Social pedagogues fail to improve outcomes in children’s homes

European social pedagogues employed in English children's homes as part of a government-funded pilot have failed to achieve better outcomes, an evaluation has found.

European social pedagogues employed in English children’s homes as part of a government-funded pilot have failed to achieve better outcomes, an evaluation has found.

The pilot, funded by the Department for Education between 2009 and 2011, brought in practitioners who were not social workers but were trained to support the development of the whole child and their social education.

Eighteen children’s homes employing social pedagogues were evaluated and compared with 12 homes that had no pedagogues.

Researchers from Bristol and York universities found that, although most social pedagogues were well-received and considered to have contributed to practice improvements in the home, there was no obvious impact on outcomes for children.

In about half the homes researchers were unable to observe any major differences between the role and activities of social pedagogues and residential workers. Visits to 12 of the pilot homes also revealed a disparity in the quality of care, with half providing a consistently warm, caring environment, but some showing evidence of insensitive practices.

Not all pedagogues were equally experienced – one-third had never worked in residential care and most were young graduates. Many said they wanted more central backing and clearer direction about their role; several left their posts prematurely, due to disputes with staff or because they were dissatisfied with their role.

Researchers found residential workers were envious of the status, expertise and professional autonomy of social pedagogues and said these features could help to improve English residential care “whether under the guise of social pedagogy or any other model”.

David Berridge, professor of child and family welfare at Bristol University and one of the authors of the evaluation, said social pedagogy offered some “very attractive” ideas and theories but was not a panacea for perceived problems in English residential care.

He said: “There has always been concern that English children’s homes don’t achieve the same results as European homes where social pedagogy is central. But we have to be cautious about assuming other countries have the answer. The history and context of residential care in England, compared with other countries, is very different.”

Berridge said social pedagogy practice ought to evolve in an English context, pointing out that children here are usually older when they enter residential care and stay for less time than in continental Europe.

He added: “In Europe social pedagogues are highly trained and have the same status as social workers. In England, residential workers try their best, but often they can be intuitive rather than professional and have to consult a number of other people before they can make decisions.

“The government should be commended for trying new approaches and having them evaluated, but we must learn from the findings. We might want to think about giving English residential homes and workers more autonomy and status.”

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