In Care Matters: Time for Change (DfES 2007) the Government committed itself to funding a pilot programme to evaluate the effectiveness of social pedagogy in children’s residential care. This commitment followed a period of comparative research and feasibility studies carried out at Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education University of London. These studies found that continental understandings of social pedagogy as a discipline focusing on direct practice with children, in a range of circumstances and settings, produced better quality of life and outcomes for children in residential care in Denmark and Germany than those young people in England were experiencing (Petrie et al. 2006).
Social pedagogy may be defined as ‘education in the broadest sense of the term’, and involves a holistic and multi-dimensional approach to care and education practice. In many European countries, social pedagogy is the foundation discipline for work with children outside school teaching. In some, such as Denmark, it is also the discipline for work with adults in specialist settings such as substance misuse, dementia and so on. Social pedagogy has a focus on using the resources of the group, it is goal-oriented and rights-based, and is fundamentally rooted in establishing and nurturing meaningful relationships.
The Social Pedagogy Pilot Programme is about to end its first year. It set out to recruit social pedagogues from Germany and other European countries, and to recruit children’s homes from across England, who had two or more staff vacancies and were interested to develop practice in the direction that social pedagogy offered. The aim was to see whether by working alongside staff, social pedagogues, as staff members, could introduce a new (or perhaps renewed), set of coherent working concepts and methods in residential care. In addition, some of the social pedagogues were recruited to offer, for part of their time, a more specific awareness raising role with agencies the children’s homes work with.
The Pilot Programme, based at Thomas Coram Research Unit and working in partnership with Jacaranda Recruitment, has recruited 30 children’s homes for the programme, allocating each into one of four groups which represented :
– pre-existing conditions (residential workers with social pedagogy qualification already in post),
– new conditions (practice according to a social pedagogy pilot programme job description),
– enhanced conditions (practice plus a training and awareness raising role) or
– comparison conditions.
The DCSF has appointed an evaluation team that will start work before the end of the year.
Initial promotion and selection of suitably qualified candidates began in Autumn 2008, and the employers began their interview and selection in April 2009. To date, 28 social pedagogues have been recruited and there are three outstanding posts to fill. Appointments have to go through the normal employment checks and this can introduce delays to start dates. Some social pedagogues began on 1 June; we hope all will have started by October 2009.
The project team at TCRU ran two regional support days for the children’s homes managers and their service managers (where applicable) in June, with the help of social pedagogues and managers who had already gone through the daunting process of arriving in England and beginning work in a new culture and context. We also ran an induction day for the social pedagogues and organised an English language refresher course for them, which will be repeated in September for those who could not attend first time around.
Feedback so far is that employers and social pedagogues are pleased with the way the recruitment and selection has gone and that social pedagogues are settling down to integrating with the teams and practising their profession alongside their new colleagues. However, we should not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead in gently forging a new practice; the experience of organisational change is that much support is needed.
TCRU has two project workers, supported by the team, whose role is to ‘nurture the system’; to keep communication alive, reiterate the project’s purpose, facilitate the process of goal-setting for participants and ‘be there’ for any minor or major difficulties that arise. Such support can take many forms from being on the end of the phone to answer practical queries to making multiple visits to ensure everyone is clear about their roles and what is happening, to arranging formal networking events to forge an exchange of information and experience, and training sessions with staff.
It is likely that for social pedagogy to become embedded in children’s services practice, further steps will be needed. To address this, the Institute of Education has set up an MA in Social Pedagogy, with a focus on working with children in care and those on ‘the edge of care’. This offers practitioners with a relevant degree and practice experience an opportunity to engage with leading theoreticians and practitioners in social pedagogy and to develop their own critical engagement with issues around children in care.
Further information on the Masters can be found here http://www.ioe.ac.uk/study/masters/PMM9_CYP9IM.html.
Claire Cameron is Senior Research Officer at the Thomas Coram Research Unit in the Institute of Education University of London.