Head, Heart, Hands - September 2015

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

The Evaluation of Head, Heart, Hands - have your say!

The Fostering Network has commissioned an evaluation team led by the Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR), at Loughborough University, in partnership with the Colebrooke Centre for Evidence and Implementation. The evaluation team is always looking for new participants and would really like to find out more from foster carers who attended the original Head, Heart, Hands courses, and would especially like to hear from the children and young people in their care.

The evaluation team has reported to the Fostering Network throughout the duration of the programme, since 2012. This summer, the views and experiences of a sample of foster carers who participated in the Head, Heart, Hands programme and the children and young people placed with them were reported. This report captured views from July 2014 to July 2015. Here are a few of the findings so far:

  • Over the 12-month time frame most foster carers said their practice and understanding of social pedagogy had enhanced, and there was visible impact of social pedagogy on the children and young people they were looking after.
  • Enthusiasm for social pedagogy was found to remain generally high among foster carers, with all carers acknowledging that the Head, Heart, Hands programme is likely to impact their own practice, or the wider fostering service valuable.
  • Concerns about the relationship between social pedagogy and the “wider system” continue to be prevalent among foster carers. Concerns were raised about the potential for resistance in the system to limit the impact that social pedagogy could have.

It isn’t too late to have your say. Do get in touch directly if you are interested in sharing your views, or want to find out more, by contacting Helen Trivedi at H.L.Trivedi@lboro.ac.uk, or 01509 228759.


Mending ways after a placement breakdown

After a series of placement breakdowns a fostering service was concerned that a foster carer was not providing the warmth and standard of care required. Social workers decided to work with a Head, Heart, Hands social pedagogue to find new ways of addressing the situation. This is an account of how the social pedagogic approach helped the foster carer develop and the placement improve.

There had been some concerns about Bev’s warmth towards other foster children in her care and some placements, such as the one with Dale, had come to unplanned endings.

The social pedagogue’s objective was to enable Bev to reflect on how she worked with young people and to consider practising in a different way so she could provide more stable placements with better outcomes.

Bev had taken part in the core Head, Heart, Hands course. She has been fostering for 32 years and is a single foster carer. In recent years, she has been fostering teenagers. 

The social pedagogue says:

I had several sessions with Bev, as well as sending her a reflective letter and giving her homework between the sessions to reflect on. Bev came well prepared to each session with a written summary of her thoughts. My impression is that Bev is a passionate person who loves being a foster carer and wants to do a good job. Bev is a very direct person who says what is on her mind and appreciates when other professionals are the same.

The social pedagogue asked Bev to map her relationships. She chose to place Dale very close to her.  She says that she cared, and still cares, about Dale and that it came as a shock to hear that he wasn’t happy living with her. Bev still doesn’t understand why Dale left and isn’t happy about the way the placement ended.

The social pedagogue says: ‘We spent the majority of the time reflecting about “communication” and how Bev sometimes is understood as loud or angry, which can frighten people.’

During reflection, Bev believed this might be connected to her cultural background and ‘just who she is as a person’. The social pedagogue asked Bev to reflect on how different people might understand her shouting in different ways and why it is important for her to think about this. They used several social pedagogy models to help reflect further on when Bev becomes loud and how it is connected to her leaving her comfort zone and entering her panic zone. Bev has thought about situations that “trigger” her and how to be careful, particularly when this might make her angry.

Bev explained that being loud has sometimes been a helpful strategy to make children listen.  ‘We have reflected on how ‘”non-violent communication” can be a useful strategy to de-escalate everyday situations.’

‘We have discussed how communicating with children early in the placement and allowing them to participate in decision making and coming up with their own rules, might be a helpful way to build relationships and show care and nurture.’

Immediate outcomes

Following this piece of work, Bev attended a fostering panel and was able to articulate the impact of working with the social pedagogue. ‘Having been quite sceptical about her learning on the core course she grew to understand how social pedagogy could influence the way she spoke to young people in her care.’ 

Bev also explored local activities for teenagers to promote common third activities in future.

This change in approach led to Bev being made available for further fostered placements (she had not been matched with further placements while these issues were addressed). Successful placements have since been made and Bev is currently caring for two teenage girls.

Longer term impact

At a review meeting some months after the intervention, Bev described using a number of models from the core course such as the Diamond Model, non-violent communication and the common third.  She said that she was now more able to see both her own and the young person’s strengths and positives.  She described feeling more confident in her own role and more able to be open with the young people in her care. Bev said she no longer, ‘got so worked up’ and that she was able to ‘be more calm and relaxed’. 

She spoke at length about considering the perspective of the young person and the way they might be feeling.  She recognised that previously she could be negative about young people but that now she was presenting issues in a different way. She was considering the reasons why they might be doing things and re-framing conversations.

