Introducing Social Pedagogy

Dear Social Worker,

I am writing to introduce to you a new residential treatment programme based in South Tipperary for older adolescents (aged 15-17).  The programme is designed to meet the requirements of young people whose therapeutic needs are not being met in traditional care settings.  This evidenced based treatment programme has three key features that will likely be of interest to you: it is activity based, has integrated clinical psychology input and has social pedagogy as its foundational base.

In the off chance that you are not familiar with social pedagogy or its applications I hope that you will excuse a brief introduction to the concept.  Social pedagogy is the professional discipline of those involved in child care across much of Continental Europe, and is described as providing “education in the broadest sense of the word.”  Social pedagogues have a “uniquely broad training with its theoretical, personal and practical content (which) ideally fits them for outcome-focused work with children.”

In 2007 the UK Government, drawing upon international cross cultural research, published a policy paper that advocated, amongst other things, the introduction of social pedagogy into childcare.  This resulted in a three year national research and practice initiative that was conducted by the Institute of Education, and successfully completed in 2013. There are further plans to incorporate social pedagogical principles into the training and practice of childcare workers across all settings.

We, at the Galtee Clinic, have designed a project that explores the applicability and effectiveness of social pedagogy in the Irish context. Consequentially, the design of the programme draws from international best practice initiatives, and has a clear focus on providing opportunities for older teenagers to rekindle developmental trajectories and develop the psychosocial and practical skills necessary to make a successful transition into adulthood.

At its core Hill House and Blossom House offer a therapeutic programme that is activity based and is focused on providing opportunities for young people to develop the practical skills necessary to make a successful transition into adulthood.  Each young person is assigned an activity therapist to assist them in finding and developing interests, and creating opportunities which will evolve, given sufficient support, into abilities and skills: the bedrock of resilience.

The theory and practice of using activities as the conduit for treatment lies at the heart of social pedagogy; a principle described in the literature as the “common third.”  Many of the therapeutic activities will be provided on the smallholding farm where the Galtee Clinic is based.  The young people will be encouraged to take an active role in the day to day structures and routines of animal husbandry and horticulture and, if the interest exists, in the business end of the farm.

The Clinic offers qualifications to young people through ASDAN, but also encourages participation in formal education from two local secondary schools and YouthReach.  The Clinic also encourages participation in work experience in the local community.

The young people will be supported by a clinical psychologist who has designed the programme and has an active role in the running of the service.  The psychologist will work with the young people and other key stakeholders to identify specific goals for the admission, and throughout the course of the stay assessments will be made to assure that progress is being made in meeting these goals.  Although much of the therapeutic benefit will be derived from the active involvement in the community, specific assessment and formal intervention will be available on an as needed basis.

I would like to draw your attention to one last aspect of the programme which presents a difference from an Irish perspective: that of the living environment.  One of the principle challenges reported by young people, according to the research literature, is the sheer number of carers with whom they have to form relationships.  Multiple carers inevitably means that inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies abound, eroding the necessary conditions for the development of a secure base; a problem for any child but compounded for those with troubled attachment histories.  Therefore Hill House and Blossom House are staffed, almost exclusively, by a professional couple who will live in the home and who have the responsibility of creating a safe and therapeutic environment for the young people.

The professional couple, who we term as our ‘house pedagogues’, have qualifications in Social Pedagogy. Their role is to create a ‘family analogue setting’ with a consistent focus on group living which will create the secure base from where the young people can venture out to engage with the therapeutic activities of the Galtee Clinic and engage with the local community.

From my own Anglo-Saxon perspective the training and ethos of social pedagogy with the concepts of ‘shared living space’ and the ‘relational approach’ allow for reliability, predictability and responsiveness that prove to be the foundation of secure attachment relationships, a necessary precursor to any effective treatment process.

In summary, Hill House and Blossom House as part of the Galtee Clinic is an evidenced based residential treatment programme for older adolescents whose therapeutic and life skills needs are not being sufficiently addressed.  We intend to provide opportunities for young people to develop a secure base from which they can explore their community, have fun and learn crucial practical and psychosocial life skills to better prepare them for adulthood.

If you would like further information about social pedagogy or would like a copy of our brochure for professionals or our information brochure for young people and their families please do not hesitate to call us on 089 424 1520 or by email at

Yours sincerely,




G. Toby Haslam-Hopwood, PsyD, Reg. Psychol., Ps.S.I.