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Social Pedagogy: Developing and Maintaining Multi-Disciplinary Relationships in Residential Child Care

Authors:

Abstract

The task of building and maintaining effective multi-disciplinary relationships is a constant challenge for the residential child care sector in Scotland. The absence of effective multi-disciplinary collaboration has been cited regularly as a contributing factor to instances of poor and problematic practice. Social pedagogy has much to offer in terms of enabling the residential child care sector to address some of these issues and assist with the task of establishing effective multi-disciplinary relationships. This article will explore how this can be achieved in practice, drawing on research based on multi-disciplinary social pedagogy training delivered in Scotland. The evidence demonstrates that social pedagogy can begin to break down the very real barriers that often prevent residential child care practitioners from developing and maintaining multi-disciplinary relationships. It can assist with the task of developing a shared language and understanding; the creation of a clear focus on the developmental needs of children and young people; and a more nuanced approach to dealing with issues of risk. The messages from this article will hold relevance for the professions of residential child care, health and education and be applicable to practitioners throughout Europe and beyond.
*Correspondence: graham.mcpheat@strath.ac.uk
1 University of Strathclyde, UK
International Journal of Social Pedagogy
Social Pedagogy: Developing and Maintaining
Multi-Disciplinary Relationships in Residential Child Care
Graham McPheat1,*, Evelyn Vrouwenfelder1
How to cite: McPheat, G., Vrouwenfelder, E. ‘Social Pedagogy: Developing and
Maintaining Multi-Disciplinary Relationships in Residential Child Care.’
International Journal of Social Pedagogy, 2017, 6 (1), pp.64–82. DOI:
https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444.ijsp.2017.v6.1.005
Published: 6 October, 2017
Peer Review:
This article has been peer reviewed through the journal’s standard double blind peer-review, where
both the reviewers and authors are anonymised during review.
Copyright:
© 2017, The Author(s) • This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (CC-BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author
and source are credited DOI: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444.ijsp.2017.v6.1.005
Open Access:
International Journal of Social Pedagogy is a peer-reviewed open access journal.
64 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
Social Pedagogy: Developing
and Maintaining Multi-Disciplinary
Relationships in Residential Child
Care
Graham McPheat
Evelyn Vrouwenfelder
Abstract
The task of building and maintaining effective multi-disciplinary rela-
tionships is a constant challenge for the residential child care sector
in Scotland. The absence of effective multi-disciplinary collaboration
has been cited regularly as a contributing factor to instances of poor
and problematic practice. Social pedagogy has much to offer in terms
of enabling the residential child care sector to address some of these
issues and assist with the task of establishing effective multi-discipli-
nary relationships. This article will explore how this can be achieved
in practice, drawing on research based on multi-disciplinary social
pedagogy training delivered in Scotland. The evidence demonstrates
that social pedagogy can begin to break down the very real barriers
that often prevent residential child care practitioners from developing
and maintaining multi-disciplinary relationships. It can assist with the
task of developing a shared language and understanding; the creation
of a clear focus on the developmental needs of children and young
people; and a more nuanced approach to dealing with issues of risk.
The messages from this article will hold relevance for the professions of
residential child care, health and education and be applicable to practi-
tioners throughout Europe and beyond.
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 65
Keywords
social pedagogy; residential child care; multi- disciplinary relationships;
language and roles
Introduction
In the United Kingdom the residential child care sector specifically and
social work more generally have regularly been criticised for failing
to act in a collaborative and joined-up manner. In its most extreme
form, lack of collaboration involving social work, health and criminal
justice services has played a significant role in the death of service
users (O’Brien, 2003). A major review of social work services in
Scotland concluded that far more extensive collaboration among key
agencies was required if effective services were to be delivered (Scottish
Executive, 2006a). While the content and findings of the review have
been questioned significantly (Clark & Smith, 2012), many of the
issues raised regarding aspects of social work practice continue to be
commented upon elsewhere (Munro, 2011).