Bev talked about how she was also making use of the common third model and described how this was having a positive impact on the young people in her care, helping them to learn to understand boundaries but developing independence at the same time.  One of her current young people had very few boundaries at home, having spent most of her time with her much older boyfriend, but Bev was helping her to adjust to being a teenager again and living in a family.

In the longer term, helping Bevreflect on her practice has made her more able to provide appropriate and positive placements for teenagers, address issues around behaviour effectively and ensure that they are cared for with warmth and nurture.


A snapshot of life

As part of the Head, Heart, Hands programme, social pedagogues recently organised a participation project for young people in Hackney.

The nine young people involved decided that photography was the activity they wanted to focus on. Their idea was to concentrate on lifeworld orientation[1] and to show through the project and final product what was important to them. The emphasis was on participation, normalisation and everyday life. The young people took photos in different locations around Hackney.

On the final day the young people chose the photos they wanted to use for a calendar. They also wrote a couple of lines about each of the photos and why they chose them. The group picked a name for their calendar and agreed that we would look into the possibility of holding an exhibition and hanging some of the photos in the Hackney Service Centre meeting rooms. We had a time for reflection and feedback at the end. All the group members enjoyed the project as well as making new friends.

This project was a good example of some key concepts in social pedagogy. It was a shared common third activity where the members of the activity were part of the project from the beginning until the end. Learning together happened in the group and it was delightful to observe how the group dynamics developed and how every member of the group took part in planning and sharing. A three day, closed group project also gives a great platform for young people to reflect and share their experiences of being fostered in a safe group.

The project also included a Head, Heart, Hands aspect, as every member of the group shared and contributed to the project by expressing their views on the chosen topic (Heart), taking the photos (Hands) travelling to the chosen locations, planning and  learning new skills (Head).

For some, the project developed an interest in exploring photography further. Photography turned out to be a great way to express oneself and our young people were empowered by their beautiful photos, the skills they discovered, and the feedback they received. We shared many positive experiences through holistic learning, building relationships and creating something beautiful, both individually and as a group. We hope and believe that this project will play a small part in helping young people find their voice and recognise their strengths and skills.  

The photos are currently with a local printing company for completion. Our brilliant young artists will soon have a calendar for you to see and possibly purchase in the future.


Planning an activity day – the kids are in charge

Capstone Foster Care empowered young people to engage in planning and delivering an activity day for children and families in Hampshire and Dorset.

At the end of 2014 Capstone was awarded a grant by The Fostering Network to demonstrate social pedagogy with children and young people. The aim of Capstone’s proposal was to build on consultation and planning processes with children and young people, which has been developed with great success in Somerset and Wiltshire, enhancing a greater sense of community in the area.

Participants in the planning process included four young people, two social pedagogues and a supervising social worker.  There were five planning meetings with the young people to plan the activity.

We started thinking about doing a day on a farm and staying overnight, then we scrapped that idea and came up with Go Ape at Moors valley. We started planning to go to Moors valley but then realised it would be too expensive. Then one of the girls came up with doing an activity day, called “Altitude” at Littledown, so we researched it and decided it would work. On our final planning day we designed the flyer that we were going to send out. We invited foster children and the children of the foster families too.

The Activity Day, Littledown

We started by introducing the plan for the day, then we organised into four groups with a game. The whole group participated in Altitude from 11am until 1pm. Then the small groups got together to explore creatively their experience and ideas about risk, sharing their thoughts and opinions about why it was important to take risks. They were invited to give ideas and suggestions for further activities.

The planning team of four young people had a key role in facilitating and leading the day - they were the reference person in each group. They led the small groups and facilitated the creative activity.

As one young person explains:

I was so excited and enjoyed the whole day. It was very scary at first but everybody managed to do it. Next we moved on to jumping off the very top of Altitude, this was called the leap of faith. After that we moved on to the zip wire all the way over the lake. In the lake you could see fish, it was so cool. The whole day was filmed by The Fostering Network. I was asked to wear a Gopro on my helmet to do some filming. Finally we moved on to the hall where we made a massive picture about how the day had gone. I think the day was really successful and my favourite part was the zip wire because it was so fast and really fun.

Feedback and reflection session

As part of the planning and learning for the group we got together and reflected on how the whole process went. Everyone agreed that one of the highlights was the relationship aspect.

What about the future?

We would like to open the opportunity for other young people to get involved in the planning of activities in the area. We also did some brainstorming for summer activities, sharing ideas for another adventure day and continuing our creative project on risk.

Longer term impact

The families and children who attended the day made connections with others through the different activities. There was a sense of enjoyment in a relaxing atmosphere.

