Head, Heart, Hands May 2015

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

Social Pedagogy Development Network conference

Liliana Santos and Christine Spurk, social pedagogues from City of Edinburgh Council, give an account of the Social Pedagogy Development Network (SPDN) event held in Edinburgh on 21-22 April. The theme of the event was ‘What’s love got to do with it?: The exploration of social pedagogic perspectives on love within a professional context’. Participants engaged in group discussions, creative activities and workshops to consider the meaning that love has for them and whether there can be care without love.

What’s love got to do with it?

This was the question asked at the latest Social Pedagogy Development Network (SPDN) event held in Edinburgh on 21 and 22 April 2015.

The SPDN was founded by ThemPra, Jacaranda, Thomas Coram Research Unit and the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care in 2009 as a way of bringing together different developments around social pedagogy in the UK.

This event kicked off with an evening session at the beautiful City Chambers, on a glorious sunny afternoon. In true social pedagogic style, people were invited to think outside their comfort zone and to “critically explore perspectives on love within a professional context”. Stefanie Dorotka, social pedagogue from Hackney City Council, attending her first SPDN event described the discussions on how young people express their love to the professionals around them and the appropriate responses to those expressions as ‘fruitful and thought-provoking. The fact that the organisers created that safe space to share our experiences made the discussions enriching’. The discussions created quite a buzz, with some fantastic contributions from Head, Heart, Hands foster carers about what love means in their relationships with children and young people, and raised even more expectations on what the next day was to bring.

The giving of love is an education in itself.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love​

Lao-Tzu, 6th century BC

Day two with around 230 participants was held at Heriot Watt University’s conference centre. The morning explored Gary Chapman’s ‘five languages of love’ (words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch and receiving gifts) in a creative way, while the afternoon offered workshops to explore love in a professional context. Jutta Weber, another social pedagogue from Hackney, observed that ‘the exploration around love made it clear that some participants felt very uncomfortable with using the term “love” within their professional setting. It was a wonderful experience to reflect on this and to consciously explore how our usage or non-usage of language and the particular little word “love” might impact on the experiences and the reality we create for the children in our care’.

The workshops were pitched at different levels of understanding of social pedagogy, offering something for everyone, from newbies to oldies in social pedagogy. Many of the workshops focused on love, including young people’s experiences of being loved and how we can help them gain a balanced, more positive understanding of love by showing them kindness and empathy.

There were two workshops on using the great outdoors to build relationships as well as sessions on social pedagogical approaches to corporate parenting and an opportunity to reflect on some of the more challenging issues around love in practice.

Aberlour Fostering, City of Edinburgh Council and Orkney Islands Council, shared their experience of how social pedagogy influenced their daily practice. Scott Dunbar, Edinburgh’s Service Manager for Looked After and Accommodated Children offered an understanding of why managers and leaders need to invest in social pedagogy. Jutta gave an account of the workshop she ran with her colleagues from Hackney, in which ‘participants were given space to creatively reflect on their “love” for their profession. What might they need to keep this love alive and in balance with the love for themselves and their and their lives outside of work? Participants created their personal scrap-book page which they took away as a reminder of why they chose the profession they are in and that they might need a space to reflect from time to time’.

The participants at the event were able to explore the meaning of social pedagogy and took away information and ideas to report to their organisations on how they could implement some of the practice reported during the event.

The event was inspiring for everyone, as it was a platform for social pedagogy enthusiasts to come together. The organisations involved contributed to a great atmosphere with a lot of food for thought. We are grateful that we are able to be a part of it. We were all touched by the examples of foster carers, the empowering messages of our colleagues and the evaluation of the programme to date. We hope it sparked interest for others to follow.

Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.

Vincent Van Gogh

A full summary of the event will shortly be available at spdn.thempra.org.uk.

A PLACE in my head, heart and hands

Foster carer, Nicola Hill, has found the books of the clinical psychologists Daniel Hughes and Amber Elliott on attachment-focused therapy and parenting very helpful. Daniel Hughes is a clinical psychologist who has developed an attachment-focused treatment for children who had experienced abuse and neglect. Amber Elliott works with children and young people experiencing emotional, behavioural, social and mental health difficulties.

I like the focus on play, love, acceptance, curiosity and empathy (PLACE). The books are very much aimed at foster carers, adopters or other professionals working with looked after children, so they differ from other parenting books. I felt like drawing big ticks in the books as the descriptions really resonated with my experience of trying to look after children who have experienced trauma in early life. Examples include children sabotaging events that should be fun, anticipating the worst case scenarios, raging over seemingly minor issues, engaging in power battles and rejecting love.

The approach explored in the books is about building an attachment and trying to provide the reciprocal relationship that neglected children may have missed out on when they were younger. Elliott’s book steers parents away from relying on reward and punishment strategies, saying it is important to connect before you correct.

I try to keep the acronym PLACE in my head and try to respond playfully, show love, accept how they are, be curious about what’s going on and/or empathise – it’s not always easy but it helps – a raft to cling on to in stormy times.

