Head, Heart, Hands - March 2016

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

Make Some Noise

Charlotte Clark and Simon Johr describe how a music project in Staffordshire helped to build young people’s self-esteem.

The project was initially designed for 13-18 year-olds who were on the edge of care, looked after children, care leavers or those in receipt of adoption support services. The idea behind the music project was empowering the young people to make choices about what they wanted to learn and was underpinned by social pedagogy. The aim was to build self-esteem and confidence, develop musical skills and to link the project with education, employment and training and allow participants to build relationships through learning. 

We made contact with a charity, Make Some Noise, which specialises in supporting this type of project and had experience of working with this group of young people. They had acquired some funding from the BBC’s Children in Need, so were able to fund the majority of the project. The project involved two taster sessions, which were run in August 2015, followed by 12 weekly sessions, alternating between two venues and the final performances. On the first session, we were pleasantly surprised by the group’s progress. In only two hours they were confidently playing the song Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol.

Further sessions were dedicated to picking two songs for performance at the end of the project. One was an original composed and written by the young people. They identified which instrument they wanted to play to create their songs and developed their skills, ready to perform in front of 400 foster carers.

One young person had an additional role of being a peer mentor, in order to work towards a Silver Arts Award. All the young people involved with the project were set the target of achieving at least a bronze award.

All of the objectives set at the beginning of the project were met. In addition, the sessions allowed the young people space to talk about difficulties they were facing. They said it was a safe space, knowing that their peers had experienced similar issues.

New friendships were established which enabled the young people to feel comfortable and confident when performing in front of one another. The participants demonstrated a high level of commitment to the sessions and developed their social skills.

One young person spoke about her life in care on the ‘Children in Need’ television show. She discussed the music project and her life as a looked after child, soon to be care leaver.

The young people performed their songs at the fostering Christmas party in front of around 400 foster carers and children.

Improving wellbeing

The Head, Heart, Hands team ran well-received workshops at The Fostering Network’s member roadshows across England and Scotland throughout February and March. The one-hour workshop was on the theme of improving wellbeing for children, young people, foster carers, social workers and others in the team around the child.

The workshop began with an outline of social pedagogy and the Head, Heart, Hands programme. This provided the context and also touched on the impact it has had on the demonstration sites.

The workshops then focused on two models from the Head, Heart, Hands course that have received strong feedback over the last three years.

The Learning Zone model helps people to understand what conditions are needed for learning. It describes three zones in which an individual can find themselves:

  1. The Comfort Zone - a safe place to reflect in which we don’t have to take risks but very little learning can take place
  2. The Learning Zone - where we move out of our Comfort Zone and feel we are at the edge of our abilities and limits but we can grow and learn
  3. The Panic Zone - an area where fear makes learning impossible.

The 4Fs model is a four-stage reviewing cycle which is used for reflecting on a situation and examines, in turn:

  1. Facts (an objective description)
  2. Feelings (the feelings connected to the facts)
  3. Findings (what is learned from looking at the facts and feelings)
  4. Futures (what can be done differently next time)

After an explanation of each model, the participants looked at case studies and discussed them in groups, considering whether the case studies rang any bells for them. This provoked lively conversations with many people feeling that they would take home ideas about how to put the models into practice. The workshop finished on an optimistic note, with attendees being given a ‘page of positivity’, consisting of various symbols of encouragement. The page of positivity is a reminder to look after ourselves because we are our own biggest strength, and amongst other items features a paper clip ‘to help you hold it all together’, a soldier ‘to remind you to soldier on when things get really tough’ and a diamond ‘to remind you there is one in us all’.

Feedback after the event was excellent. One foster carer said: 'I specifically had light bulb moments of clarity during the emotional wellbeing workshop.' While one of the social workers in attendence said: 'The session on emotional wellbeing was great! I’m very interested in exploring social pedagogy more and using some of the models in my work.’

Using the Johari Window in a looked after child review

Foster carer Nicola Hill describes the experience of using the Johari window (Luft and Ingham, 1955) in a looked after child review.

Our independent reviewing officer (IRO) explained the concept of the Johari window to the children, namely:

  1. Open - things that are known to self and others,
  2. Blind - things that are obvious to others but not known to self
  3. Hidden - things that are known to self but not to others and
  4. Unknown - things that are not known to self or others

She drew the Johari window and asked everyone to write things on post-it notes and put them in one of the four sections of the paper. As one of the foster carers I found it quite hard to fill in. 

The Open square was generally positive, celebrating the children’s achievements at school, outside interests and attributes but I thought filling in the Blind box was a bit exposing in front of an independent reviewing officer who we have only met a couple of times. I am not sure I would want other people pointing out my blind spots in public! I felt the children were a bit vulnerable to being judged. I also thought they were a bit confused by the concept – it’s not the easiest thing to grasp.

The Hidden section, by definition, is also hard for other people to fill in and again could be exposing if you say, for example, you come across as confident but actually you are insecure and in the Unknown quadrant I wanted to say: ‘my fears about the path they might take in life’, but I didn’t think this was appropriate, so I just wrote ‘future as adults? Career? University?’ 

Overall, I think it might be a useful tool to try in a safer environment but it was an experiment worth trying.

The IRO took the post-it notes and is going to use them to write up her minutes.

A useful resource for improving communication

A foster carer suggests a useful way of generating conversations with children and young people, helping to build relationships within families.

Teen Talk in a Jar is a useful resource to generate conversation with your children and young people. It is a set of cards with questions such as:

  • Would you rather explore outer space or the bottom of the ocean? Why?
  • When you meet people for the first time, what do you usually want to know about them right away?
  • If you had to spend a week studying something in nature, what would you study?
  • If you could get anything back that you lost or broke, what would it be?
  • What are your top two highest ambitions for your future?

There are other tubs available from www.freespirit.com such as Character and Life Skills and Fun and Games.

You can answer them as well as your fostered children as a way of getting to know each other better.

Positive findings for Social Pedagogy in the UK today

A paper by Claire Cameron from the Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, has been published on the findings of evaluations of social pedagogy training and development initiatives in the UK.

The paper analyses the findings of ten evaluation studies between 2007 and 2015 that examined social pedagogic intervention in residential care, foster care and related services. The paper, Social Pedagogy in the UK today: Findings from evaluations of training and development initiatives, is published in the Spanish journal, Pedagogía Social: Revista Interuniversitaria, and can be downloaded here.

It is very encouraging to see such positive findings, especially in relation to the beneficial impact on children and young people.