The child in the street

“ L’enfant dans la rue” (“The child in the street”)

Methodological Guide by the

Groupe de Pédagogie et d’Animation Sociale (GPAS)

Book review

Aurélien Marnier

Youth worker specialising in training

Olivier Thomas

Ph.D. Student in Social Geography


The Groupe de Pédagogie et d’Animation Sociale (GPAS) defines itself as “a popular education movement which uses innovative means to fights against economic, cultural, geographic and social marginalisation of children and their families”. Based on the premise that pedagogy and the work of education are strongly linked to a project of society, the GPAS works across seven thematic areas on a daily basis, (fostering children in solidarity, environment, solidarity economy, artistic social practice, culture/reading, sport, international solidarity), to make the child but also the educator (whether they be parent, coordinator, teacher or citizen) a stakeholder in the society in which they live.

In 2006, in the framework of the European programme DAPHNE, “The fight against violence towards women and children,” Daniel Cueff, general secretary of GPAS, published a work entitled, “The child in the street”. French and Polish specialists in pedagogy and social intervention contributed to this Methodological Guide, which is aimed at people who are interested in the issue of “children in the street”, (social workers, people in charge of NGOs, elected representatives, street workers, socio-cultural organisers, educators, teachers and researchers).

This critical review aims to invite the reader to react to and to debate the social pedagogy and community work carried out by the GPAS professionals, which is formally laid out in this Methodological Guide.

I –Reading the Methodological Guide.

Some general remarks on the form

This Guide is 173 pages long, comprising: an introduction to the professionals who have contributed to the work, a detailed summary, the body of the text, a French-Polish glossary on street pedagogy, a ten page summary in English and a bibliography in French and in Polish, in which pedagogy, sociology and anthropology are well represented.

The work is made up of two parts. The first (pages 13-92,) combines the theory and the authors’ first-hand knowledge. It helps the reader to identify and understand the GPAS street educators’ view of the problem known as “children in the street”. The second part (p 93-156) is the Methodological Guide itself. It sets out the areas of work and the educational methods used in the street. The remarks are based on action undertaken by the GPAS in France and Poland. They are illustrated with photographs, diagrams and analytical tables. The publication offers the reader examples of real-life application but also the possibility of mirroring this with their personal experiences of pedagogy or research should they wish to do so.

The problem known as “street children”, as seen by the GPAS educators

This guide aims to look at the problem of “street children” in terms of educational action. At the outset, the authors reject the idea of a shared semantic definition. They believe that this would not take into account the complexity of the problem, particularly because of its purely descriptive nature. Their approach consists of mobilising the notions of “child-street systems”, to show the variables that encourage the movement of children towards the street, and of “childhood poverty”, common to all children in the street, in order to tackle the phenomenon innovatively.

The “child-street system” can be thought of as a model which allows the place of children to be measured vis-à-vis the so-called classical educational spaces, namely the family, school and institutions generally speaking (ref diagram 1 p.20). The child in the street is defined according to how weak their links are with the education system, as it is said links that will gradually make the street a place where they go most often. The child finds a certain number of resources there, in terms of traffic, survival and social relationships among peers. The authors therefore suggest the idea that: “how often the child goes to the street-space will be more or less dependent on the links maintained (or otherwise) with the education system and the frequency and quality of these links.” (ref §2 p.20). From this, the authors raise four types of contact points (climatic, institutional, family and socio-environmental) which help to explain and understand why and how young people frequent the streets. Each of them acts as an indicator that sheds light on children’s spatial practices.

As for the notion of “child poverty”, it refers to structural factors in society (for example unemployment or precariousness of popular sectors, urbanisation, urban social intervention policies, etc). As such, the issue of “children in the street”, which the street worker will often be faced with throughout the neighbourhood, invites him or her to question a local situation on different levels – the city, the country or the world. In this field of analysis, the street worker will develop sociology and geography skills in order to interpret the authorities’ action or to succeed in reading and understanding the changing ways of life.

