Research groups

Disability Studies

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Orthopedagogics of emotional and behavioral disorders


One of the most widely used definitions of “orthopedagogics” (“special needs education”), describes it as the science of acting in difficult educational- and/or living situations (Broekaert, 1997). Since its origins in the 1950s of the last century, this discipline has evolved from a science aimed at “correcting” or “healing” disabilities/disorders, to a discipline targeted at the improvement of living conditions, Quality of Life, and participation in the community of the person and his context (Department of Special Needs Education, 2016). The difficult educational- and living situations may, amongst others, relate to behavior labeled as “deviant”, for example delinquency and behavioral problems (Broekaert et al., 2004).

 This research track is aimed at studies about assessment, support and treatment of people with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), (severe) behavioral problems and/or people and their network in situations in which judicial intervention is deemed to be necessary (Stams et al., 2014). The research is focused on the support of both children, adolescents, adults, and all those involved in these difficult educational- and living situations.

The research track is grounded in a holistic and strengths-based perspective in supporting children, adolescents and adults in socially vulnerable situations. Strengths-based approaches are underpinned by a positive perspective that involves opportunities for growth; the need to let a person take control over one’s own life; attention for the “therapeutic relation”; and the importance of the natural and social environment (Saleebey, 2006). In doing so, supporting individuals in pursuing goals and dreams, goes beyond simply dealing with and trying to reduce (behavioral) problems, delinquent behavior or other types of “deviant” behavior. Recent theoretical models clearly stress the need for an integrative perspective, taking into account risk factors, but also protective factors as well as strengths (both with regard to the individual and the broader environment), in order to capture the complex social situations in which people and their network find themselves (Vandevelde et al., 2017. To this end, an individual is always explicitly situated in and with his/her context. 

The research track originated  from the work with children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) in OC Nieuwe Vaart, an orthopedagogical center that always has been (and still is) closely linked to the Department of Special Needs Education (Broekaert et al., 2015). Studies relate to orthopedagogical methods and interventions, including Life Space Crisis Intervention, that, developed into an internationally recognized evidence-based practice (D’Oosterlinck et al., 2009). Today, close attention is devoted to research with regard to the support of children with EBD and their networks in their own “ecology”. Motivated by the long-recognized importance of the (educational) environment in orthopedagogical practice, a great number of studies have addressed the context/”milieu” and the (peer)group. Studies include research on therapeutic communities for children, and therapeutic communities for persons with mental health problems and addiction (cf. research line Addiction and Recovery), and research on the living climate in residential facilities for special youth care. In addition, research is being conducted on the application and integration of forensic rehabilitation models (What Works and Good Lives Model) in youth detention centers (in association with the VUB). 

 Besides studies in children with EBD and their network, several studies also focus on the support of adolescents and adults within difficult living situations, with a special focus on forensic aspects. For example, studies in relation to strengths-based strategies for mentally ill offenders (in association with colleagues from the field of criminology, law and psychiatry), and their families/social network are being carried out. Other studies focus on how professionals can be coached in dealing with mental health problems in people with intellectual disabilities and various topics at the intersection of orthopedagogics, criminology, law, psychology, social work and psychiatry. 

 Orthopedagogical research is characterized by a close cooperation with various stakeholders, an integration of qualitative and quantitative research methods, an integrative view on modern and postmodern conceptions (Broekaert et al., 2011), and interdisciplinary and international cooperation.

Drug abuse

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Migration and transculturalisation

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