Similar themes can be found in much of the literature and research
related to residential child care (Milligan & Stevens, 2006). In Scotland,
government policy and guidance has increasingly highlighted the
requirement of residential care services to work in partnership with
other agencies in an attempt to improve outcomes related to health
(Scott & Hill, 2006) and education (Scottish Executive, 2007). However,
the challenges involved in moving beyond the rhetoric of partnership
working to achieving it in practice are significant. These challenges are
further complicated by the consequences of being a profession which
struggles to assert a positive identity and status. As recently as 2002
Berridge stated that ‘social workers, wider professionals and the general
public alike have seen residential care as something to be avoided
wherever possible’ (p. 86). The impact of this on residential child care
practice is significant. Alongside attitudes to risk that regularly struggle
to be informed by the developmental needs of children and young
people, it can often be quite debilitating for practitioners. Within this
context, the task of developing and maintaining multi-disciplinary rela-
tionships becomes ever more complex.
66 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
Social Pedagogy
In many European countries social pedagogy has evolved as a profession
which has roots in youth work, social welfare, early years, formal
education and care settings, and social pedagogues can be situated
in a range of settings (Bird & Eichsteller, 2011). While much of the
discussion concerning social pedagogy in the UK has centred on
children and young people, it is an approach covering the whole
lifespan, emphasising the importance of education within families and
communities (Hämäläinen, 2003). Despite the fact that it underpins
much work with children and young people in many European
countries, social pedagogy remains a term which continues to be poorly
understood in English-speaking countries (Smith & Whyte, 2008). It is
a term where the exact meaning will often differ depending on country
and cultural setting, however, there are common principles which apply
regardless of context.
Social pedagogy practice is ‘underpinned by core values and
humanistic principles, which emphasise people’s strengths, the
importance of including people into the wider community, and aims to
prevent social problems’ (Holthoff & Eichsteller, 2009, p. 59). It is about
being with others and forming relationships, not so much about what you
do but ‘how’ you do it – a way of being (Eichsteller & Holthoff, 2012).
It is informed by sociological, psychological and educational theories,
combining them into distinct, multi-dimensional practice (Holthoff &
Eichsteller, 2009). This multi-dimensional element has created both
opportunities and challenges when attempts have been made to transfer
it to a context where services and professionals are organised in a
manner which more traditionally separates than brings together.
Child Care Policy in Scotland
In Scotland and the UK more generally, services have historically
been delivered with distinct boundaries evident between different
professions, particularly child care and education. These boundaries
have impacted upon all areas of organisational practice from service
delivery to administration as well as professional education and
training. Interestingly, given the recent increased attention being paid
to social pedagogy in Scotland and the UK outlined later in this paper,
recommendations for a more integrated and collaborative approach in
Scotland were rejected in the 1960s. The Kilbrandon Report of 1964,
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 67
which developed out of increasing concerns around youth crime and the
large numbers of young people being dealt with via the adult criminal
justice system, recommended that such issues be responded to via
systems of ‘social education’ where family and community responsibility
would be prominent. Proposals for the creation of Social Education
Departments were rejected and replaced by ideas which emphasised
a framework of generic social work, although subsequent changes
recommended by the Alexander Report of 1975 did result in most local
authorities combining their youth and community services with adult
education to form Community Education Services (Standards Council
for Community Learning and Development for Scotland, 2015). Smith
& Whyte (2008) argue that there exist distinct similarities between the
thinking that was evident in the Kilbrandon Report and social pedagogy.
More recently, a number of organisational developments
throughout Scotland have reflected a change in thinking which appears
more consistent with the proposals of Kilbrandon. Many local authorities
have merged their Education Departments with Children and Families
Social Work Services to form Children’s Departments where child care
and education issues are responded to and administered in a more
integrated fashion. These new departments are multi-disciplinary and
bring together child care workers, social workers and teachers. These
developments are consistent with the national policy of Getting It
Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) which promotes an agenda of profes-
sionals working across disciplinary boundaries and placing children and
young people at the centre of joined-up and consistent care planning
(Scottish Government, 2006b). Alongside this sits the development of
the Curriculum for Excellence which promotes a more holistic focus for
education and encourages teachers to demonstrate how educational
subjects can be linked, just as they are in life and work. This brings
with it an increased focus on how general health and well-being is
linked to the educational development of children and young people
(Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2009). Such developments serve to
illustrate how approaches in Scotland can be viewed as ‘collective’ in
their approach and social pedagogy may provide a framework for the
realisation of significant change (Smith, 2012).
