Head, Heart, Hands April 2015

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Welcome to the third edition of our Head, Heart, Hands newsletter.

  1. Haltung – what does it mean and how can you use it?
  2. Change makers
  3. Learning to live in the real world
  4. How to Involve children in care planning
  5. What do you think of the Head, Heart, Hands programme?

Haltung – what does it mean and how can you use it?

Foster carer Nicola Hill says Haltung is the starting point for thinking about how to incorporate social pedagogy in her practice as a foster carer.

Haltung literally translates as ‘stance’ or ‘posture’. I think of it as my stance in life, what values or practices do I want to pass on to my fostered children?

I came up with the following list:

  • Respect
  • Co-operation
  • Doing your best
  • Thinking about others
  • Our impact on the world
  • Building relationships
  • Building resilience
  • Reflecting and learning
  • Positive experiences and opportunities

Once you have established your own list you can then think consciously about how you convey this to your children. For me, it impacts on how we communicate with each other, how I manage activities and how I encourage the children to do their best at school, through to thinking about our impact on the environment.

Sometimes I focus on a particular aspect such as co-operation and see if we can improve that over a period of time. I give the children examples, such as helping to pack the car before a trip or everyone clearing up after a meal and why it will be important as they build relationships in the future.

At times your values can compete, for example, when my foster son didn’t want to go to rugby because he didn’t want to be tackled or shouted at by the coaches. Do I help him build resilience or respect his choice?

I respected what he was saying and sympathised but also said that this was a normal part of rugby so he needed to decide if he wanted to put up with that or choose another sport. I also tested his motivation by saying he would not be able to use electronics in the time when he would have been at rugby. He still didn’t want to go. Instead we made pancakes and then went to the park to play tennis, which helped to build our relationship if not his resilience!

When things go wrong, my partner and I spend a lot of time reflecting and trying to work out what went on and how we might do things differently. We also sometimes have family conferences to talk about how we can get on better together and to try to see things from each other’s point of view.

I also try to think of positive experiences and opportunities. This weekend we are going camping with the children and they are both bringing a friend each. We have billed it as an experiment to see if we can have a positive and co-operative experience. If not, we’ll be doing some more reflecting and learning, probably by the end of our road!

Change makers

How are children and young people best taught to become ‘change makers’, prepared to speak out on issues that concern them? One of the aims in the Head, Heart, Hands project in Capstone, south west England, is to create spaces which empower children and young people to do so. Social pedagogue Martina Elter outlines Capstone’s approach.

The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.

Neil Gaiman

Participation activities for children and young people should mean more than organising an activity. Although a sense of exploration and having fun is of the upmost importance, developing peer relationships, allowing time for groups to form and creating an enabling atmosphere are other important steps. To do this properly requires a designated amount of time to co-ordinate participation activities and allow relationships to develop.

By providing a range of participative opportunities like the activity planning group in Hampshire or the Hot chocolate and Marshmallow events in Somerset, children and young people meet others in similar situations, have fun, reduce isolation, learn new skills, share their views and opinions and actively shape a meaningful activity programme for themselves and get involved organising it.

Professor Roger Hart, an expert in participation, describes some important requirements for a project to be truly participatory and shifting away from being tokenistic.

  1. the young people understand the intention of the project
  2. they know who made the decision concerning their involvement and why
  3. they have a meaningful (rather than ‘decorative’) role
  4. they volunteer after the project was made clear to them.

The experience of being valued and recognised, having one’s voice heard and making an impact, strengthen the confidence to become much more involved in various other aspects of life. For children who have experienced severe trauma it is an important experience to have a sense of being able to influence their own life.

In this spirit we held our fourth ‘Hot chocolate and Marshmallow’ event during February half-term for children and young people, who can choose to invite their carer. Children and young people undertook some research and brought wonderful suggestions to the meeting.

This was our first hot chocolate and marshmallows event and we all had so much fun being creative and spending time with each other. We did not all know each other at the beginning so we played some games where we shared a bit about ourselves so that people felt at ease around each other. From there we did some activities and in particular my children enjoyed making their masks and spent a long time getting them just right.

We all spent time having a think about the summer and what kind of things we might like to do and it was particularly encouraging to see everybody’s ideas being incorporated and the young people in the room who struggled to express themselves being included. It was a great afternoon and there was a real sense of community and importance inside the group. We look forward to doing it again!

Feedback from foster carer attending with his two children.

Learning to live in the real world

Foster carer Nicola Hill gave a seminar recently to social workers about how she has incorporated social pedagogy in her practice.

For me it is about teaching a child to live and love in our world. I started with my approach or Haltung – the values and practices I want to teach the children – and then described how I think consciously about how to convey this through our interactions and activities. I also talked about how I use social pedagogy in supervision and answered questions about how social workers can incorporate the approach into their work.

I take inspiration from some of the key thinkers in social pedagogy such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau who says we should ‘facilitate opportunities for learning’ and Paulo Freire, who suggests working with each other to develop consciousness. Cannan et al also say we should provide people with the means to manage their own lives and make changes in their circumstances.