There was an exploration of the idea of risk competence by enabling new learning and developing skills through experiential exploration and reflection, moving away from a risk-averse culture in working with children and young people.

How does this story illustrate social pedagogy?

Nurturing the group development is an essential part of social pedagogy, the relationship building aspect is the base where the process take place, the group has ownership of the initiative and the decisions are made collaboratively.

As a strength-based approach, social pedagogy reinforces the participants’ strengths and abilities, allowing learnings and solutions to be drawn from their own experiences and previous knowledge.

Using creativity is common in social pedagogy because it brings the opportunity to explore and express in more open, inclusive and diverse ways.

Taking risks is important to children’s well-being and development in many aspects. Children need to be allowed to take risks in order to develop risk competence. Social pedagogy sees this process as an essential part in the child’s growth and development, because this will be the only way that children learn how to assess risks and therefore gain the competence to keep themselves safe.

For further information:  

Verónica Pérez Calvo, veronica.perez@capstonefostercare.co.uk

Anne-Marie Davies, anne-marie.davies@capstonefostercare.co.uk


A day in the life of a social pedagogue

Simon Johr is one of two social pedagogues with Staffordshire County Council. Here he describes a typical day:

I have been working for Staffordshire County Council for two and a half years. I am originally from Germany where I graduated as a social pedagogue and social worker in 2009.

My day usually starts at my desk but today I don’t have much time to check my emails. I have to prepare the Local Network Meeting which we are hosting this morning. These meetings take place every two months. Unlike a normal meeting a Local Network Meeting has no set agenda. It is, as the name says, a meeting with a focus on networking and relationship-building. People from different teams across Staffordshire’s social services are invited to share with colleagues what they are currently working on and explore how social pedagogy can help them in their role.

After my lunch break I take my bike and head out for a foster carer’s support visit. As my office is right in the middle of Stafford I try to cover all my visits in Stafford by bike. It energises me and is healthy as well. In general I do two different kinds of visits. The majority I do, of course, as a social pedagogue. I help people to implement the models and theories they have learnt at our training courses. But I also manage some cases and do visits as a fostering social worker as well. Very often both roles blur a little bit. I am, for example, using my social pedagogical models to reflect with foster carers on their practice.

After 90 minutes I get on my bike again and head back to the office. It is time for the monthly Head, Heart, Hands steering group where we plan all upcoming events and co-ordinate all aspects of the programme.

As always the steering group agenda is quite full as we have a whole range of events coming up. The core of the programme is our training courses. People who want to find out about social pedagogy and what it entails can come to one of our taster days. People who want to get a more in depth understanding can attend the social pedagogy Level 1 training. We are currently developing a Level 2 course. At this meeting we update each other on the progress and discuss what still needs to be done.

We also have a debate about another course and what we want to call it. The Fostering Network - which co-ordinates all seven fostering services involved in Head, Heart, Hands – gave us some funding for this new training. This one should especially target people who have already attended social pedagogy training. The idea is to train them up to be social pedagogy promoters who can support colleagues to use the approach.

We all leave the meeting with a whole list of new things to do. More tasks for another day in the life of a social pedagogue.


Social pedagogy and learning disabilities

In the Head, Heart, Hands team, we are always interested to hear about the progress of other social pedagogy programmes. A successful pilot was recently completed in Scotland at two Camphill communities (Blair Drummond and Tiphereth) using social pedagogy to support adults with learning disabilities. Between February 2014 and April 2015, a group of staff were given social pedagogy training and were supported to build on previously accumulated skills and knowledge in developing their practice.

Follow this link to watch a video about their journey.

Earlier this month, the pilot’s final evaluation report was published. The training had had a transformative effect on participants: they had increased their confidence, reflected more purposefully on their practice and focussed more on the power of their relationships with colleagues and service users. One staff member said: ‘It has been totally life-enhancing. Social pedagogy is something I am going to take with me through the rest of my working life and my personal life, it has had so much of an impact.”’

To mark the publishing of the report, Camphill Scotland held an event to share their learning. Many of the enthusiastic attendees wished to see the running of further pilots into the use of social pedagogy in a range of care settings.

The graphic pictured was produced as a way of visualising the social pedagogic models the participants found most useful. A larger version can be downloaded here.


[1] Lifeworld orientation recognises that how each person makes sense of their lived world is distinctive and influenced by many factors including the resources (physical, emotional, economic, social etc) we have access to, and the social, cultural, political, economic structures of our society. Understanding that everyone’s lifeworld is different helps carers to make sense of and respond appropriately to the foster child’s world and their coping strategies. (Grunwald and Thiersch, 2009)