Social Pedagogy in Scotland and the UK
Social pedagogy has attracted increased attention in the UK in recent
years (Petrie et al., 2006) and there have been a number of initiatives
68 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
aimed at developing and incorporating social pedagogy practice
throughout Scotland and the UK.
Between 2009 and 2011 the Social Pedagogy Pilot Programme
recruited trained pedagogues from Denmark, Germany and Belgium
to be employed for up to two years in a study involving 30 different
children’s homes in 23 English local authorities (Berridge et al.,
2011).
Undergraduate and postgraduate social pedagogy degrees have
been offered in recent years in both Scotland and England.
The Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care (SIRCC) offered,
via ThemPra Social Pedagogy CIC (ThemPra), social pedagogy
training to the Scottish residential child care sector in 2009 and
2010.
The Social Pedagogy Development Network was formed in 2009
and is a grassroots movement for organisations and individuals
who are interested in social pedagogy and wish to promote its
development both locally and nationally.
The Fostering Network is currently involved in the Head, Heart
and Hands programme designed to introduce social pedagogy into
foster care.
This increased engagement with social pedagogy is fuelled, partly, by
a desire to do things differently. Many practitioners and related profes-
sionals are concerned that the ‘system’ for responding to children and
young people in Scotland and the UK as it currently exists is overly
prescriptive and at times resistant to their actual needs, and believe that
social pedagogy can offer a viable and meaningful alternative in the
way the needs of this group are responded to. An absence of relation-
ships and therapeutic input from social work and children’s services has
been highlighted consistently (Berridge & Brodie, 1998; Parton, 2006;
Berridge et al., 2011). The focus on not what pedagogues do but how
they do it, and the emphasis placed on the need for authenticity and
genuineness offer an alternative perspective that can attempt to reclaim
territory arguably lost as professional interactions have become increas-
ingly framed within regulation and risk-averse procedures.
Attractive to many is the potential to develop increased collab-
oration across disciplines and services. Social pedagogy can offer
this opportunity via its focus not on disciplinary boundaries but the
placement of the child or young person at the centre of all activities. In
Scotland, an opportunity to blend organisational responses in a manner
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 69
consistent with the approach advocated by Kilbrandon but never fully
grasped is offered by the implementation of social pedagogy. The ability
to use social pedagogy as the vehicle by which to enhance multi-discipli-
nary relationships and practice could be the key contribution that it can
make to how child care services are developed and improved in Scotland.
To this end one local authority in Scotland (a small island community)
engaged in a 10-day multi-disciplinary social pedagogy training and
research programme, the research assessing the impact that the training
had on participants’ day-to-day practice and inter-agency working.
Multi-Disciplinary Social Pedagogy Training and Research
Between February and September 2011, 18 staff from a range of
professions and agencies (residential child care, aftercare services,
social work, fostering and adoption, community education and a variety
of education staff) participated in a 10-day social pedagogy training
and research programme delivered by ThemPra. Senior staff within
the local authority hoped the training would increase the capacity of
their education and social care services to collaborate more effectively,
providing a higher level of care and educational support to vulnerable
children and young people in their care. All staff taking part in the
training had experience of working with this population and the research
aimed to capture systematic evidence of the impact that the training had
on the participants’ day-to-day practice and inter-agency working.
