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Social pedagogy is an approach to caring for children which combines education and care, emphasising that bringing up children is the shared responsibility of parents and society. A key principle is that the child is in charge of his or her own life, and the social pedagogue works alongside them rather than dictating to them.
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The practice is successfully used in residential children’s homes and educational setting such as nurseries in Denmark and Germany, and is increasingly finding a receptive audience in the UK.
Most social pedagogy courses across Europe are degree level and last between three and four years. In Denmark, the three-and-a-half-year degree course involves three practice placements totalling 15 months and including studying creative arts, social care, psychology, social anthropology, childhood development and multi-disciplinary working. There are no such courses in the UK yet.
Social pedagogy starts from the premise that building a relationship is a good thing, rather than looking at it in terms of the challenges it presents. A typical training model designed to address relationship issues is known as the "three Ps". This involves social pedagogues looking at their life in three sections. The private self, which stays private; the personal self, which is areas they can share with young people; and finally their professional self, which involves information about the job which they pass on. This helps workers to ensure that relationships can be warm and close, as well as professional.
Pilot social pedagogy projects funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) have been running now for 16 months in 30 local authority children’s homes in London, Hampshire, Bournemouth, Dudley, Blackburn and Darwen, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Liverpool and Lancashire. Private and voluntary sector providers taking part are Quarriers, Ingleside, Safeguarding Children's Services, Appletree, Lioncare, St Christopher’s and Break.
The development part of this project is being run by Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), the Institute of Education University of London and the evaluation, which began in November 2009, is being completed by teams at the Universities of Bristol and York.
34 social pedagogues have been recruited to date, with only a few vacancies left to fill. A programme of training and support is in place for the managers and staff in the children's homes and for the social pedagogues, which includes access to a project officer via telephone and email; a web platform for exchange of ideas and experiences; review visits, reflective sessions with staff groups, specialist workshops for managers and networking events.
In 2010, the team supporting the pilots will be developing conferences and workshops for children's services practitioners beyond children's residential care, raising awarenss of - and skills in - social pedagogic theory and practice.
The pilots will run until 2011, and the outcomes will then help to inform the government’s decisions about whether - and if so how - to encourage wider use of a pedagogic approach in children’s homes in England.