Implementation in the Netherlands: residential youth care sector

In 2008, Erika Frans from Sensoa (Belgium) started on what would eventually become the Sensoa Flag System in 2010. For implementation purposes Sensoa and Movisie developed extra materials for specific sectors (such as sports, youth work and education). Together with Rutgers and other parties, the method was adapted for use in the residential youth care sector.

The Flag System is a method to help professionals judge the sexual behaviour of and towards children and youths in a fair manner, and provide an appropriate response to it. While working with the various elements of the method, it became clear that there was a need for additional and more in-depth material. In 2012, a consortium of five organisations applied for a grant for a project named ‘Healthy Sexual Behaviour in Residential Youth Care (RYC): The Flag System RJ (in English: RYC)’, for a total budget of 1 million euros.


The objectives of the project were to:

  1. Successfully implement the Flag System within organisations for residential youth care (RYC) and
  2. Successfully implement the Flag System within universities of applied sciences.

Which would lead to a further improvement of the insight and skills of professionals-to-be in RYC, and their ability to support the sexuality and sexual behaviour of young people (in RYC) in a positive way.

Elements of the project

The project has been developed by working closely with a consortium, consisting of Avans Hogeschool (university of applied sciences), Movisie (Dutch centre for social development), Rutgers (Centre of expertise on sexuality), TNO (research centre) and Accare Jeugd GGZ (Youth Care).

In the project the following activities were conducted:

  1. Theoretical and empirical foundation work for the Flag System, based on actual scientific insights and experiences in the practice of youth care.
  2. A manual to fit the RYC. The Flag System was further developed with professionals (RYC) and teachers (University of applied sciences) to create a manual for residential youth care.
  3. An implementation pilot and research: an impact study and an evaluative study on young people age 12 - 18 years, professionals and management.
  4. Implementation of the Flag system in the curriculum of Avans University of Applied Sciences and a plan for further implementation in universities of applied sciences nationwide.
  5. Dissemination of the results, knowledge and insights by publication, social media, presentations, newsletters, (mini)symposia and an end conference.
Implementation of the Flag System in Residential Youth Care

Elements of the guidelines for the implementation of the Flag System in the RYC for the participating organisations were:

Internal structure for the implementation with:

  • A coordinator. In the project the coordinators of the participating organisations met three times.
  • An employee with a specific task on sexuality education for the entire organisation.
  • An implementation team with participants from different functions in the organisation.
  • Internal trainers. In the project the trainers received a ‘training of trainers’ with follow up.
  • An internally approved plan for the implementation, including the training of professionals and the communication structure.

Training of professionals

  • At first all workers directly working with young people should be trained in working with the Flag System.
  • They should be encouraged to provide support to each other and exchange knowledge and insights.
  • Second, all other workers, from management to cleaning personnel, should receive a shorter training session to ensure they understand what the Flag System is about.

Integrating the Flag System into the daily routine of the organisation

The Flag System should be evident:

  • In the daily routine of working with the young people themselves.
  • In the personal plan of each child.
  • As a topic on the agenda of different meetings (of the teams, parent-pupil meetings, and management meetings).
  • In the organisation’s policy and strategy.

Developed products

  • A version of the Flag System for RYC.
  • A guideline for the implementation of the Flag System for RYC.
  • Tools for the professionals, such as setting specific drawings and a program for training. professionals and a ‘training of trainers’ for internal trainers.
  • A web-app for users of the Flag System RYC.
  • A vision document to support the implementation.
Results on level of professionals

The implementation of the Flag System was evaluated and an impact study conducted. The use of the Flag System showed professionals had improved their work on three different levels:

  1. Knowledge: The professionals using the Flag System in RYC knew more about the sexual development of young people in RYC, and when this development is problematic. They also know more about the possible effects of sexual trauma and sexual coercion.
  2. Attitude: The professionals felt more comfortable talking about sexuality with young people in RYC, and they accept sexual behaviour as a part of the sexual development of young people.
  3. Actual behaviour of professionals: The professionals recognised sexual behaviour and considered acceptable sexual behaviour as ‘normal’ for youths. They evaluated sexual behaviour of young people with a coloured flag and they were able to give more structured attention to topics of  sexuality and sexual coercion in their individual contacts with young people.
Results on effectiveness of implementation strategies

The implementation strategy in RYC was also evaluated. The factors that played a role in the implementation of the Flag System in RYC were:

  • Environmental factors. At the time of the implementation, the field of RYC was rather turbulent due to changes in the financial system for the organisations. The topics of sexual coercion and abuse in RYC were very current, becoming problematic nationwide. Rather shocking research outcomes were presented, a task force was installed and had to develop a nationwide program for improvement. This was a good support base for the implementation of the Flag System.  
  • Organisational factors. The turbulent situation in the whole RYC field also influenced each organisation, the position of the professionals, the attention for the topic sexuality and prevention of sexual coercion, and within that the attention for the Flag System.
  • User factors. The professionals had to address their own norms and values, fears and emotions and barriers to be able to discuss sexuality and sexual behaviour with each other and with their clients.
  • Target group. The young people themselves must want to talk about their sexual behaviour with the professionals.
Results on level of target group

The following outcomes of the research were found from the young people involved:

  • They liked the additional drawings
  • They wanted information about sex
  • They wanted boundaries about what is ok and what is not
  • They rated the Flag System as a 7.5 out of 10
Why do and don’t professionals use the Flag System?

Professionals in RYC mainly use the Flag System when they feel there is a clear reason to do so, such as after an incident of unacceptable sexual behaviour, or in reaction to sexual behaviour of the young people. In these situations they use the six criteria and the guidelines to determine an adequate reaction. Professionals make specific use of the Flag System in, for example, team meetings. They discuss sexual behaviour of their young clients amongst themselves, to determine how to judge different types of behaviour and how to respond. The objective criteria of The Flag System are used to guide the discussion.

However, the professionals made hardly any use of the Flag System when there was no obvious reason to do so, such as in regular contact with the young people.  Also, professionals could make use of more ‘ingredients’ of the Flag System, like for example the drawings. Some professionals mentioned that they don’t make use of the Flag System ‘when a young person is not ready for it’, or ‘because its use does not fit with their professional tasks or responsibilities’. While some professionals believe they make easier use of the Flag System with girls, because their fear of sexual coercion provides a route in.