The research consisted of a baseline questionnaire at the start of
the training, two sets of focus groups and individual interviews with
participants; the first six weeks after the training and the second at six
months. The research also involved observation of follow-up training
and a social pedagogy strategy development day for senior staff. The
findings revealed a number of key developments in the area of inter-
agency working (Vrouwenfelder et al., 2012). Key themes involved the
development of a common language, working across professional and
organisational boundaries and prioritising the health and well-being
of children and young people as a prerequisite for other aspects of
developments.
Common language
The participants all identified that one of the most significant outcomes
associated with the social pedagogy training was the development of
70 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
a common language. According to participants, the language of social
pedagogy translated well across professional boundaries and provided
participants with a common framework to assist in identifying the needs
of the child. Due to having a better understanding of who colleagues
were and what they did, it was said to be easier and quicker to get to
the ‘business of thinking about the young person’ (Vrouwenfelder et al.,
2012, p. 27). All participants also felt that the training provided them
with a clearer purpose to building relationships. Even though they felt
that the concept of building relationships resonated with how they
already worked, social pedagogy established this within a method and
theory of work.
Linked to this increased ability to engage in a common language
was the fact that where more people in one organisation had been
trained, the implementation of social pedagogy and the sharing of
ideas, both within a team and in collaboration with other agencies,
was found to be a lot easier. When managers had been involved in the
training, the impact was even greater. However, where only single staff
had been trained in an organisation or department, the dialogue with
colleagues was reported as more difficult as the experiential nature of
the training and the strong reflective elements within it were considered
challenging to pass on.
Working across professional boundaries
The research participants revealed that they typically tended to think
within their professional and organisational boundaries when devising
care plans for children and young people. By contrast, social pedagogy
stimulates professionals to look beyond those boundaries and to
explore the available skills that match the needs of a service user and
their family. The challenges involved in engaging effectively with the
parents of accommodated children and young people were viewed as an
example where learning could be utilised. To assess which professional
would actually be best placed to engage with parents is a typical social
pedagogy approach where relationships and skills are the prerequisite
for successful engagement rather than professional role. Participants
displayed a better understanding of the benefits of looking at the skill
set of professionals, albeit within boundaries, and recognising the need
for effective communication regarding division of tasks and staff time.
Related to this was a growth in personal and professional
confidence, especially when speaking to staff in other agencies or
indeed senior colleagues. Residential child care staff in particular felt
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 71
this growth in confidence in relation to their work with education
and social work professionals. A better understanding of what other
professionals do, what their aims and priorities are, as well as a better
understanding of their value base, were central to this.
Health and well-being
A tension involving the difference in priorities between educational
curriculum outcomes and achievements as opposed to the health and
well-being of a child as a prerequisite for learning was identified by many
participants as a key reason as to why dialogue between care services
and education staff could be challenging. However, when different
professionals had been on the social pedagogy training, a mutual
understanding of each other’s roles, values and priorities allowed those
involved to get to the needs of the child quicker. Social pedagogy was
consequently felt to promote a holistic approach of care with a child
at the centre, which is consistent with the principles underpinning the
aforementioned policies of GIRFEC (Scottish Executive, 2006b) and
Curriculum for Excellence (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2009).
Developing Social Pedagogy in Scotland and the UK
The research findings detailed above act as evidence as to some of the
benefits to be achieved by the systematic adoption of social pedagogy
as an underpinning framework for child care practice in Scotland and
the UK. For residential child care specifically, a number of benefits are
connected to the development and maintenance of multi-disciplinary
relationships. This will involve the management of role expectation,
the ability to influence other agencies via a common language and
framework, and the creation of a clear focus on the developmental
needs of children and young people which in turn could lead to a more
nuanced approach to dealing with issues of risk.
