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Centre for Child and Family Research

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Introducing social pedagogy into UK fostering services: Final evaluation reports published
24 November 2016

The final reports for the evaluation of Head, Heart, Hands, an ambitious four year national programme to introduce social pedagogy into seven fostering providers in England and Scotland, have been finalised. The evaluation has spanned four years, and explored the impact of the programme on children and young people, foster carers and the services that support them. The implementation successes and challenges in individual sites and across the group as a whole were also examined.  

The final implementation evaluation found that training for carers and some staff was well received and professional social pedagogues were successfully integrated into the work of several sites. In four sites, definite plans for sustaining and scaling up the approach in locally-appropriate ways were being made by the end of the period.  The study shows that implementing this kind of fluid and intangible approach is particularly challenging, at all levels. Planning and agreeing key parameters at early stages is particularly important to ensure that roles, responsibilities and methods are as clear as possible. Strong leadership is vital to prevent ‘fluidity’ leading to over-complexity; social pedagogues needed ongoing support in the difficult role of ‘change agent’; and finding effective ways to keep up the momentum once initial training was over was sometimes challenging. Organisational commitment was strengthened where there was seen to be alignment and potential for blending social pedagogy with other promising approaches to working in children’s services. There was, however, a persistent lack of clarity and agreement about how to define and implement a social pedagogic approach to fostering, and whilst all stakeholders firmly endorsed the principles and aspirations of social pedagogy as far as they understood them, some were much more persuaded of the difference from ‘good practice as usual’ than others. Reaching and influencing the wider system of care around fostered children also remained more of an aspiration than a reality. Whether social pedagogy in fostering can be implemented and sustained in the UK at scale other than through routine basic training of carers and social work staff is not clear.

Three linked publications on the implementation evaluation are available:

A final synthesis report brings together the data gathered throughout the course of the evaluation to explore the impact of the programme, and the linkages between the way the programme unfolded and the outcomes that it achieved. The analysis of the impact data suggested that Head, Heart, Hands enabled a small and committed group of foster carers to make small changes which had a big impact on individual fostering households. Those foster carers, and children and young people who participated in the evaluation reported that Head, Heart, Hands enabled foster carers to be more conscious and intentional about their relationships with the children and young people in their care, provided them with a framework for their practice, improved their confidence and enabled them to deal with conflict and difficult circumstances in a calmer and more reflective manner. Where foster carers attended the social pedagogy training with their supervising social worker, both parties agreed that this improved their relationship and facilitated a shared approach. However, the evaluation also found that sites would benefit from ensuring that a greater number of social care staff, and foster carers, could have access to the training.

The final synthesis report was launched at two Head, Heart, Hands events held in Edinburgh and London, where Samantha McDermid (pictured) presented the key findings.

The final report, and a summary are available here:




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