The approach fits in with the ‘head’ part of social pedagogy, drawing on different theories of child development and therapy and thinking about what might be going on and why. It also links with the ‘heart’ side, showing as much love and nurturing as possible to children, providing a different model of parenting based on empathising with their feelings and helping them to regulate their emotions. The ‘hands’ part comes in to the idea of being playful with them, observing their behaviour and trying to tune in with them.

It is also about accepting fluctuations in their behaviour that don’t relate to their chronological ages, such as wanting to be held like a baby or having toddler tantrums.

Overall, the aim of the approach is to build a loving, trusting relationship with children in an emotionally rich and supportive environment, so that they can flourish and you can enjoy parenting them. The books are linked to brain development and the impact of neglect of children’s emotional development. The therapeutic approach they espouse aims to repair some of this damage but acknowledges how hard this is for adults caring for children and emphasises the importance of self-care.

I can thoroughly recommend:

  • Why Can’t My Child Behave? Empathic Parenting Strategies that work for adoptive and foster families by Amber Elliott
  • Parenting a Child with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (Parenting Matters) by Dan Hughes
  • Attachment-Focused Family Therapy Workbook by Dan Hughes
  • Facilitating Developmental Attachment: The Road to Emotional Recovery and Behavioral Change in Foster and Adopted Children by Dan Hughes


A conference in London and a practice exchange day in Edinburgh were held at the end of March to showcase the work of Head, Heart, Hands and explore the emerging evidence demonstrating the potential of social pedagogy. Caz Bowles, from the Head, Heart, Hands team outlines what happened at these inspiring events.

The last week of March saw two major events for the Head, Heart, Hands programme in the form of a conference in London and a practice exchange day in Edinburgh. They were an excellent opportunity to showcase the emerging evidence demonstrating the potential of social pedagogy. As Head, Heart, Hands approaches the end of its direct work with fostering services, the key issue is ensuring sustainability and the wider exploration of social pedagogy in foster care. Those involved in the programme came together to highlight examples of how it is improving outcomes for children and young people, foster carers, social workers and fostering services.

Stakeholders with a role in improving children’s services, including delegates from Ofsted, the Care Inspectorate, the Scottish Government, BAAF, NSPCC and several local authorities and independent fostering providers, attended the two events. They were invited to hear from representatives from all of the Head, Heart, Hands sites who shared their experiences, while the evaluators of the programme presented their findings so far, exploring the possibility that social pedagogy could not only lead to improved outcomes for young people but also reduced costs for fostering services.

Many agreed that the stars of the show were the foster carers who contributed to the events with their very engaging personal accounts of the positive impact of social pedagogy on their practice and relationships. The attendees conveyed in their feedback that the foster carers passion and commitment shone through, and they were reminded of the ‘valuable skilled and emotional care provided by foster carers’. The carers told moving stories of how the new skills built through the learning and development course had enabled them to improve life for their fostered children and young people. Some had been fostering for many years, and social pedagogy reignited what motivated them to become foster carers in the first place.

During a networking lunch at the London conference, social pedagogues were given the chance to showcase their achievements with creative information stands, further bringing to life for attendees the variety of ways in which social pedagogy has been able to make a difference.

As the events drew to a close there was a noticeable energy in the room and attendees expressed great enthusiasm about what they had heard. Both days closed with a time for reflection and open discussion, with participants engaged and interested.

Many attendees commented on the motivating and inspiring nature of the conferences, for example saying they would take away ‘hope and motivation’ and ‘inspiration and a positive, strong motivating feeling’. Participants felt the events had better informed them about social pedagogy, noting their ‘raised awareness’ and the event being ‘informative and enlightening’. We were very pleased to hear that many intended to share their learning with colleagues, managers and foster carers.

The day was summed up by one delegate as ‘a very well-managed, informative and powerful event – very glad to have been here’.

Thank you very much to everyone who contributed to making the events a success.

To build on the success of these two events, we would like to provide the opportunity to come together with other practitioners to share ideas, knowledge and experiences of social pedagogy. A practice forum is already up and running in Scotland, with the next meeting due to take place in Edinburgh at the end of August. Previous forums have heard updates from Head, Heart, Hands sites and others who are exploring using a social pedagogic approach in their own organisations. The informal round-table setting allows for extensive discussion and provides a space for people to ask questions and share ideas.

Following the success of the Scottish practice forums, we are now planning to set up ongoing forums in England, with the first meeting to be held in Autumn 2015. If you are interested in attending either forum please let us know by emailing hhhinfo@fostering.net and we will send you further information.

Foster Care FortnightTM social pedagogy day

We are pleased to announce that, for the first time, The Fostering Network’s Foster Care Fortnight™ (1 to 14 June 2015) will include a day – Monday 8 June - dedicated to social pedagogy. Foster Care Fortnight™ is the annual campaign to raise the profile of fostering and is the UK's biggest foster carer recruitment campaign. The Fostering Network sees Head, Heart, Hands as a vital programme that is contributing to the evolution of foster care in the UK. The day will be a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of social pedagogy in foster care and spread the word about the exciting developments of Head, Heart, Hands from some different perspectives of those involved.

