When the term ‘humanism’ is brought up, it has a tendency to polarise opinion: but it has been changing in meaning over the centuries. During the Renaissance, it described a scholar who was an expert in the languages and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome – today a humanist is thought of in secular terms; one who dispenses with the notion of a God, choosing instead to believe in human potentiality tied to scientific hypotheses. What has this to do with child fostering? Well, humanistic values lie at the heart of Social pedagogy, which is now an established and tested model for the provision of social care within society. For a literal definition: the term ‘pedagogy’ comes from the Greek país (child) and ágõ (to lead, to guide). It is now practised within the sphere of child Fostering, and is seen as increasingly important in meeting the needs of young people in many European countries. In the UK, the leading charity The Fostering Network, is associated with social pedagogy through a specialist programme – Head, Heart, Hands – which has been rolled out across areas of the UK. Its essence is to combine knowledge from academic research and child development theories (head), with a particular emphasis on emotions and relationships that recognise each person has unique emotional needs (heart), then integrated with a focus on the idea of everyday activities and tasks presenting significant opportunities for learning (hands).
Social pedagogues can work across different disciplines, but there is a set of unifying principles that link all social pedagogies in a philosophical way of thinking – termed ‘Haltung’ – meaning the correspondence between values and actions. Current thinking has it that social pedagogy can be thought of as both an art form and a science. Its overriding characteristic is to focus upon not what is done, but how it is done and with what reasoning. It includes also a strong element of personal philosophy that is actively encouraged. The goal is for it to develop and become an individual’s personal ‘Haltung’. This can be appreciated as both enormously empowering, as well as liberating for someone child fostering. There is encouragement to have a personal developing and adaptable philosophy that you, as a foster carer, can employ to gain perspective on your situation. This can only be an advance in child fostering generally.
Child fostering: early results of social pedagogy
The Head, Hearts, Hands programme is being independently evaluated with the results due to be published in November 2016 by the Centre for Child and Family Research based at Loughborough University: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/ccfr/
This is in conjunction with the Colebrooke Centre for Evidence and Implementation.
There are positive early indications highlighting that the Head, Heart, Hands programme is already delivering a range of benefits. Child fostering services are reporting improved outcomes for children and young people. These include enhanced well being, greater resilience and raised confidence levels. Particularly welcome is foster carers themselves feeling empowered as a result of participating in the programme. The social pedagogic tools and concepts they have been introduced to for child fostering have improved their confidence in fostering children. The specific areas of benefit carers are mentioning are improved critical reflection and communication skills. Carers feel they are being rewarded by the holistic and strengths based approach. Generally fostering services are seeing more efficient and effective processes. This is feeding through to
greater levels of placement stability for children. There also appears to be more consistency in child fostering across the board.
Specific benefits for child fostering
New experiences, skills and challenges – pedagogic ideas that involve the exploration of learning zones promoting creativity. Foster carers, children and social workers as well, are benefiting by facing new challenges leading to the acquisition of new skills. This will inevitably reshape thinking about the future of child fostering.
Team spirit – child fostering is being rethought in terms of the relationships in the team around the child. Foster carers are saying they feel a greater sense of equality and professionalism.
Improved relationships – children and young people are saying relationships within their foster family are improving. Carers child fostering are reporting they have a deeper understanding of the children in their care. This is making them feel a great deal more confident in advocating for them. These improved relationships are driving greater levels of productive collaboration.
A joined up approach – the social pedagogic approach is creating a new pattern for child fostering. Over the last six months, it is clear carers have greater confidence and understanding in dealing with foster children. They are becoming more skilled in building relationships and better able to articulate the needs they have, as well as those of the foster children. Foster carers are becoming better at advocating, so the children and young people feel they’re being listened to and their interests placed to the fore. Alongside these effects, fostering services are becoming more flexible and responsive to the needs of the carers and foster children.
Improved culture – the social pedagogic culture is showing effects where it comes into contact with all stakeholders. This is especially encouraging as it is creating cultural change within fostering services in distinct ways. These are: more meaningful participation, open and frank feedback, improved learning environments, shared learning spaces and a stronger sense of community.
The Head, Hearts, Hands programme has been in place with seven fostering services across England and Scotland. It has been going for three years. During this time around 300 foster carers and social workers have been involved. All have completed a 10-day course on social pedagogy.
The Fostering Network has provided continuing support, as has the Social Pedagogy Consortium.
The aim is to ensure that social pedagogy becomes firmly embedded in child fostering.
And the good news at the end of this fostering rainbow… ‘Oxygen Free Jumping’ – our latest activity for children is generating a lot of interest. A great way to stay fit! One of the Rainbow recommended recipes on our Facebook will provide much needed energy.
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