Head, Heart, Hands January 2015

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Welcome to the second edition of our Head, Heart, Hands newsletter. In this issue, we focus on the use of reflection to improve our practice. We have examples from supervision, social workers’ meetings and placement stability discussions.

Editor Nicola Hill is a long-term foster carer in Hackney who took part in the Head, Heart, Hands core course. You can read more Head, Heart, Hands stories on Freya's blog.

  1. Moving can be empowering and positive
  2. Time to reflect in team meetings
  3. Using reflection in supervision
  4. Improving stability of placements
  5. Children’s minister samples social pedagogy
  6. Edinburgh starts New Year with a bang
  7. Social Pedagogy Development Network

Moving can be empowering and positive

Martina Elter, social pedagogue for Capstone Foster Care in the south west of England:

We needed to find a permanent placement for Ben, who was eight years old at that time. His foster carer was very nurturing and through social pedagogy support had discovered new shared interests in arts and crafts with each other. They enjoyed spending time together, he had settled in well and had started to make friends at school. However, Ben was only there on a short-term basis so we asked the foster carer if she would consider offering him a long-term placement. The foster carer was very committed to Ben and had already extended his stay several times, so it seemed as if the change into long-term would be a formality.

So it came as a surprise that the long-term question was met with some reservation. It is obviously a great commitment and needs careful consideration. Nevertheless, it appeared there was something that was unknown until then and had been a ‘blind spot’ for us. With the growing positive relationships in the team around the child and the format of supervision, we were able to offer the opportunity for some deeper reflection.

The foster carer became more open and understood more about themselves and the dilemmas they were experiencing. Ben’s behaviour was a challenge, making the carer sometimes feel rather uncomfortable in his company. The foster carer came to the conclusion that she couldn’t fully commit to him and that unconditional love was impossible.

Ben desperately needed to find some clarity in his life and the uncertainty had a huge impact on some of his self-expression. The clarity the carer gained from our discussions enabled us to look for another foster family, taking into consideration much of the learning from this placement.

By the end of the year, Ben moved to another foster family where he has been since and they are very fond of him – he is thriving and very much a part of the family. Of course there are still some challenges. There was a wobbly moment when another year passed, as Ben suddenly became very anxious that he would have to move again. A gentle arm around his shoulder and his foster carer assuring him ‘you are staying here for good, son’ helped him to overcome his worries. Ben is now 11 and is still living in the long-term placement.

The learning from this experience is the importance of a nurturing space for foster carers to have permission to express uncomfortable feelings and not to feel that they have failed. His previous foster carer’s careful reflection on the impact of fostering led to her becoming clearer about her family’s capacities and strengths. They are now fostering two young people with lots of commitment and have been able to connect emotionally.

Stability of placement is one of the aims of the Head, Heart, Hands programme. However, stability of placement needs to be seen in context and it must be equally valued that a move can be a liberating, empowering experience for a child and carers.

This will be recorded as a placement disruption. However, for the child it was an important life enhancing move.

Time to reflect in team meetings

A social work team in Staffordshire Council recently changed its role from supervision of foster carers to assessing fostering applicants. As a result, the nature of the team’s work altered significantly. It was not immediately apparent how social pedagogy could be used in this new role, and the team also needed to build ways to reflect together about this work.

The assessment team comprises six social workers with different levels of experience. Two of the members were also new to the team. We also had input from a student social pedagogue.

It was agreed that we would explore the use of a social pedagogy model of reflection entitled “reflective team”. Initially, this was described as group supervision but this title did not sit easily as some people felt it implied that their peers would have a supervisory responsibility over them. The model is now being used in a group meeting once a month.

At the start of the meeting, one social worker speaks to the facilitator and the other team members observe without comment. After some time the speaker and the facilitator stop and the remainder of the team discuss what has been said between themselves. The speaker and facilitator then discuss again and comment on what has been said, before the others discuss these further comments between themselves.

We have found that making use of this model for structured reflection has assisted the team in building peer support relationships. It has allowed the thoughts of quieter group members to be heard and has facilitated a thoughtful and structured reflection. This, in turn, has allowed the team to reflect on their assessment work.

Some group members have commented that the style of the reflection has been quite uncomfortable initially as they are not always clear when they can speak and will make comments such as, “I don’t know if I’ll get it wrong”. One has commented recently, however, that having spoken to the social pedagogy student she has understood that this is a method which everyone has to learn, which has resulted in her feeling more confident about it.

