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.
London has 16% of the children needing places in children’s homes, but only 6% of the places. Children from London are being sent as far away as Liverpool because there are no spaces in children’s homes nearby. Children’s home providers are reluctant to set up homes in London because of the cost. There is a real need for affordable high-quality places in and around London which is what we will provide.Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang, Founder and Director of Lighthouse
Emmanuel is a former English teacher who trained on the Teach First programme between 2011 and 2013. We spoke to him about his own experience of growing up in foster care, and his determination to set up Lighthouse, a new model of children’s home designed to radically improve education outcomes for looked after children and due to open in 2019.
Why do you do what you do?
I was in foster care as a child and had caring and committed foster parents who did all they could to give me the best start in life. I went on to do well at school and had the opportunity to attend a prestigious University. Unfortunately, this is not the story for the vast majority of children who have spent time in our care system. So, I decided to bring together a group of social workers, teachers, policymakers, civil servants, academics, and child psychotherapists to design a model of children’s home that would improve outcomes for children in care.
What are your passions?
I’m passionate about young people and I’ve always had a passion for education. I was an English teacher in a low-income school in Birmingham for three years and loved teaching, but I always knew that I wanted to do something to improve outcomes for children who had been looked after.
Why do you love London?
London is home. I grew up in the East End, went to university in London and spent most of my working life in the city. I love its diversity and the unlimited number of things to do. I love the fact that the regions of London are completely different from each other, which makes London like several cities within a city.