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Dr G.H.P. (Peer) van der Helm (1957) has been named professor by special appointment of Education and Care for Pupils with Cognitive Disabilities and Behavioural Problems in Special Education, at the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. The chair was established on behalf of the Special Education Sector Council (Sectorraad GO). Van der Helm will combine his work as professor by special appointment with his position as professor of Residential Youthcare at Leiden University of Applied Sciences.

Peer van der Helm. Credits: Kirsten van Santen
Peer van der Helm. Credits: Kirsten van Santen

The topics Van der Helm will explore in his research include the living and learning climate for disadvantaged young people, for instance those in youth care, youth mental health care, forensic care, special education, emergency accommodation and professional foster homes. He will also study the working environment for staff in institutions and in special education. The ultimate objective is to contribute to improving the environment and treatment both inside and outside the institutions to increase development opportunities for children and young adults. Van der Helm’s research has been influential in various countries and universities around the world.

At the interface of care and education

In the Netherlands, children with an intellectual or physical disability and behavioural problems often attend special education. According to the Special Education Sector Council, there are some 67,000 pupils with special educational needs in the Netherlands and that number that does not seem to be decreasing, despite the passing some time ago of the Appropriate Education Act (Wet op het passend onderwijs). Due to the nature of these pupils’ problems, special education cannot be viewed in isolation from the care they need. There is an urgent need for research on the effectiveness of education and care in order to solve societal problems, such as the acceptance of disabilities by society, long-term absence from education, bullying or lack of appropriate education in youth care and youth mental health care, and also to be able to offer better support to teachers.

The special chair lies at the interface of education and research. As professor by special appointment, Van der Helm’s teaching and research activities will focus on developing knowledge about pupils with cognitive disabilities, behavioural problems and internalised problems (trauma). This specifically entails developing and testing evidence-based interventions for special education aimed at improving the classroom environment, strengthening teacher-pupil relations, working in a trauma-sensitive manner and connecting care and education. Social participation and democratic citizenship form key elements of these interventions.


As professor by special appointment, Van der Helm will contribute to the Bachelor’s, Master’s and post-Master’s programmes offered by the College and Graduate School of Child Development and Education at the University of Amsterdam. Van der Helm will jointly supervise various doctoral programmes in the field of education and care together with Geert-Jan Stams, professor of Forensic Child and Youth Care at the UvA. The starting point is the scientist-practitioner approach: students of pedagogical sciences need to acquire knowledge and skills in clinical practice, as well as scientific skills and attitudes, and be able to integrate them.

About Peer van der Helm

Van der Helm has been attached to Leiden University of Applied Sciences as a lecturer and researcher in the Social Work and Applied Psychology programme since 2004, and as professor of Residental Youthcare since 2014. He has also worked as a guest lecturer in the Forensic Child and Youth Care Master’s programme at the UvA since 2010. Van der Helm studied Medicine and Psychology at the UvA and was awarded a doctorate by VU Amsterdam for his research on the group environment in juvenile detention centres.

He has authored various publications in international peer-reviewed journals and has written three handbooks for use in research-oriented higher education and higher professional education. He also regularly publishes opinion articles on education and care, including on the Dutch websites Sociale Vraagstukken (‘Social Issues’) and Zorg & Sociaalweb (‘Care & Social Web’).

About the chair

The special chair was made possible by: Aloysius Stichting, Stichting De Onderwijsspecialisten, Stichting SO Fryslân, Stichting Alterius, Stichting Speciaal Onderwijs Twente en Oost Gelderland (SOTOG) and Sectorraad GO, the Special Education Sector Council (coordinating organisation). ‘Sectorraad GO’ is the new name of the former LECSO and SBOwerkverband, which have merged.