Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Key characteristics of child care practice

Watch Graham McPheat as he provides a brief introduction to interventions and practice with vulnerable children and young people .
OK. Thanks for coming along, everyone. The focus of the input today is thinking about some of the key characteristics of child care practice. By that, we mean thinking about the different thoughts and traditions and ideologies that inform how we intervene and practice with children and young people when they’re deemed to be at risk and be vulnerable. We’re going to give a very brief overview of some different traditions and ideologies that exist in relation to this.
We’re going talk a little about the child and youth care and social pedagogy, two largely kind of traditions that would be foreign to the UK, and then think about youth work and residential care, terms that may be a bit more familiar to practitioners and people in the UK. And then finally, we’re going to think about social work, and I’ve got a question mark against that there and I’ll explain why as we get to that. I’m going to start with child and youth care. Child and youth care is a tradition of child care practice that would normally be associated with North America.
Its roots would generally be considered to be in residential treatment. Mark Krueger, one of the most noted academics and practitioners associated with child and youth care practice identified that it came from residential treatment, and this quote here described that as “a holistic method that with proper skill and adequate knowledge of human development could be used to teach, treat, and nurture troubled children.” Perhaps a key word to pick out here is “holistic” in terms of the all round child in terms of trying to work with, work alongside, respond to, empower troubled and vulnerable children and young people.
Krueger and others associated with the child and youth care tradition would also place great emphasis on the fact that the forefathers of the discipline as such were drawn from quite a wide range of disciplines, coming from medicine, from nursing, psychology, sociology, social work, practitioners from a number of fields coming together to begin to forge this tradition of child and youth care about working with and alongside children and young people and being with, the relationship being almost the key element and the sense of how we try to work with children and young people.
Parallel to those developments in North America, coming from mainland Europe, we’ve got social pedagogy, which has some similarities with child and youth care, but also some distinct differences. Probably it’s worth acknowledging upfront that one of those distinct differences is the issues that are created via language because child and youth care stemming largely from North America. So written and spoken about in the English language, translates very easily into the world of the United Kingdom and Scotland. Social pedagogy coming from mainland Europe, countries such as Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, et cetera. So written about and spoken about in a number of different languages, that’s created some barriers as to how ideas associated with social pedagogy are translated across into Scotland.
But nonetheless, in recent years, social pedagogy has begun to gain real traction in Scotland and the UK, especially in relation to residential child care as it exists in this country, and beginning to inform how we might think about practice, team development, and working with children and young people. So what is social pedagogy? Well, it can be described as how society thinks about children, their education, and their upbringing. When we talk about education, we’re talking about education in its widest sense, a holistic approach towards children’s experiential learning. There we see that word “holistic” again, so we’ve got that parallel between child and youth care and social pedagogy.
There’s been something about the way we work with the child in totality, working alongside them and being with them and empowering them as we help them to deal with their life. So two approaches, almost maybe described as philosophies of thinking about how we work and respond to young people. Youth work is a term which will be perhaps more familiar to a number of people from the UK. Youth work can be described as an educational practice contributes to young people’s learning, their development, and it’s about trying to engage with children and young people. Some of the literature suggests that youth work has three main features or characteristics.
It would be voluntary in terms of the child, the person choosing to engage in that process. It would start from where the young people are at as a starting point for moving forward, and about the young person and the youth worker being partners in the process of engaging and trying to move forward in that way. So in that sense, we can see some of the features and characteristics that underpin youth work being consistent with a number of the ideas that underpin child and youth care and social pedagogy in terms of the centrality of the relationship, working alongside children and young people in that empowering, child centred way.
Now we can think about residential child care. For a number of people, residential child care will mean different things. Residential child care, by and large, is a response that society has been used for hundreds of years and in countries all around the world. It will often be used as a response to care for or to treat damaged and needy, vulnerable children within that society. Thinking about within Scotland and the UK, the history of residential child care is quite long and quite well documented, but one of the central features of any discussion or debate around residential child care is it’s often been viewed as a less preferred option to any sort of family based care.
The notion that if children and young people are vulnerable and at risk, then the best option in the first instance is some sort of family based care, be that kinship care, foster care, adoption, however it’s organised. So residential childcare can almost fight against that ideology. But increasingly in recent years, what we have seen, especially in Scotland, is residential child care as a discipline and as a profession begin to draw increasingly from child and youth care, from social pedagogy, from youth work, from the principles that underpin these philosophies of working with children and young people and saying, this is the way that we want to work with children and young people.
Because by contrast, social work, which has often been associated with residential child care in the past in Scotland and the UK has become increasingly proceduralised and procedure driven, and children and family social workers are struggling to have the time to spend with the children that they’re working with, to form the relationships and to do the empowering work that we would like them to engage in. So residential child care in some way perhaps can experience a bit of tension in terms of its relationship with social work. So to finish off, that poses some questions for us and leaves us with a challenge.
I’ve spoken about different philosophies of care that come from different parts of the world, child and youth care, social pedagogy, youth work, and how these maybe come together in certain settings such as residential child care and offer a bit of an alternative to some of the procedural driven processes associated with social work. So they perhaps allow us think more about challenging some of the risk aversion we’ve heard about in previous weeks. They allow us more to think about we can use activities to promote resilience for children and young people, how we can form relationships, and how we can provide young people with the care and love that they require when they are vulnerable and in need. Thank you.

In this talk Graham provides a brief introduction to some of the different traditions and philosophies that exist, both UK based and international, which govern and guide how we intervene and practice with children and young people who are experiencing vulnerability and risk.

This involves thinking about child and youth care, social pedagogy, youth work, residential child care and social work.

The origins of child and youth care in North America and social pedagogy in mainland Europe are outlined, as well as some of the parallels and connections between the two. In particular the holistic approach to working alongside the ‘whole’ child within a relationship is emphasised.

Youth work may be a term that is more familiar to a number of people and the defining characteristics of this approach are introduced and links to social pedagogy and child and youth care are highlighted, in particular the centrality of the child and the relationship.

Residential child care, whilst being perhaps a more familiar concept, has often been rooted in the UK within a discourse of being viewed as an intervention of last resort, with family based care being much the preferred option. This has been increasingly challenged in recent years, particularly with the move of social work to become an increasingly procedure driven process where children and families social workers struggle to have the time and remit to engage in relationship based work, the hallmarks of some of these other approaches.

This article is from the free online

Caring for Vulnerable Children

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education