What difference does social pedagogy make?
On 20 November, St Christopher’s co-hosted a Parliamentary Reception with the Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA) as part of a series exploring alternative models of practice. The theme centred around improving wellbeing in children and young people, adults in social care, and the education, social work, and healthcare workforce.
We are passionate about using social pedagogy in our work with children and young people. But how does it actually work?
Current state of wellbeing
Daniel Zeichner MP, who kindly hosted the event at the Houses of Parliament, introduced the event by discussing the current state of wellbeing in the UK. He believes social pedagogy is an effective model for addressing this and wanted to offer a platform for St Christopher’s and SPPA to raise awareness of how it has worked in practice.
With heightened pressure on the social care systems, and poor staff retention in education, social work and healthcare, social pedagogic models can help staff to find more satisfaction in their work. This helps to maintain continuity and relationships for the people they teach or look after, meaning service users have improved wellbeing too.
Social pedagogy at St Christopher’s
Social pedagogy is the basis for St Christopher’s philosophy of care. Practice is based on building genuine positive relationships with service users, recognising their potential and what they have to offer to society, and working in a strengths-based way to manage any risks.
Young people have told us that being at St Christopher’s feels different to living in other homes and services. They say they feel listened to, respected, and have real opportunities to figure things out on their own, with a safety net for when things don’t quite go to plan.
'You know they care because they let you make mistakes and they don't shame you, but try to help you understand you don't always get it right first time. They help you learn from things.'
Reducing incidents and boosting morale
Staff members from St Christopher’s shared how they changed their practice to put relationships at the heart of all their work. They shifted their perspective from reward charts and taking away privileges for bad behaviour to recognising the young people as individuals, who all had different things going on in their lives. Sometimes they may act out, but it was in response to their past experiences and trauma.
In one 16+ service, once the staff team embedded working with young people in this way, they saw a 50% drop in incidents, even with an increase in occupancy in the home. They had a better knowledge of what was going on in each young person’s life so could understand their actions, rather than seeing them as simply doing something wrong.
Not only did social pedagogy have a direct impact on the young people, it also improved staff morale. The overall approach made the staff team more keen and confident to try new things, which encouraged the young people to engage as well.
How young people feel about social pedagogy
This part of the event was followed by Tia, who used to live with St Christopher’s, sharing her experiences about building relationships through activities.
When she first moved into her home, she was shy and didn’t interact with any of the other young people. Then, one day, the staff team were organising a basketball game and invited her to get involved. Even though she had never played before, she felt comfortable to learn something new alongside her key worker, who had spent time building a relationship with her. From that point on, everything became a bit easier.
'My confidence had been built up and I hung out with people that I never imagined I would be friends with. To this day I’ve still maintained a lot of the relationships with people I met. If I hadn’t had this opportunity through an activity as simple as basketball I wouldn't have done that.'
The future of social pedagogy
The challenges faced by society are not going away, so we need to try something different. An alternative model like social pedagogy, which is already well established in continental Europe, could be the answer to wellbeing problems in the UK and beyond.
Jonathan Whalley, St Christopher’s Chief Executive, said: “There is so much good in the children and young people that we work with, but the current systems don’t allow us to focus on those positives – but social pedagogy does. I am proud to be able to stand up and represent an organisation like St Christopher’s where all of our work is rooted in strengths-based practice.
“Special thanks to Tia for sharing her story at the event. In my opinion, the most powerful way to demonstrate the impact of social pedagogy is through the testimony of someone who has experienced it, so Tia’s involvement added so much to the event. This is evidence that social pedagogy works.”
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