Supporting young people in care: teaching the next generation of professionals ways to think creatively at the point of crisis

Claire Cameron. 

Driving through a wood, late at night, a streetwise 17-year-old becomes panicky as her mobile signal dies. John, her foster carer, knows she is entering her panic zone, turns the car around and sees the girl’s face relax as signs of more familiar urban environment reappear and she returns to her comfort zone. ‘Knowing that once she was in a panic zone and there was no longer any learning for her, was down to my learning on the social pedagogy diploma course I did’, he says.

Social pedagogy combines a holistic approach to care and education practice and utilises theories from psychology, education, sociology and anthropology to create a unique, empathic, democratically oriented relationship-based profession. John was a learner on the Crossfields Institute Diploma in Social Pedagogy, which was developed in collaboration with the Scaling Up Social Pedagogy project based at the IOE’s Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU).

The Diploma focuses on applying theories in practice with a high degree of critical reflection about what is going on in the moment, for whom, and with what consequence. Aimed at foster carers, residential care workers and others working in care, education or health settings, often with vulnerable young people, Social Pedagogy is a breakthrough learning programme. It enables practitioners to reframe ‘problem’ behaviour positively and find creative solutions in everyday life.


For example, residential care worker Jane explained how she and her colleagues had been able, with social pedagogic skills, to help social workers relate to highly volatile young people. ‘The social worker was finding it hard to talk to the girl. For the first two weeks we got her to ask the girl what she liked doing. They baked brownies together. On the third visit she really started to open up’.

Social pedagogy offers insights into other people’s worlds so that practitioners can help them feel empowered to decide what would help them make progress in their lives. As I will explain in my Professorial lecture at the IOE next week, young people in care who come into contact with social pedagogy trained practitioners often do practical and creative projects together that support formal learning, engaging with school and academic achievements.

Young people are less likely to run away as they find it is more fun to be around social pedagogy trained staff. A recent Ofsted Inspection in a children’s home in Lincolnshire declared that ‘Social pedagogy is a well-established model of care in this home [that] has enhanced children’s and young people’s outcomes, experiences and progress, because it places a major emphasis on positive relationships and purposeful, focused work’. Under the predominant system in the UK, the worlds of social care and education do not overlap anywhere near enough.

The poem below was inspired by a student’s learning on a recent social pedagogy course in Scotland and beautifully sums up the integration of expressive arts, academic theories and professional and reflective practice that is the hallmark of social pedagogy.


Ode to a Pedagogue

The TCRU based project has also developed SPPA, the Social Pedagogy Professional Association, now a year old. SPPA is the professional home of social pedagogy in the UK. It builds on government funded, TCRU research, which found that young people in residential care in Denmark and Germany had a better quality of life and better outcomes than young people in equivalent settings in England and that the characteristics of the workforce were the major contributing factors. By workforce characteristics we mean qualifications, team work, commitment to the organisation, and abilities such as having the knowledge and confidence to weigh up alternatives, and make a judgment instead of just following procedures. Critically, social pedagogues in other countries enter into meaningful relationships with young people where they enjoy doing things together, often referred to as a ‘common third’ activity, and through ‘being together’ develop trust in adults that they may not have experienced in their family life. How to promote a sense of belonging will be our next focus.

Further information

SPPA offers networking and learning opportunities in regional groups and special interest groups, through webinars, its website and at an annual national conference. The next conference will be in Edinburgh on 28 September 2018.

SPPA supports organisations to assess their social pedagogic practice and encourages organisational membership. SPPA also assesses training organisations against social pedagogy standards to provide quality assurance to an emerging field. In 2018 SPPA is looking forward to becoming a charity and raising its profile through campaigning around social pedagogic ‘everyday life’ approaches to mental health. Look out for us on Twitter and Facebook. Find out more about joining SPPA and the social pedagogy qualifications on our website

Jacaranda and Kingston University are offering a free-to-attend Information Day on 25 April. To register your interest and find out more, please contact Abby Ladbrooke at

Clare Cameron’s inaugural professorial lecture at the IOE on 20 February can be ordered from IOE Press here


Level 3 Diploma in Social Pedagogy

Relevant for practitioners across care, education and health settings, this qualification puts relationships, creativity and learning at the heart of practice. The 47-credit qualification consists of an 8-day face-to-face course, virtual and self-guided learning, practice application and holistic assessment. ThemPra and Jacaranda are shortly starting the first series of open course for this new qualification. Details here for Jacaranda’s course in Woking, starting in February and here for ThemPra’s course in Preston, starting in April.

Level 5 Diploma in Social Pedagogy

This new qualification provides an excellent professional development opportunity for ambitious practitioners, including leaders, managers and advanced practitioners across care, education and health settings. ThemPra are running an RPL course for participants from previous social pedagogy courses in Scotland from June 2018, with further courses by both centres likely to follow in the autumn and winter. Details at

MOOC – Social Pedagogy across Europe

ThemPra and UCLan have partnered with six organisations across Europe to develop a Massive Open Online Course in social pedagogy, which is currently being piloted with 250 learners. The MOOC will officially launch in early 2019. To join the fire starter event at UCLan on 6 September and sign up for any news please visit




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Posted in Social sciences and social policy, young people

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This blog was written by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), for anyone interested in current issues in education and related social sciences.
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