In the long term, building a team which is able to reflect together on practice issues will enable the team to be more effective. It will result in better assessment of prospective foster carers and hence create more effective placements for children who are well matched to the carers’ abilities. The assessment of foster carers is, by nature, a complex and analytical task and so being able to sound out peers in a structured way will assist in this process.

Using reflection in supervision

A foster carer in Hackney:

My partner and I were wondering how to motivate our 15-year-old foster son to take his studies seriously and fulfil his potential in this vital year 11. He is predicted to pass 10 subjects at C or above but we think with a bit more work he could achieve all Bs and some As or even A*s. We have five months to go!

Although he is quite motivated and wants to move to a sixth form with entry criteria of seven Bs, he seems to do just enough to get by rather than pushing himself to achieve more. He has also started dating a girl for the first time and seems more interested than ever in going out – perfect timing!

We used supervision to reflect on this and looked at our own upbringing, examining our family scripts around education and achievement. We had different motivations to achieve from our family scripts. My mother particularly wanted me to go to university as she had been denied the chance by her own father – he had said it would be wasted on a ‘girl’. My partner’s father wanted him to go to university as it had made a big difference to his life – moving from an impoverished to a comfortable lifestyle.

This led us to reflect on why we wanted our foster son to do well. We both felt that it was part of our responsibility as foster carers. We want him to do as well as possible for his own future. It is also about breaking a cycle and showing that children in the care system can achieve. Our supervisor was surprised that we would feel we had failed and that she might criticise us if our children didn’t fulfil their potential. She pointed out that it is also the children’s responsibility to work for their exams. It is not all on our shoulders.

This discussion helped us to relax a bit and make sure we are encouraging rather than pressurising our foster son. We also thought of ways of making him take responsibility such as devising a revision timetable ahead of his mocks, rather than us nagging him every day. We were also worried that he wouldn’t get around to filling in the application form for the new sixth form but decided to lay off nagging unless he was about to miss the deadline. Miraculously, it was completed this weekend, three weeks ahead of schedule – he can take responsibility when he wants to!

We have agreed some boundaries around socialising in the run up to exams. We have said he can go to one party per weekend but has to be home by 10.30pm as he needs his sleep. He can also only go out on the weekends once he has done his homework or revision for that day, rather than letting him put it off to Sunday evenings. It’s a tussle between his sense of responsibility and ambition and ours but hopefully we are striking the right balance.

Improving stability of placements

Staffordshire Council:

For many years, we at Staffordshire Council have made use of maintenance meetings as an opportunity to promote and ensure foster placement stability. These have been reflective in nature and structured to start by considering what is going well and then what is going less well and move on to devise strategies to address these issues. The meetings include the fostering service, children’s social workers and foster carers along with, where appropriate, the young person themselves.

Recent analysis of unplanned endings has identified a need to undertake these meetings when placements begin to become unstable rather than at the point of crisis. Experience of the meetings demonstrates that they are often emotionally charged and that participants, especially foster carers, can feel a sense of blame in the discussions. The introduction of social pedagogy has given rise to the thought that structuring the reflection, using a model such as the 4Fs, may alleviate some of these difficulties during the process of the meeting.

The 4Fs stands for Facts, Feelings, Findings and Futures. Each is explored in turn with the ‘facts’ section being an unemotional account of what has or is happening, the ‘feelings’ section looking at the emotions evoked, the ‘findings’ section reviewing what has been discovered through this discussion and the ‘futures’ section looking at what can happen in the future to improve outcomes.

This model of reflection has the impact of reducing tension and negative feelings in the meetings which, in turn, leads to better discussion and more positive outcomes. Foster carers feel less troubled during the maintenance discussions and come up with more productive reflections on how to promote placement stability.

Children’s minister samples social pedagogy

Edward Timpson at a foster care event in StaffordshireOn Thursday 8 January, the children’s minister, Edward Timpson visited Staffordshire to meet some of the staff, foster carers and children who have been involved in the Head, Heart, Hands programme. Freya Burley and Richard Drean from Fostering Network also attended.

In planning the meeting, we had considered how best to give a flavour of the complexity of social pedagogy in what was a relatively short space of time. Thinking about this led us to reflect on the need to pique the minister’s curiosity and show him how social pedagogy has influenced us. We thought about the social pedagogic belief that the children and young people we work with are competent, resourceful and active agents in their own lives and society, so we gave them the chance to communicate directly with the minister.