I gave an example of my teenage foster son declaring on a Sunday that he wanted smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels for his school packed lunch. We had a choice of tuna mayonnaise or cheese and pickle on brown bread, which he normally likes, as well as biscuits, crisps, fruit etc. but he was adamant that he wanted a packed lunch like his friends.

Normally, I do the food shopping online and the cupboards are miraculously filled while the children are at school but I thought I would use this opportunity to teach him about shopping for the week ahead – not just his packed lunches. I suggested he planned some meals, thought about some household items we might need and make a list. We then walked to the shop, taking our own bags, to minimise our impact on the environment.

Overall, I wanted it to be a positive experience (‘diamond model’) but one in which he learned resilience and independence. The positive experience wobbled a bit. He moaned about not taking the car but I said that it wasn’t good for a short journey and that when he left home he wouldn’t have a car straight away.

We chatted on the way there planning the following weekend’s activities (common third). At the shop, I held back to let him make decisions and look at the prices, although I advised if necessary. He also experienced the reality of queuing, walking back with heavy loads in the rain and unpacking.

He had a positive experience (diamond model) by getting what he wanted in terms of the packed lunches (well-being) but also learned what goes on behind the scenes to fill the fridge and cupboards, plan meals, check out good deals, read labels (holistic learning) and how he can do this for himself when he leaves home (empowerment).

I also talked to the social workers at the seminar about how I have used social pedagogy in supervision, which I have described in recent blogs – for example, unpicking what happened at a looked-after child review using the four-stage reviewing cycle. Another example was reflecting on our own experiences of education and how that influences our expectations of our fostered children.

I also use learning from the core course about non-violent communication and how to give feedback to the department. At our next supervision we are going to look at Johari’s Window to examine our relationship with our foster son – watch this space – I’ll give feedback on our experience in the next newsletter.

I am very lucky that our supervising social worker and the children’s social worker have been trained in social pedagogy, so we can use the models in our sessions. I think this is very important in ensuring that foster carers can put their learning into practice and discuss it with knowledgeable professionals. Sometimes, I find it helpful if we agree in advance what we are going to look at so I can think about the model, such as Johari’s Window and how to use it.

In the question and answer session, we discussed how the key thinkers in social pedagogy view the importance of risk taking and how this can clash with safer caring policies. We talked about how there needs to be a cultural shift in children’s services departments so that everyone is on board with the social pedagogic approach.

We also addressed the issue of some foster carers or staff members being sceptical about social pedagogy, saying they are doing it anyway. I think some people may be planning activities together (common third) but are they consciously thinking about what they want to teach a child and how they can build their relationship through their activities? Have they thought about their approach and values? Do they step back and use models to analyse and reflect? Social pedagogy helps me to think consciously about what I’m doing and how I am educating the children, as Pat Petrie says, in the widest sense.

How to involve children in care planning

Some useful ideas came up at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers in Westminster last month. The meeting was attended by children’s minister, Edward Timpson, a number of looked after young people and care leavers, and a range of professionals including social workers and foster carers.

One suggestion was making a video to allow children to express their point of view before looked-after child review meetings. Another was inviting children to chair the meeting. One idea was young people choosing a song and saying why it is important to them.

The use of advocates was discussed with an example of a steady person in the young person’s life such as a sports coach or teacher, who the child already knows, being nominated as the advocate rather than a stranger.

To ensure meetings are more child-friendly, a lot of the information could be provided by email in advance, so that looked-after child reviews become more of an open discussion about the young person’s views. One care leaver said she got fed up with repeating the same information at PEP reviews, health reviews and then looked-after child reviews.

One young person said she would like to come to panel meetings – she didn’t want strangers making decisions about her life. As a panel member, Nicola Hill says: “I think this would be refreshing and engaging and help us to hear directly from young people to inform our decisions.”

To read more about previous APPG meetings visit: http://www.thewhocarestrust.org.uk/pages/recent-appg-meetings.html

What do you think of the Head, Heart, Hands programme?

The Head, Heart, Hands independent evaluation team would like to invite you to share your thoughts and opinions about the Head, Heart, Hands programme to introduce social pedagogy into UK fostering. This is an opportunity to feedback your thoughts and experiences of the programme, and fostering in general, to local and national decision makers.

The interviews are very informal, and can be done over the phone at a time that suits you best. They usually take about an hour. We have availability for these interviews all year round. We would like to capture views in March and April particularly to be included in the next report Head, Heart, Hands interim evaluation report, if possible.

We are also looking to speak to the children and young people staying with you, aged five years or older. We would like to know more about their experiences of foster care to date. These interviews will also be very informal and take about an hour to an hour and a half.

Anything you or your fostered child say in the interview will be anonymous and stay confidential to the evaluation team.

If you are interested in finding out more about the survey or the interview, please contact Helen Trivedi, 01509 228759 H.L.Trivedi@lboro.ac.uk