Expectations of roles
The historical tendency to organise and deliver services for children
and young people in a manner which emphasises boundaries and
separation can be inefficient and in its worst manifestations dangerous
(e.g. Kirkwood, 1993; O’Brien, 2003). The ability of social pedagogy
to encourage those involved in the lives of children and young people
72 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
to look beyond traditional organisational and disciplinary boundaries
for solutions can challenge this way of thinking. However, such
solutions will not be developed easily. While influential theory and
literature across the decades has continually championed the positive
and potentially therapeutic contribution that group and/or residential
care can provide (Maier, 1979; Smith, 2009), the tendency of other
professional groups to downplay this beyond the physical provision of
care remains a significant problem. Research in Scotland continues to
demonstrate a continual tendency to place children and young people
in residential child care as a last resort after all other options have been
considered (McPheat et al., 2007) while analysis elsewhere highlights
how residential child care placements are generally regarded as a
second-best option, especially when compared to family-based foster
care (Berridge et al., 2012). The challenges presented by this sort of
thinking are not insignificant.
As long as residential care services are viewed as something to be
avoided such patterns of placement use will continue. While the profes-
sionalisation of the sector, evidenced in Scotland via the mandatory
registration of the residential child care workforce with the Scottish
Social Services Council (SSSC) and the attainment of minimum quali-
fication levels, may help to address some of these issues, it could be
argued that complete renegotiation of the role and purpose of the sector
is required. Milligan (2011) cites the example of residential child care
practitioners who via social pedagogy training developed a clearer
sense of how they meet the needs of children and young people and
by implication a clearer sense of their own role in this process. Similar
findings were evident in the research outlined earlier in this article
with self-reported feelings of increased confidence among some partici-
pants, especially when they were required to interact with professionals
with higher qualifications or job status (Vrouwenfelder et al., 2012).
Eichsteller & Holthoff (2012) also identified a strong sense of team
empowerment in residential units in Essex where social pedagogy was
adopted as an approach.
Embracing social pedagogy as an underpinning theoretical
framework can provide opportunities for such developments. It would
allow residential child care services to articulate more clearly the nature
of their work and the principles that inform it. Being clearer in their own
role is a key requirement for residential child care practitioners if they
are to successfully negotiate and establish effective cross-disciplinary
relationships with other professionals. This is especially true with
regards to social work given the nature of the relationship experienced
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 73
by the two for many years. Smith (2009) states that it has not always
been helpful while Milligan (1998) asserted the need for residential
child care to be clear about the differences that existed between itself
and social work in terms of the tasks carried out and the skills required
by practitioners, highlighting how the ‘statutory duties of the social
worker, the initial assessments and reports for a diverse range of clients,
form a pattern of work which is fundamentally different from much of
the daily focus of the residential workers’ (p. 277).
The potential role that social pedagogy has to play in fostering
services is currently being researched in a four-year programme led by
the Fostering Network. The Head, Heart, Hands programme aims to
demonstrate the impact that introducing social pedagogy can make to
foster carers and the lives of the children they foster by placing foster
carers at the heart of the child care team (Fostering Network, 2013).
If successful and adopted more widely this could be a significant
development, leading to social pedagogy acting as an underpinning
approach across a range of children’s services. Central to this would be
the use of ‘authentic, positive, strong relationships’ as a key platform for
engaging with children and young people. This focus on relationships
explains why social pedagogy is attracting increased attention in the UK
(Eichsteller & Petrie, 2013). While the rhetoric of social work services
will often make similar claims, the reality is that an increased focus is
being placed on demonstrating accountability via outcomes associated
with policy agendas (Fulcher & Garfat, 2013) and this mitigates against
social workers being afforded the time and opportunity to form significant
or meaningful relationships with the children and young people they are
working with. This absence of relationships and therapeutic input from
social work and children’s services – characterised by a move from case
work to case management – has been highlighted consistently (Berridge
& Brodie, 1998; Parton, 2006; Berridge et al., 2011). A more consistent
philosophy common to both residential and foster care would also have
the added attraction of potentially ending the notion of residential as
a second-best option, creating a clearly defined and legitimate role for
both services.
Influencing other agencies and developing a common language
and framework
Increased clarity of role and management of role expectation will
benefit the residential child care sector in a number of ways. It will
offer the potential to engage more effectively in collaborative work
74 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
with clearly defined boundaries. This in turn will provide the sector
with the ability to exert more influence on decision-making processes.