Prior to the meeting, we collated a booklet of the children’s writings and drawings to present to him, and on the day itself we had one room where he could meet staff and an adjoining room where the children and carers were doing art and craft activities. Some were doing collages of their experience in foster care, how it was now and how they hoped it would be in 10 years’ time. Some of the children were also decorating boxes to show how their ideal foster home would be.

Edward Timpson at a foster care event in StaffordshireThe minister had been at a meeting just down the corridor but it was quite obvious our meeting might be different as the noise from our children echoed around the building. Social pedagogue Simon Johr gave an explanation of Staffordshire’s work with social pedagogy. This included both the Head, Heart, Hands programme and our other involvement through the work of our children’s homes and participation in an EU exchange to Denmark to explore how social pedagogy works.

The children and young people spoke to the minister about what they were doing. He also chatted with the foster carers. These conversations varied widely with children asking him questions such as: “What is the difference between a minister and an MP?” and explaining the learning zone model to him. Some of the older children also spent time talking about their experiences in education and what they would like schools to know about being in foster care.

We hope that he will have gone away with a flavour of social pedagogy and some food for thought. He has also invited some of the children to the Houses of Parliament to visit him.

Edinburgh starts New Year with a bang

Liliana Santos and Christine Spurk, Edinburgh:

In Edinburgh we are kicking off 2015 with orientation days for foster carers who were not on the original programme and have been asking us for some knowledge of social pedagogy. We are also due to have our sixth steering group, which in Edinburgh is a big achievement, as we try to have few but make sure they are noteworthy. This will be the first meeting with our new management onboard and we are hoping to make it memorable! We are hoping to convince them of how important social pedagogy is within Edinburgh and how it is working with our foster carers who took part in the Head, Heart, Hands core course.

Towards the end of last year we embarked on an adventurous path, co-delivering training of social pedagogy with our site support lead to the professionals working with the core course foster carers. It was a stormy first run, as the challenges to our practice were constant, but we have embraced this adventure and are co-delivering two more sets of training.

Over the last year we were able to build up our carer support groups and we are happy to say that these have stayed strong. We are currently holding two support groups for our specialist team, one in Edinburgh and one in Kirkcaldy. Foster carers have embraced our approach and are thoroughly enjoying their support group and the feedback has been very positive.

This year appears to be the year for change and we are really excited about it! We are looking forward to working in partnership with our colleagues in Edinburgh, as well, as all the other services taking part in Head, Heart, Hands. We are really looking forward to our Youth Funding Project and to what the year will bring us, as we are sure there are going to be so many wonderful surprises!

Social Pedagogy Development Network

The next Social Pedagogy Development Network (SPDN) event will take place on the evening of 21 April and the day of 22 April, 2015. The City of Edinburgh Council, one of the Head, Heart, Hands demonstration sites that has also developed social pedagogy within their children’s homes, has kindly offered to host the event.

The Social Pedagogy Development Network (SPDN) is a grassroots movement dedicated to social pedagogy. It offers a space for practitioners, students, service managers and academics alike to find out how organisations across the UK have developed social pedagogy within foster care or other services, share ideas and connect with other professionals who have a similar passion for their practice. We believe that change happens through people and that we can collectively achieve change from the ground up if we follow our passion. The aim is to inspire participants, to stimulate reflection on how professionals can further develop their practice and thus make an even bigger difference to children, young people and their families.

Under the heading ‘Can there be care without love?’ we aim to explore social pedagogy perspectives on love within a professional context at our next event in April. The need to feel loved by the people who matter to us is not only one of the most profound human needs but also one of the strongest messages from children and young people in care.

This creates a variety of challenges and often a sense of discomfort among many social care and education professionals, who want to develop strong and supportive relationships, but can at times be unsure about how strong an emotional attachment they should form. This can make it difficult for practitioners to reflect on and talk confidently about love in professional contexts and underpin this theoretically and ethically.

By devoting the next SPDN event to this theme we hope to explore with participants how we can develop genuine and authentic relationships and articulate what we really mean when we talk about love in a professional context. We also want to share ideas about how we can collectively change attitudes so that children, young people and adults feel loved by those who care for them in a variety of settings and roles.

If you would like to join us in developing a social pedagogy understanding of love within a professional context, please send an email to dialogue@thempra.org.uk – More details about the SPDN and the Social Pedagogy Consortium, which organises the network, are available at spdn.social-pedagogy.co.uk