The concept of social pedagogy

Social pedagogy is a key concept in the work of the GPAS. It is based on the observation that there is a link between the child’s education and the society in which they live. It is expressed through an educational project which, consciously or otherwise, refers to a project of society. From our reading, we have retained four elements which we believe to be essential, laying out what this pedagogy encompasses:

Social pedagogy is characterised by its experience-based dimension. It mainly uses tools of an ethnographic nature to observe the child (considered to be a social being) in their social environment. The pedagogical action is carried out against the backdrop of the child’s social life in order to bring about solutions to their actual needs. It is therefore not a matter of working in unusual places such as educational areas i.e. leisure centres, schools, orphanages, etc, but rather in the normal living environment of the child who tends to frequent the street.

Social pedagogy is not made up of an ensemble of tools and methods which can be reproduced everywhere. Built at a local level, it is the product of a host of variables – of one context – like the history and geography of the neighbourhood, the socio-economic situation of the children and families, the cultural potential, etc. It cannot be reproduced everywhere. Each time, it is a project based on valuing the skills and know-how of the children, young people and their families.

Finally, social pedagogy is a popular education approach, that is to say, of education by the people for the people. It is therefore a case of participative educational action, which is the opposite of many actions outlined in city policies. Speeches often discuss the participative nature of these actions but they are very rarely put into practice.

The methodology of the work of the street educator

The work of the street educator is based on a geographical hypothesis: the intervention is made in and around the area where the children live and no longer in the classical educational areas such as leisure centres and school, for example. The educator will work in the child’s living space. As they gradually come into contact with him or her, their aim is to understand how the child’s conditions of existence are formed, then to act on them and change them. The space inhabited by the child (which is a combination of the place and the journey) therefore becomes a support for the educator’s action but is also an element of the problem. It is in their living space that the child has developed their survival strategies and mobilized the resources which have allowed them to escape the classic educational influence. The educator’s entire task therefore consists of gradually bringing the child out of their usual living space so that they can change the view they have of their social environment; helping them emerge from the confined place in which they find themselves.

In order to successfully carry out this project, the street educator has a working methodology available to them, made up of four main areas: social presence, social pedagogy1, mediation and socio-cultural initiatives.

Social presence is the key to the method. Beyond simply being present on the ground or working towards being accepted by children, social presence is what the educator can use to draw up an assessment – a kind of diagnosis (relationship among peers, gathering places, survival tactics, ways of getting around, etc.) – which will allow him or her to define an educational action strategy. To draw a parallel with human and social sciences, this approach is almost similar to the exploratory research work carried out by researchers when they go to the research site; which normally culminates in a problem and its areas of research being laid out.

For the educator, mediation work consists of acquiring a go-between role of moderator between the different educational bodies, (the family being one such). The main objective here is to improve relationships between the child and the institutions, in order to guide them towards reintegration into society. During their educational work in the field, the educator acquires a certain status: they must appear to be a neutral third party. As such, they must try to have no other role than that of potential negotiator for the children. They therefore undertake to break down the different labels which they may be given: they are neither psychologists, nor social workers, nor teachers, nor police officers, and they are not responsible for the social or repressive policies in force. In summary, the educator must be a mediator while being fully aware of the fact that (s)he is participating in the field of social relations that (s)he wishes to help evolve in a way that is favourable to the child.

There again, we come up against a methodological issue, encountered by the researcher when undertaking a research-action approach. In this case, the researcher must know how to mobilize the result of their work in order to participate in resolving some of the problems he or she is studying.

Finally, the working methodology of the street educator also involves socio-cultural initiatives. Here we are talking about partnerships developed outside the social and educational field and which emerge if social pedagogy works. More specifically, this is a project based on a social problem which the child is interested in and discovers. The result is a successful partnership between the partners and the children. This is then made clear in a public restitution in a place which has no connotations linked to its social function. By protecting them from the symbolic violence they come across on a daily basis, the socio-cultural initiative is a way of showing children that they are capable of success.