The common perception of residential child care as a poorly qualified
service, characterised by low qualifications and a general lack of profes-
sionalism (Milligan, 1998; Smith, 2009), has been partly addressed
by the process of implementing minimum qualification levels and
workforce registration. However, much more requires to be done. The
qualifications required for registration purposes in residential child care
in Scotland were set at a level significantly lower than social work and
this did little to challenge perceptions of poor professional standing.
Indeed, the increased focus on vocational qualifications within the
framework decided upon has been questioned critically with regards to
the lack of impact it has on the knowledge development and practice of
workers (Heron & Chakrabarti, 2002) in addition to being labelled as
marking a ‘dumbing down’ of the sector (Smith, 2009).
While the National Residential Child Care Initiative subsequently
concluded that a degree-level qualification should be the minimum
requirement for all new workers entering the sector from 2014 (Bayes,
2009), this has yet to be implemented (it is currently scheduled
to commence in October 2017) and it will be some time before a
fully qualified, graduate workforce is achieved. Alongside this sit the
obstacles associated with the competing professional identities, roles
and self-interest of other sectors such as social work, education and
health. Consequently, the ability of those in residential child care to
work alongside other sectors on an equal professional footing, and
all the necessary negotiation and argument that this can involve, will
remain extremely challenging.
Evidence from the multi-disciplinary social pedagogy training
outlined earlier in this paper suggests that this can be achieved via the
adoption of social pedagogy as an underpinning theoretical approach
to practice. The concept of a ‘shared’ or ‘common’ language was raised
by participants who felt that it created the possibility of developing a
common framework across professional boundaries involving education,
health and social care (Vrouwenfelder et al., 2012). Bird and Eichsteller
(2011) also identified the helpfulness of social pedagogy training in
allowing a residential child care staff group to address these sorts of
challenges, especially in their dealings with education services.
Research elsewhere has emphasised the importance of a whole
system approach to implementing social pedagogy, where the principles
of the approach must be reflected throughout the organisation (Eichsteller
& Holthoff, 2012). This approach was adopted in the training outlined
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 75
in this paper and the positive findings from the subsequent research bear
testament to this approach. They also sit in contrast to some of the less
positive outcomes from the Social Pedagogy Pilot Programme where
the experience of merely ‘dropping’ qualified international pedagogues
into selected residential units produced more mixed results (Berridge
et al., 2011). Put into practice more widely, a whole systems approach
has the potential to help construct cultures of practice which would
mitigate problems previously encountered. Several inquiries concerning
residential child care have focused on cultures of care which have allowed
abusive patterns of practice to develop (Kirkwood, 1993; Frizzell,
2009). In such instances practice had been allowed to move away
from what would normally considered to be caring, or in more extreme
cases humane, and the philosophy of social pedagogy with uncondi-
tional positive regard at its centre has the potential to challenge such
occurrences, constantly drawing practitioners back to the humanistic
principles which should inform their interactions. The appropriate and
effective sharing of information has been highlighted in other inquiries
(Marshall et al., 1999) while a variety of other sources have focused
on the need for increased joined-up thinking and inter-agency links if
improved outcomes in education (Scottish Executive, 2007) and health
(Scott & Hill, 2006) are to be achieved. The common language and
framework that can be offered by social pedagogy across professional
groups has the potential to ensure that an agreed common purpose and
vision is established. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, there
is the potential to ensure that the sector contributes to the management
of cases and decision-making processes on an equal footing with fellow
professionals, where all have valid contributions to make.
