well thought out; important considerations did not play a role, or were not implemented to their full extent. In this advice, the Council presents an assessment framework. With this framework, the different considerations that come into play when determining age limits are made explicit.

Assessment framework

It is recommended that the assessment framework is also used to look at some existing age limits. For example, the age limit of 27 years on educational criteria for benefits should be assessed, as well as the age limit of 23 years with regard to entitlements in housing benefits. The age at which you receive the right to vote is also a curious case. Further research into the reasoning behind these limits is necessary; perhaps changes are even needed. This stems from the basic tenet that well-thought-out and carefully considered age limits will increase the quality of our laws. Only then can an optimal development of young people be secured in the future.


Prof. dr. P.L. (Pauline) Meurs, chair

Prof. dr. A.J. (Jeannette) Pols, member

Dr. H.J. (Herbert) Rolden, senior advisor

Drs. B.J.C. (Bart) van de Gevel, senior advisor