II – On the status of space in the Methodological Guide: view of a social geographer

The book “The child in the street” concerns the geographer and more particularly social geography. Indeed, while space is a very visible concept in the book, it is not put forward as a simple support for human relationships or as an independent abstract entity, but rather as an aspect of social facts and, in the case of this work, as a constituent aspect of the problem of “the child in the street”. To the authors, either implicitly or explicitly, space is a means of analysis and reflection, but also a practical tool to carry out pedagogical street work. There is a lot to say on this. In the framework of this review, we propose three areas of reflection. The first, which is theoretical, questions the use of spatial categories. The second, being methodological, examines the analysis of children’s living spaces. The third is along the lines of a proposal, suggesting a parallel between university research carried out on street children and the pedagogical work done with children in the street.

For a critical use of spatial categories: the example of the street

Here we will not come back to the matter of the definition of the expression, “children in the street”. We discussed this in the first part of this review. Rather, we think it relevant to focus on the notion of “street” used by the authors. This is not explicitly defined in the Guide. The street is not simply a place for traffic; its definition is more complex than that. We believe it to be made up by three ideas. The term, “street” primarily designates the space frequented by the children who have been discovered by the educators. Firstly then, the street is what the educator sees and retains of the children’s spatial practices. Secondly, the street-space also appears to be the negative factor in all the classic educational spaces such as the home, school or leisure structures. Therefore the street is not a place but rather a group of spaces – of types of spaces – in which children evolve and develop skills. From there, a third characteristic of the street appears: it is a space that the children have taken over, in the sense that they know it, they know how to move around in it and to mobilise the necessary resources (whether they be social or material), for their daily lives. The definition of the street that we propose for this Guide is of course open to criticism from the authors or other readers. Therefore this attempt puts forward a questioning element which is important for those who are interested in street work: the street is a constructed spatial category which does not necessarily mean the same thing to everybody, including the children themselves. In summary, this “street-space” is not a standard or set space. It is both a concept that is useful for reasoning and a specific space – living place for the child, place of action for the educator.

Living space and space for representation

On the methodological level, the street-space gives the educator information for drawing up their intervention strategies. Indeed, the skills developed by the child have spatial aspects, the consideration of which allows the educator to measure the state of the links the child has with the family and the institutions, among other things. Street pedagogy analysis methods, which are raised in this Guide, come back to the notion of lived space, developed by Armand Frémont in social geography. Based on the work of observation and conversation with a person, the lived space is an interpretation of a way of life, made by the geographer. Firstly, he analyses a person’s living space2, that is to say the space inhabited by him or her. This in a way is what the street educator does during the social presence phase. This space is where the person being studied is depicted. They perceive this, set up reference points and become attached to it (etc,) and that allows them to give it meaning. Shedding light on these perceptions, together with a description of the living space, allows the geographer to understand how the person’s relationship with the space is formed. We can then see that this way of doing social geography is not very far removed from the working methods of the GPAS street educators. The street-space is a living place brimming with meaning for children. The way they inhabit it reveals an identity, which the authors propose should be considered in terms of skills (ref table 1 p.37).

The child in the street, the child of the street

The title of the guide “the child in the street” and not, “child of the street” is not neutral. We wanted to immediately highlight that the children who we are talking about are not children in the street without social, family or educational links. On the contrary, these links exist and it would be better all round if they were understood”.

