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Children's healthcare in the Netherlands: Do you know where to go?

Children's health care is one of the concerns of parents and caregivers when moving to another country. Each country has its own health structure and we often need to relearn how to proceed in each situation. In this article, we seek to provide basic guidelines on where to find child health care services.

In the Netherlands, there is a separation between healthcare when you are sick and healthcare to monitor the child's development and well-being. When a child falls ill, the GP (huisarts) is the first step towards care. Those who accompany the child's development, check their well-being, whether they are growing well and within the expected range for their age, who do this monitoring are the specialized nurses and pediatric physicians from the GGD (Gementelijke Gezondheidsdiensten). Generally speaking, parents know the GGD as the place that administers vaccines and monitors children's weight, but this institution does more than that.

We can translate the GGD as a Children's and Youth Health Center. There you find health professionals specialized in childhood and adolescence (such as pediatricians, pediatric nurses, child psychologists) who assist children from 0 to 18 years old and guide parents on the development and care of their children. Each city has a GGD and childcare is divided by age:

  • 0 - 2 year olds

  • 2 - 4 year olds

  • 4 -12 year olds

  • 12-18 year olds.

For each age group, there are teams specialized in that stage of child development. For all age groups, GGD professionals rely on the partnership of parents and caregivers. This partnership is built on follow-up consultations and on the participation of parents in the various consultancies and courses that GGD offers.

When a child is born in the Netherlands, the family is visited by child health professionals: a nurse and a pediatrician. This team will arrange all the exams for the newborn and the necessary vaccines. At this time, a pediatric nurse is also appointed to accompany the family. This professional will be the reference for assistance with the GGD team.

For children up to 12 years old, GGD offers the following services:

  • vaccination;

  • weighing;

  • vision exams;

  • hearing tests;

  • assessment of motor development;

  • monitoring of physical and mental development.

Professionals also monitor development at school, both in terms of learning and socialization. Whenever the family is concerned about their children's well-being, they can contact the GGD and schedule an appointment.

In addition to caring for children, GGD has several counseling and support services for mothers and fathers. Pediatric nurses are prepared to listen to parents and provide new insights, advice and information to better care for their children and solve daily problems. In general, the GGD provides advice on breastfeeding, baby/child sleep, feeding, unfurling and toilet training, how to deal with crying and “tantrums”. Every city has specific programs such as support groups for mothers, guidance courses for parents, psychological support for parents who have lived through traumatic situations, among others.

The GGD also has pediatric professionals specialized in adolescence, both for teenagers (12 to 18 years old) and for their parents and caregivers. There is also the digital platform with health information; changes in the body; relationships; sex; feelings; preventing the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; digital media and cyberbulling. On the platform, the teenager has access to secure information and can also chat anonymously with a pediatrician or youth nurse. According to GGD data, more than 1 million young people access the website every year seeking information and guidance. The guidelines are simple and accessible for both teenagers and their parents.

Most of the guidance and health services for teenagers take place at school, and two preventive exams carried out in secondary school. Even so, both parents and teenagers can seek health and counseling services at their city's GGD and schedule an appointment.

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