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Could Social Pedagogues provide ‘good parenting’?

(whilst allowing society to continue to avoid using the word ‘parenting’ in the context of children in public care?)

The answer is a qualified ‘yes’, on several counts:

  • Social pedagogues work with the ‘whole child’. They are concerned with and support the child’s development.
  • The professional knowledge employed by social pedagogues is informed by theory, structured continual professional development and reflective practice that seeks input from colleagues and others involved with the child.
  • The work of the social pedagogue is underpinned by children’s rights and participation.
  • Social pedagogues exploit and share their own practical life skills in creative ways to engage, educate and involve children in their care. They do this as part of the child’s everyday life, sharing their life-experiences, preparing food together, playing games together and involving the young people in household tasks.

However, social pedagogues are likely to find it strange working in a UK regulated, residential childcare system, which has in recent years become: risk adverse, driven by ‘best value’ (i.e. the cheapest option), which adopts a hands off approach to children, where the line between safeguarding children and staff has been crossed to the determent of the children. The result is that we have literally made UK looked after children, ‘untouchables’.

The good news is that most of the existing UK children’s workforce, find this sterile, regulated environment every bit as alien as their social pedagogue counterparts. Currently, in the UK there are several government-sponsored evaluation of pilot social pedagogue projects, given their success in Europe, their outstanding professional credentials and their focus on children’s rights, a good outcome would be that they spearhead a radical rethink of our care system.

Radical change is unlikely to come from a few exceptional practitioners, nor from one or two enlightened Local Authorities. It is reassuring therefore to read that the Select Committee report, presented evidence of a failing ‘corporate parent’. Had this enquiry been legal care proceedings against rejecting, abusing or neglectful parents, the children would have been taken away from the parents and placed in care! It is not likely that we will see a transfer of the oversight of our UK care system to the Danish Government. The answer is, however, political: what we need to learn from our European counterparts is how and what central government policies and actions ensure that social pedagogues are able to discharge their responsibilities unimpeded.

In the meantime, what can we do today, to put into practice the Select Committee’s recommendation to identify and remove barriers to supporting good personal relationships?

Our approach is based on emotional warmth and puts the relationship between the child and the carer at its core. ‘The Authentic Warmth Dimension of Professional Childcare’ was published in the British Journal of Social Work in October 2008. Here we identified how the relationships between the adult and the child is key and should be underpinned by ‘good parenting’ which values the child’s interests and views, sets boundaries, focuses on the child’s strengths, skills and qualities and never gives up on the child.

This approach empowers workers, within the existing UK childcare workforce; with the psychological theory and research to enable them to understand and respond to the emotional trauma and parental rejection, which many looked after children, have endured. This is achieved by combining the existing carer’s detailed knowledge of the child with the experience, theoretical knowledge and skills of trained chartered psychologists – who are in turn supervised by a team of expert psychologist’s. The psychologist works with the carers, not the young people (a cost effective use of the psychologist’s time). The knowledge base to address the specific life-pervading and emotionally-limiting issues faced by many of these traumatised children, lies within psychology not politics, management, social administration, or law.

With the generation of debt that the UK is currently facing, it is unlikely that any future government will make additional funds available for looked after children, so radical solutions need to be found within existing resources. The makeup of the Select committee and their ability to cut through years of misguided governance of the care system, offers a clue to a possible political solution. That is, an enlightened government could place the oversight of the care system in the hands of a cross party group.

They should take ‘childhood’ as a measure of time rather than the current measure, the four or five year term of office. Empowerment of the children’s workforce, rather than control and regulations, should inform decisions on policy relating to looked-after-children. Most importantly, for radical change to occur, we need to change the way we view children in public care, starting with the reintroduction of the word ‘parenting’ to describe the special responsibilities of those people working with ‘looked after’ children. Finally, to respond to the young people’s trauma with ‘professional parenting’, we need to use the expert knowledge base, theory and research of psychology to inform how we respond to each child’s individual needs.

Colin Maginn – Director Of Pillars Of Parenting

Published by the kind permission of Colin Maginn Pillars of Parenting © Colin Maginn 2009/10 all rights reserved.

The book ‘Achieving Positive Outcomes for children in Care’ by Dr Sean Cameron and Colin Maginn

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