Despite having a sophisticated health-care system and spending more on health care than do most countries in the world, by the early 2010s the Netherlands experienced some of the poorest perinatal-health outcomes in the European Union. Birth-related complications among women and infants were driven primarily by economic and social inequality. For example, women living in the country’s low-income neighborhoods were up to four times more likely to die during childbirth than the Dutch average. In partnership with university researchers, the municipalities of Rotterdam, Groningen, and Tilburg began tackling the problem. After discovering that the growing disparities in perinatal health outcomes were driven in large part by social and economic challenges rather than by purely medical factors, the cities set out to build integrated, multisectoral teams—local coalitions—that brought together service providers working in both the health-care and social domains. To tailor care to an individual patient’s own circumstances, the coalitions transcended the traditional boundaries that separated physicians, midwives, municipal officials, social workers, and other service providers. They worked to integrate their records and come to agreement on ways to monitor progress, and they designed referral systems and procedural road maps to deal with specific and individual client problems. In 2018, the national Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport expanded the use of such local coalitions to reduce early-childhood health disparities in municipalities throughout the country. By early 2022, 275 of the Netherlands’ 345 municipalities were participating in the program, dubbed Solid Start, and the new national government pledged to expand the program to every municipality in the country.
Leon Schreiber drafted this case study based on interviews conducted between September 2021 and April 2022. Case published May 2022. This case study was supported by Bernard van Leer Foundation as part of a policy learning initiative. Please note that the Solid Start program described in the case is not an instance of the foundation’s Urban95 strategy, which features in several other ISS case studies that are part of the learning project.