Extract from the introduction to “The child in the street”

This point that the authors make is important: the aim of this book is to take an accurate look at the issues associated with children who tend to frequent the educational spaces less and less, and who spend more time in the street-space. The children in question do not know how marginalised street children are. They “live in the street constantly; it has become their source of income and their main place for socialising.” (M. Morelle, 2006). Therefore, a direct comparison of the two issues would seem to us to be eminently relevant, standing back and maintaining a critical view of what this Guide discusses. Marie Morelle, a social geographer, carried out her work outside Europe, on street children in Yaoundé (Cameroon) and Antananarivo (Madagascar), allowing many parallels with the situation of children in the street to be drawn: construction of a specific relationship based on the experience of the material space of the street, the adoption of micro-spaces, favouring development of relationships among peers and strategies to avoid adults, the use of the potential of the urban space, difficult or conflicting relationships with institutions, etc. The case of street children in Yaoundé and Antananarivo thereby presents similarities with that of street children in France and Poland. Furthermore, the exacerbated nature of the problems encountered by street children highlights what probably is not obvious or is indeed latent for children in the street.

A suggestion emerges from this example: although it is not specifically aimed at actions which benefit children, the work of social geographers could play a part in the reflections of the GPAS educators.

III – From reading to debate

A reading of this Methodological Guide does invite debate. Several times when reading it we wanted to speak up, to question, add to or even oppose the authors’ ideas and proposals. We have retained three areas for possible discussion.

From the child’s place in society to modes of intervention

How can the place of the child, that is, the child in the street, be explained in society? This question is at the starting point when constructing a model of intervention. According to the responses to it and the position that we adopt, the responses to the issues encountered may be very different indeed.

In France or in Poland, children who have made the street their favoured living place are “condemned” by the different spheres of society as they do not have strong enough links of belonging there. Now, it is this same society – which proposes systems of standards for its young people – which is responsible for the situation of poverty that these children are in, and subsequently their possible paths towards different forms of marginalisation. Based on this diagnosis, two approaches come to light. The first will consider these children as maladjusted and will opt for intervention methods which do not take into account the root causes of their problems. The second (proposed by the GPAS educators,) goes against the assumption that children adapt their behaviour to their life context, but rather takes into account their skills, their problems and/or their desires. Of course, children’s adaptation to social surroundings is not always welcoming (rudeness, damage, theft…), nor is it encouraged by morale, (“These kids are always hanging around in the street! Far too late at night!”) There then appears to be a gap between them and other social contexts. This gap is probably also broadened, the further one goes from the social context in which the child evolves (family situation, local educational situation, urban social situation, etc).

But at the outset, the way these children are is only the result of their own adjustments to the dominant social norms. These adjustments, whether conscious or otherwise, then give rise to sometimes reprehensible attitudes which are often difficult for most people to understand. This is when it is important to open conversation, and thereby raise the issue, which will then legitimise the types of action put in place. In summary, it is at the time of the future contributor’s diagnosis that the relevance of an action geared towards children who frequent the street becomes clear. The understanding of how the child lives and the mobilisation of theoretical tools are necessary to be able to shed light on these issues.

The spheres of socialisation

The issue of the child’s relationship with the different spheres of society that (s)he is led to frequent is another possible topic for debate. By setting out the existence of a child-street system, and through the different contact points (climatic, institutional, family and socio-environmental) (ref p 19-28), the authors show how children are modelled by their environment and how they constantly adapt to it. This environment is not without its educational spaces: schools, outdoor centres, leisure centres, the family circle, sports clubs, social centres etc, which are just as much spaces for socialization. However, it is the accumulation of the problems encountered within these spaces which will increase or reduce the lure of the educational spaces, to the benefit of the street. How can we interpret this? How is it possible that urban neighbourhoods which have a significant amount of educational infrastructure can be subject to this phenomenon of children in the street?