On the day there will be new blogs posted on The Fostering Network’s website from a foster carer, a young person and a social worker representing different Head, Heart, Hands sites across the UK. The blogs will offer a chance to hear the personal accounts of those whose lives and practices have been enhanced since the introduction of social pedagogy.

The theme for this year’s campaign is Fostering, make a connection. The ‘My connection to fostering’ placard has been created as a visual aid to support this year’s campaign. Placards can be used to demonstrate the ‘connection’ that social pedagogy has with foster care. You can download the placard, and read more about this year’s campaign, at www.fostering.net/foster-care-fortnight.

We would be delighted if you could help create a buzz around Head, Heart, Hands and social pedagogy in foster care by taking part on 8 June. Simply write your connection to fostering in the white space provided, have your photo taken with the placard and email it to fcf@fostering.net or post it online through social media channels.

You can also share your experiences of social pedagogy or Head, Heart, Hands on Facebook and Twitter that day. If you feel that you have a longer story to tell and would be interested in writing a blog, we would love to hear from you at fcf@fostering.net, either during Foster Care Fortnight or at any other time.

Please incorporate the campaign’s hashtag #FCF2015 when posting on social media to ensure you help raise awareness and are part of the UK-wide campaign.

Finding each other’s blind spot

Foster carer, Nicola Hill, explains how she used Johari Window with her foster children to help the family understand each other more and show up some blind spots.

My supervisor, a social pedagogue, suggested trying an exercise based on Johari Window to increase the open space or ‘arena’ in our relationship with our foster children.

Johari Window was developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the 1950s as a model for mapping personality awareness. By describing yourself from a fixed list of 55 adjectives and then asking your family, friends or colleagues to describe you using the same list, you can build a picture of how you see yourself and how others see you.

We used the table on the following link: kevan.org/johari

We all sat round the dining table with a piece of A4 paper each and then chose 5-6 adjectives from the list, which we thought best described ourselves. The list includes words such as idealistic, bold, self-conscious, modest, caring, proud, complex, quiet etc.

We then folded over the sheet and passed it round the table and each person had to write what they thought best described us and fold over their answers and pass the sheet on. The sheets went back to the original person for them to read the descriptions first.

We were all surprised by at least one of the descriptions about ourselves – exposing our blind spots or revealing an impression we didn’t think we created. I was described by one of our children as proud – I didn’t expect that but when it was explained I could see they meant that I like to create a good impression and tidy up before people come over! Everyone had chosen the same word for our two children – energetic and self-conscious. One of our children was surprised to be described by everyone as self-conscious but we explained that it was typical for a teenager and not necessarily a bad thing as long as it didn’t inhibit you. Other words that popped up on at least two lists included friendly, caring and kind – that’s a relief!

The choice is obviously limited by the 55 adjectives, which are generally positive. However, it did provoke interesting discussions and reflections. It was heart-warming to see how our two children, who are siblings, described each other. Apart from both using the word ‘silly’, they also used other words such as bold, trustworthy, caring and happy. This led to a discussion about how important it is to be trustworthy. As well as opening up the arena between us I think it was quite good for building self-esteem.

Soulmaz Bashirinia, a social pedagogue in Hackney, says:

Johari Window helps us reflect on what we consciously and unconsciously communicate to other people, but also what we consciously hide from other people and reasons behind the choices that we make. I am sure there are many other things the Johari Window inspires us to think about, which is the beauty of the simplicity of this model that yet allows capturing a variety of complex circumstances.

‘Taking a social pedagogic stance, I believe that one part of my role as a supervising social worker is to create opportunities to reflect rather than providing answers. Johari Window is a helpful tool for this in supervision. But like many other models and tools that we use it is only with a basis of a trustful relationship that it can create positive results.

‘This approach of looking at the blind spots (an area that is invisible to us and we only can see by asking others for feedback) helps me to remember how important it is to ask for feedback and to give feedback; to discuss and agree how we want to give and receive feedback from each other; and to discuss how we can create a space to have an open dialogue about who we are, what we feel and how we want things to be. In times when we have to build relationships with many different people in a short period of time, this space can be crucial to help build respectful relationships.

‘There are many ways we can use this model - reflecting on a complex situation we didn't like, supervisor-foster carer relationship or our relationship with children, family or friends. But a model is only a model. It is important to think about what approach we take when using a model and this is just as important of the context in which we use the model and our relationship.

‘My personal approach is curiosity. I am curious to learn more about people and about myself. I believe if the conversation can plant a seed of curiosity that inspires people to continue reflecting and discussing with each other I believe this is an outcome that might lead to a growing tree of reflexivity’.

Stefanie Dorotka, another Hackney social pedagogue, adds: ‘My personal thoughts about the Johari window are that it is a very useful tool when it comes to exploring a situation in detail. It can be useful when a new person joins the family. But also when there is a situation where the network around a young person feels stuck and does not know their way forward. It can help explore new ways to improve situations and discover new approaches. The main aspect is that the hidden area becomes smaller and that helps everyone involved to work in the most efficient way.’