Head, Heart, Hands

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Head, Heart, Hands was The Fostering Network’s innovative programme exploring the impact that the introduction of social pedagogy can have on outcomes for fostered children and young people.

What is social pedagogy

Social pedagogy puts foster carers at the heart of the child care team, recognising and supporting the pivotal role they play in the development of fostered children. It gives more authority to foster carers and encourages all those who work with fostered children to take a more sensible approach to risk so the children can experience happy and fulfilling lives.

Social pedagogy is a well-established and proven framework for social care, meeting the needs of children in care in many European countries. It blends the use of knowledge from academic research and established child development theories (head), with an important emphasis on relationships and emotions, recognising that everyone has their own emotional and ethical needs (heart), in combination with a focus on using practical tasks and every day activities as vital opportunities for learning (hands).

Head, Heart, Hands worked for four years across seven fostering services in England and Scotland, seeing what different a social pedagogic approach to fostering would make to foster carers, fostering services and, most importantly, fostered children and young people.

Find out more about social pedagogy

Find out more about the Head, Heart, Hands partners

What we've learned from the programme

With the programme now complete we are proud to be able to share the learning that we hope will influence fostering policy and practice.

Download our end of programme impact report.

​A social pedagogic approach to foster care can provide an ethical and theoretical framework which enhances and builds on existing practice. Through supporting the development of improved relationships, social pedagogy can provide important benefits for children and young people, their foster carers, and the other professionals in the team around them.

Social pedagogy can help fostered children and young people to have a positive experience of family life, with deeper, more trusting and equal relationships. With foster carers better able to understand their needs, children and young people who lived in Head, Heart, Hands families reported feeling more confident, empowered, and valued.

Social pedagogy can support foster carers to navigate their way through the unique demands of their vital role – helping them find an effective balance between the professional and the personal. It provides tools and approaches that help them to understand their needs and the needs of the young people in their care, enabling them to support and prioritise wellbeing across the whole fostering household.

Social pedagogy can provide a platform for fostering services to take a ‘people above process’ approach to supporting looked after children, including tackling procedural and cultural barriers, and putting relationships and values at the heart of decision making.

Social pedagogic cultural change across a whole service needs to be part of an organisation’s strategic plan and requires focused investment of time and resources. However, as a first step, immediate benefits can be achieved by introducing some of the key concepts and models which enhance the practice of foster carers and social care staff.

Impact on fostering households:

  • Increased confidence and resilience.
  • Improved peer support for foster carers.
  • Improved advocacy skills, with a shared approach and language.
  • More thoughtful and intentional practice.
  • Enhanced professional status of foster carers.
  • A deepened understanding of the needs and behaviours of fostered children and young people.
  • Enabled a risk sensible approach.
  • Strenghtened the nurturing and learning environment.
  • Increased warmth, trust and equality in relationships.

Impact on fostering services:

  • Strengthened relationships and teamwork between foster carers and professionals in the team around the child through improved communication, increased empathy, and reduced barriers and hierarchies.
  • A shared theoretical framework and language between foster carers and other professionals in the team around the child.
  • A stronger community of better resourced foster carers who feel more confident, empowered, and valued by the service and better able to meet the demands of their role.
  • Improved placement experiences and strengthened placement planning/placement move processes.
  • Enhanced peer support enabling foster carers to share experiences and ideas to increase their resilience and longevity.
  • Reinvigorated social worker practice.
  • Enabled foster carers to be stronger, more confident advocates for children and young people, giving fostering services more confidence that the needs of individual children will be met.
  • Enabled services to better identify and utilise the skills of their foster carers and staff.
  • Enhanced existing training.

You can also download the executive summary and the full, independent evaluation of Head, Heart, Hands.

Social pedagogy in practice

The Head, Heart, Hands programme gave us an exciting opportunity to work closely with foster carers and fostering services for three years as they explored how social pedagogy could help them in their work. We walked side by side with them as they put social pedagogic theory, tools and concepts into practice to help support the children and young people in their care to achieve their full potential. In these social pedagogy in practice resources we have worked with foster carers, social workers and social pedagogues to bring some of our learning to life.

Download our social pedagogy story booklet.