First published in Foster Care magazine: I caught up with Verónica Eva Pérez Calvo, a social pedagogue from Northern Spain, to talk about herself, and her role in The Fostering Network's Head, Heart, Hands programme.
What inspired you to devote your career to social pedagogy?
My first inspiration was a teacher of art history at college; she had the ability to bring all the disciplines together and make sense of the different subjects through a painting or a sculpture. She was passionate, and this changed forever my attitude towards learning.
For as long as I can remember I have had a strong sense of social justice and I had first-hand experience of overcoming people’s expectations due to my social status. I was given a grant to go to university. This experience changed my life, and I knew that I wanted to give something back to the community, and I decided to choose social pedagogy for my career path, to put my skills where they were needed.
What made you want to work with children in care?
I feel very drawn to children and I love working with them, and especially those who are more in need of nurturing, such as children who are in the care system.
What attracted you to The Fostering Network’s Head, Heart, Hands programme?
I instantly knew that it was exactly what I wanted to do when I saw the job advert. It was an opportunity to use my training and qualifications in the UK as a social pedagogue, and to put my skills and knowledge into supporting foster families. Becoming part of the supportive network that helps foster carers in their roles seemed to me a meaningful and important task. We social pedagogues are enthusiastic learners too. The fact that the Head, Heart, Hands programme is connected to academic research with the external evaluation by Loughborough University was definitely an attraction.
Do you feel that foster care in the UK gives children positive opportunities to develop and grow?
I feel that there are probably great opportunities for children to grow and develop in foster care in the UK, but I think that generalisations are never very accurate. We are talking about a very wide and diverse group, with lots of very committed professionals and teams, nevertheless, I feel that there is a high risk-averse working culture, and this can jeopardise children’s possibilities to learn and develop by themselves.
What changes have you seen in foster carers through the Head, Heart, Hands programme?
It is inspiring to hear foster carers sharing that they feel their confidence and ability to be strong advocates for the children has increased since they became involved in social pedagogy. There is a greater awareness about how to put the child in the centre: they challenge decisions more often if they feel they are not in the child’s best interests. They feel more valued as equals within the team around the child and more included in decision-making processes. I see that relationships have grown stronger between carers and other professionals such as social workers, but also between the carers themselves – they are creating strong peer support groups.
What changes have you seen in children through the Head, Heart, Hands programme?
Most of the time my work is directly with the foster carers, so I hear about changes in the children through them. One of the ideas that comes up often is that the children are getting more confident by being given more choices and control over their own lives, and this impacts positively on the relationship between child and foster carer. There still may be difficulties and challenges but there is definitely more laughter and fun.
What do you hope to do in the future?
I hope to carry on doing more of what I am doing working as a social pedagogue, because I love doing it! I particularly enjoy the cultural diversity aspect of the Head, Heart, Hands programme, and I hope I can continue working with people who are from many different cultural backgrounds. I’d love to carry on contributing to the development and growth of social pedagogy in the UK.
To find out more about Head, Heart, Hands programme, or check out some free to read articles from our members magazine.