Social Pedagogy at UK Fostering by Urs Bielmann, Director – UK Fostering
How I came about it
There are many different approaches to how we best support, guide and raise our children and young people. Social Pedagogy encompasses several elements which are particularly relevant and close to my heart. I studied Social Pedagogy in Switzerland in the mid nineties, and worked in a children’s home for many years, using the knowledge and skills acquired during study and practice placements.
In broad terms it is about social learning, learning through interaction and creating learning opportunities. One of the early Social Pedagogues (Jean Jacque Rousseau) argued that the ‘educator’ (e.g. social workers, foster carers, parents, teachers) need to provide OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING’. This is a key principal at UK Fostering and we talk about creating opportunities for foster children and young people in many different contexts. It aims to address the question of how we can best support a child to acquire coping strategies, build resilience and self confidence and learn in a positive way about the world around us. Well- being, positive experiences, relationships and being empowered are vital elements here. The child and the adults looking after them are looked at in a holistic way.
How does it work
For me personally, I like to think that a lot of what is done in Social Pedagogy is ‘common sense’, almost a bit ‘old school’. It’s often beyond the health and safety regulations and the red tape which sometimes engulfs us as parents, social workers, teachers, managers, coaches etc.
It is immensely important that children and young people are given opportunities to make positive experiences, so that they can improve their self believe and self esteem. They need to be able to make mistakes in an environment which makes allowances for that, and uses them as a learning opportunity. Foster carers are in an ideal position to do just that, in the security of their family life. That is so much easier than for example at school, where 20 class mates are watching every move you make as soon as you put up your hand.
It’s the simple things that make all the difference. As adults we have a responsibility to create these opportunities for learning. This includes basic things such as baking a cake, helping with the gardening, playing an instrument, climbing a tree, washing a car, looking after a pet, helping with the cooking etc.
Tuning in and a holistic approach
Social Pedagogy is about meeting the child or young person at their level, and understanding their map of the world. Tuning in to their emotions, being aware of their needs, wants, likes, fears, hopes. We need to do everything we can to work alongside the children, with our hands, heart and head. It’s the combination and balance of those three elements that influences success over failure.
At UK Fostering we are looking to develop a training program and a support structure for foster carers which enables them to make use of these elements. A lot has been written recently about efforts to make the life of children in care more ‘normal’ (whatever that means). Social Pedagogy can contribute to that in several ways: One is by addressing our often risk averse behaviour as parents and carers, and balancing it out with the needs of the children. Meaning, we create learning opportunities for children which are valuable, bring joy, are fun, encourage social interaction, laughter, surprise, etc.
Other elements such as life story work, sexuality, leaving care, building relationships are all part of the holistic approach of Social Pedagogy. And lastly, foster carers and social workers who work under a framework of Social Pedagogy need to be able to a reflect on their behaviour and be critical with themselves, and welcome constructive criticism from others. The recent interest in the UK about Social Pedagogy is to be welcomed. I am looking forward to working together with other professionals to use its concept and tools to improve the lives of children and young people.
Director UK Fostering