Educational outcomes versus health and well-being: the creation
of a clear focus on the developmental needs of children and
young people
The clearer expectation of professional roles offered by social pedagogy
helps those working with children and young people to be clear about
their needs and the required focus of work and intervention. The
relationship between residential child care and education services
has, historically, been difficult to manage. Much of the difficulty has
centred on where priorities should lie in terms of care plans and what
constitutes a realistic and meaningful set of educational targets for
children and young people in residential child care. The educational
outcomes associated with this group have been very poor for a long time,
76 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
especially when compared to outcomes for children who are not accom-
modated (Connolly & Chakrabarti, 2008). However, while it has been
relatively easy to identify some of the contributing factors which lead
to these outcomes, agreeing upon and implementing effective multi-
disciplinary strategies to address them has proved more elusive. Despite
attempts to ensure that looked after children and young people are
adequately supported in educational settings in a manner which takes
into account their different circumstances, evidence regularly highlights
how this is often not achieved, with looked after young people reporting
that they feel they are treated differently from their non-accommodated
counterparts. Against such a backdrop, and with educational histories
which are often characterised by frequent school placement moves and
poor attendance records, it is not surprising that educational outcomes
compare unfavourably for this group of children.
However, the focus of social pedagogy can help to address this.
Social pedagogy, with its strong emphasis on the developmental needs of
children and young people as well as emotional health and well-being,
has the potential to challenge some of the ways in which educational
targets are conceptualised and communicated. Eichsteller and Holthoff
(2012) identify how social pedagogy has helped residential teams to be
more confident about seeking solutions where there have been problems
with educational provision. Some of this will involve risk taking and
‘pushing’ workers and practitioners beyond their usual boundaries and
limits. The concept of the learning zone can be helpful in this regard;
it explains how individuals have a comfort zone, a learning zone and
panic zone (Eichsteller et al., 2011). Workers require to be supported
to move from their comfort zone where they feel comfortable to their
learning zone where they explore the edge of their abilities and their
limits. However, pushed too far they can move into their panic zone
where fear will block any progress.
Recognition of the need for positive emotional health and well-being
as a prerequisite for educational attainment lies at the centre of social
pedagogy. While consistent with the vision of the Scottish Government
with its focus on successful learners and confident individuals (Learning
and Teaching Scotland, 2009), it can be seen to sit at odds with the
target-driven and managerialist-informed agenda which has increasingly
permeated social care and social services (Tsui & Cheung, 2004). This
can be especially challenging when it is translated into a discrete focus on
measurable outcomes, which in the sphere of education will often take
the form of exam results and achieving qualifications and such thinking
can be difficult to challenge. However, the evidence from the research
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 77
outlined in this paper suggested that multi-disciplinary social pedagogy
training can begin to address this. Most hopeful was the feedback from
education staff that the training helped to equip them to argue for the
prerequisite nature of emotional health and well-being as a precursor for
educational attainment. This highlights not only the potential for social
pedagogy to help develop a truly developmental needs focused approach
to children and young people, but also the ability to bring residential
child care and education staff closer together in the development of
suitable educational plans and target setting.
A more nuanced approach to dealing with issues of risk
Society in general terms and social work more specifically can be viewed
as increasingly characterised by risk-averse attitudes and expectations
(Parton, 2006). Residential child care is impacted upon significantly by
this discourse. There is a flawed but increasing expectation that looked-
after children will be kept safe from all forms of harm at all times. This
is a significant problem. A failure to respond to risk appropriately acts
as a barrier to healthy development and the ability to conceptualise
and manage risk is a key component in the development of resilient
children (Daniel et al., 2010). As such, those involved in the care of
children, especially in residential child care where the early experiences
of many children will have involved exposure to harm and inappropriate
risk, have the task of introducing children to appropriate risk-taking
activities in order that an ability to manage risk appropriately and
proportionally is developed. Eichsteller and Holthoff (2009) define this
as enabling children and young people to develop risk competence and
become knowledgeable and skilled in assessing risks.
Unfortunately, increasing risk-averse attitudes contribute to a fear
of getting this wrong, which in turn often impedes good practice. In its
worst manifestation this can lead to practitioners becoming so wary of
what constitutes acceptable practice that they begin to work in a way
that places more emphasis on protecting the needs of the worker and/
or organisation, a ‘watch your back culture’, as opposed to attending
to the needs of the children and young people (Horwath, 2000). Such
a scenario will do little to improve the standard of care provided and
Smith (2009) identified that if workers are to be able to care adequately
for the children and young people they are working with they need to
feel safe themselves.
