It’s a late summer’s afternoon when my guide Henrik and I pull up to Josephine Schneider House. Henrik, a consultant and advisor to the Danish government on children’s social care, has kindly agreed to show me around some of the countries children’s homes.
Inside, we are warmly greeted by Annette, a Social Pedagogue with almost 15 years of experience supporting looked after children. I’m struck by how warm and inviting – how much like ‘home’ the house feels. As Annette gives us a tour in perfect English, the smell of Drømmekage (Danish dream cake) wafts in from the kitchen along with the typical sounds of home: running footsteps, children talking excitedly.
Josephine Schneider House is a world away from English Children’s Homes which have some of the worst outcomes in Western Europe: 4% get 5A* C at GCSE,1% enter higher education, and 72% have a mental health problem. They are 15 time more likely to be criminalised than their peers, and when they leave care much more likely to be homeless, unemployed or in prison. Compare this with Josephine Schneider House where 60% of the children go on to higher education.
I visited to find out why Danish residential care does so much better. After visiting several homes, the reasons became clear: places, people, and pedagogy.
Our children’s home sector is largely privatised, with 70% being run for profit. Our system is also expensive with a place costing almost £200,000 per year per child. The DfE and children’s charities often criticise homes for feeling institutional. Contrast this with Denmark where homes feel like…well, home. The cost of each placement is also a fraction of the cost of placements in England.
In Denmark, staff are well paid and well trained, requiring a bachelor’s degree in Social Pedagogy and experience working with children. Many hold Masters degrees and qualifications in associated fields like child psychotherapy. People who work in the sector stay long term and the role holds a lot of prestige
This is a far cry from residential care in the UK. The residential care worker role has little to no prestige, pay is often around minimum wage, most staff have not completed an undergraduate degree and almost a quarter leave their role every year.
The Danes, along with much of Western Europe use a method of practice known as social pedagogy which combines elements of psychology, philosophy and practical methods for supporting vulnerable young people. To become a social pedagogue requires a degree and practical experience. England lacks an overarching theory of practice in its children’s homes.
How can we create a better future?
Our organisation, Lighthouse, is building the first children’s home in the UK based on the Danish model of excellent people, great places and social pedagogical practice. By doing so, we home to radically change the outcomes for children growing up in residential care.