News Views

Something Old or Something New?

Keith White asks in his column this month what there is that is new about social pedagogy, and it is a question touched on in some of the other articles this month.

Our view is that social pedagogy provides a conceptual framework which enables a lot of other things to make sense. At conferences we have seen experienced practitioners’ faces light up with enthusiasm as the social pedagogy approach helped them to fit the various pieces of theory and practice together which were already in their repertoires.

Give us the springs and cogs that make a watch, and it will remain a heap of bits. But if an expert puts it together, it all makes sense and works. Put the jigsaw together and you get the picture, with its message. While it is a pile if pieces, who knows what it is all about? Social pedagogy teaching offers the blue print and assembly instructions for the watch, or a sight of the picture on the jigsaw box.

And when they are all put together they make sense and work. Which helps motivate staff. Which is necessary for good child care practice.

Respite Care

The practice of providing respite care while children are fostered seems to have grown up over recent years, and it is a trend we find worrying.

Children who are fostered have usually had major problems at home, or they would not need fostering. There may be relationship difficulties; they may be missing school; they may be subject to abuse or bullying; they may have disabilities; they may be offending. Whatever their problems, their experiences will be part of the baggage which the children carry to the foster home. To cope with them, they will need personal care, love, stability, and individual attention.

When a child gets to the foster home, s/he will find a family with a different way of living, different expectations, different language perhaps, possibly a different school and a new circle of social contacts. The foster home may of course be very loving, flexible and tolerant, but the foster child has to do a lot of the adapting – despite being the one with the problems.

If, then, a respite placement is built in, the foster child has to make a further set of adaptations to fit in with a third setting. We recall some research from many years ago which suggested that children can typically relate to four significant adults, and it makes sense. Beyond that, relationships tend to be shallower and less important. If a child is bombarded with multiple adult carers, they find ways of adapting – settling quickly and conforming, but anaesthetising themselves against the pain of continual separations by declining to bond and form close relationships – a sort of institutionalisation.

We recently came across a case where the package planned for a child consisted of two foster  placements per week (one mainly weekday and one mainly weekends) with a third offering occasional respite placements. The local authority may have been desperate to find any answer to their problems in finding somewhere for the child, but we consider this solution appalling. It had insecurity and the risk of shallow relationships built in from the start. Even critics of residential child care have to recognise that if the child had been taken into a children’s home, the lifestyle and social group would have remained constant and not subject to twice-weekly changes.

Should this practice be deemed acceptable? Does this problem worry anyone else?

Pedagogy and Pathology

One of the themes running through some of the articles in this month’s issue is the question: what is the fundamental focus of professional work with children? There are two distinct approaches, which are usually blended in practice, but with one or the other being dominant.

The first is to identify children, young people and their families as having problems which need to be addressed and solved. As Robert Shaw has pointed out, this model has become dominant in social work, and it is the foisting of this model onto youth work by the Government that Tony Taylor is complaining about.

The second is to take a broad view of the best way to bring up children, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau did with Emile. This approach focuses on the positives, with the aims of providing a good childhood, preparation for a good adulthood and the prevention of problems.

In Blairite terms, the first model tackles crime, the second the causes of crime. In the UK we have see-sawed between these two models throughout history. (Someone may already have a PhD for studying the cyclical shifts, but if not, this is a subject waiting for a researcher.)

In the Children Act 1963 Child Care Officers were encouraged to spend public money preventatively for the first time. In the Barclay Report there was a predominant drive to emphasise community social work, enabling local communities to solve their own problems wherever possible, and it contrasted with the minority Pinker report which advocated traditional social work. Today, with rationing, targets and standards, we are well into the pathological model again.

We venture to suggest that this is why – with the benefit of hindsight – CCETSW got it wrong in declaring that “residential work is part of social work”. It isn’t – not if it is pathological.

In residential child care, one may need to ignore a child’s identified problems until s/he feels able to address them, focusing instead on giving the child a fulfilling and happy life, dwelling on successes, building up confidence, helping the acquisition of all sorts of skills and knowledge, preparing the child for adulthood – in short, targeting the positives as far as possible.

It is a different way of working from the traditional social work model, and you will note that social pedagogy focuses on the positives too.

From the Case Files

Father said that he washed up and hovered.

In formation with the Fairy Liquid fairy?

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