This is all challenging enough when considered through a single
discipline lens. It becomes increasingly more complex when multiple
78 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PEDAGOGY 6(1)
agencies across a range of disciplines are potentially involved. This
is the reality of practice for many residential child care practitioners
where the task of risk management can regularly involve input from
social workers, education, health and police services in addition to the
residential setting. Consequently, it is imperative that practitioners in
residential child care develop a clear understanding of how to respond
to issues of risk in order that they are able to engage confidently about
this with fellow professionals. One strategy is for residential child care
services to reclaim a clear sense of relational based practice and reject
pressure to develop approaches which are overly controlling and risk
averse. Social pedagogy can assist residential child care services and
practitioners to reclaim a clear sense of relational-based practice and
reject pressure to develop approaches which are overly controlling or
risk averse. Smith (2012) describes it as being ‘fundamentally relational
and empowering rather than administrative and controlling’ (p. 53).
Such practice has been demonstrated to be successful. Bird and
Eichsteller (2011) provide examples of residential practitioners who
have begun to safely manage this transition from what can be described
as risk-obsessed practice to a more questioning model of thinking which
makes decisions based on what will be of benefit and potential learning
for the children and young people. Milligan (2011) also argued that
such an approach is more mindful of the holistic developmental needs
of children and young people and contributes to the development of
a more confident and knowledgeable workforce. However, the ability
to engage in confident discussion and debate with a range of different
professionals about such issues will prove crucial to achieving any
success in this regard. Social pedagogues are, arguably, more likely to
bring a higher level of nuanced thinking around risk, recognising that it
is less for the sake of risk-taking and instead more properly appreciating
what is risky, what is less so and what will be developmentally beneficial
for children and young people.
Conclusions
‘The UK is unusual compared with continental Europe in not using social
pedagogy as a framework for social policy for children living in residential
care’ (Berridge et al., 2012, p. 248). The introduction of social pedagogy
in a Scottish or UK context would not introduce practice which was
completely new (Milligan, 2011). Nor would it be without challenge, but
the potential benefits would outweigh any barriers to application (Petrie
DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CHILD CARE 79
et al., 2006). In some instances it could more accurately be described as
a method or framework which acts as a suitable fit for practice or ideas
which already exist in a less coordinated fashion.
Confidence and clarity of purpose is an absolute requirement as
residential child care practitioners manage the task of multi-disciplinary
practice with a range of professional boundaries. It is a task which has
challenged the sector in Scotland and the UK for many years. There are
numerous evidenced examples of where the failure to manage these
relationships has resulted in poor and problematic practice. Political
rhetoric and social policy have consistently pointed towards the need
for change, increasingly so in recent years. However, evidence would
suggest that the mere implementation of organisational and structural
changes alone will not be enough, as even within ‘joined-up’ organisa-
tional processes there can be a tendency for practice to remain isolated
and resistant to professional boundaries.
The European model of social pedagogy has the potential to
provide a more fundamental change, one which involves the adoption
of a ‘largely new philosophical and theoretical framework or orientation
to direct care practice with children and young people’ (Milligan 2011,
p. 212). Such an approach, rolled out on a multi-disciplinary basis,
could provide real and lasting change, resulting in practice which
is truly multi-disciplinary via the development of a shared common
framework and language. This in turn can ensure a more consistent
overall approach, regardless of professional differences, which is based
on the holistic needs and well-being of the children and young people.
The findings from the research presented here suggest that multi-disci-
plinary training can assist in the development of a common philosophy
and framework, transcending traditional professional boundaries. This
in turn can lead to the development of a shared language and under-
standing; the creation of a clear focus on the developmental needs of
children and young people; and a more nuanced approach to dealing
with issues of risk – key areas of practice which are consistently a
struggle for the residential child care sector to address effectively in
multi-disciplinary context.
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Full-text available
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