Head, Heart, Hands is introducing social pedagogy into seven fostering services across England and Scotland to understand how the approach can improve foster care and enable children and young people to fulfil their potential.
The end of 2013 marked the conclusion of the first year of work in the fostering services, with the main focus on the learning and development courses where foster carers, social workers and others have been getting to grips with a social pedagogic approach and what it might mean for their work.
Following these courses, foster carers and social workers have been putting the theory, tools and techniques into practice. This has given them increased confidence to be advocates for children, improved their relationships with each other and the children in their care, and encouraged them to take a more reflective approach to their work to understand how they can do things better.
Alongside this, the fostering services have been making changes to support a social pedagogic approach. They are exploring new approaches to recruitment and training, breaking down barriers between different teams, looking at how to allow children to take risks as an essential part of learning and growing up, and addressing social work language and jargon that can often be cold and alienating to foster carers and children.
Raina Sheridan, deputy chief executive of the Fostering Network and the programme’s director, said: “The level of commitment and achievement during the first full year of Head, Heart, Hands has been excellent. The enthusiasm with which the foster carers, social workers and fostering services have explored social pedagogy and what it might mean for them has been great to see and bodes well for the rest of the programme.”
As well as the early positive signs, the programme has encountered challenges. These have included difficulties in defining social pedagogy, initial anxiety among some due to unfamiliarity with the term, finding time for foster carers and social workers to reflect on their work, and overcoming the barriers posed by the prevailing risk-averse culture.
Sheridan continued: “As with any programme of this scale and ambition, achievements come hand in hand with challenges. While it is understandable people have felt uneasy at first with an unfamiliar term, one of the aims of the programme is to understand what social pedagogic foster care looks like so we hope to be able to articulate that soon.
“Trying to work in a social pedagogic way has also been difficult within a risk-averse culture that is still heavily entrenched despite all the work that has been done on delegating more authority to foster carers and through our popular Safer Caring publication. However, the hunger and appetite for change we are seeing within the programme gives us confidence that we can address these challenges.”
The Fostering Network has produced a short film based on the early experiences of two of the fostering services involved, and a summary of what has been achieved during the first year is available to download.