For Pawel Jaros (quoted p 18-19), Polish mediator for children, there are two complementary answers to this question. On the one hand, the diagnosis of the street children phenomena is still not sufficient; as we mentioned earlier. On the other hand, this lack of awareness of the phenomenon leads to programmes being implemented which target the most visible signs of the problem instead of fighting the causes. This is the case in fact for many educational structures (clubs, sports centres…), which encourage an immediate change in the child’s behaviour without trying to understand why they behave the way they do. This way of working may be explained and justified in many ways: a problem with people’s training, it doesn’t fall under the structure’s mission, the representatives perhaps do not have the material and human means to take the situation in hand appropriately or some structures even choose to favour a group rather than an individual. Whatever the case, this calls into question the interest of socialisation work carried out for children in the educational spaces that they frequent. Should we leave the institutions to one side? Can we not build other operating models for the educational institutions by changing where the educational spaces are set up, (i.e. no longer depend on local lending) or by better explaining each of their roles to the children?

The timeframe for intervention

As regards intervention work with children in the street, the authors encourage strong reactions. They believe that requests should be responded to as quickly as possible. We find that this position creates two risks as regards its practical application.

The first is that some social interventions confuse rapid response with improvisation. Now, in practice it often results that being capable of responding rapidly to entreaties requires long preparation beforehand; the hardest part being to give oneself the time and means to provide a rapid and adapted solution.

The second is that being reactive should not “prevent” us from keeping a critical distance from the request made. We must be careful and ask ourselves for example whether the request being made is not simply to please the street worker: “I want to find a job”, “I want to go back to school, help me”. In fact, children adapt to their daily living situation but also to the person that they have before them. They ask themselves what the street workers want to hear. It is in this way that, full of good intentions, the social worker (for example) will try to respond to these requests and will even succeed in making them specific. He will find them an internship, a job, enable rapid reintegration into school…Now that same social worker will not understand why this doesn’t work every time, because the motivated child he met some time ago did not turn up at the place of their internship, company, school, when they were supposed to…He will feel a bit betrayed, whereas in fact he will only have found a response to his own expectations, (even without having formulated them aloud) and not to those of the child who, at best, wanted to respond to the street worker’s questions and at worst, wanted to be left alone (and found a way of doing so). The response cannot always be hasty. We come back again to the question of the diagnosis, a clear, well though-out identification of the child’s problem. At the end of the day it is up to the street workers to ask themselves whether the solution they propose really meets the child’s needs.


We believe that the book and Methodological Guide “The child in the street” offer significant capacity, (provided for with the division of the plan into two parts): it brings together human sciences and popular education, the activity of research and the work of pedagogy, basically, the researcher and “the educator” (or the pedagogue). The reader will find useful theoretical bases in this guide, which facilitate the understanding and interpretation of the actions put in place and developed by the GPAS street educators.

Building knowledge and know-how in the field of popular education – encompassed in this book – is done by copious examples of theory and practice. This is where the “reflective aspect” or “self-criticism” of the pedagogy work carried out by the GPAS professionals comes in, a kind of constant assessment of the methods, through practice and through a necessary understanding of the theories of human and social sciences, which have much of the nature of the reader’s interest in this work.


Beaud S. et Weber F., 2003, Guide de l’enquête de terrain, Paris, La Découverte, 356 p.

Frémont A., 2007, Paysans de Normandie, Paris, Flammarion, 321 p.

Frémont A., 1999, La région, espace vécu, Paris, Flammarion, 288 p.

Hérin R. et al., 1984, Géographie sociale, Paris, Masson, 387 p.

Morelle M., 2006, « La rue » dans la ville africaine (Yaoundé, Cameroun et Antananarivo, Madagascar), Annales de Géographie, n°650, pp. 339-360.

Morelle M., 200, Jeunes de la rue et culture de rue à Yaoundé (Cameroun). Micro-culture, sous-culture ou pseudo-culture ?, Géographie et culture, n°55, pp. 59-80.

Morelle M., 2004, La rue des enfants, les enfants des rues. L’exemple de Yaoundé (Cameroun) et Antananarivo (Madagascar), thèse de doctorat de géographie, université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne, 496 p., non publiée.

Savidan P. et Mesure S. (Dir.), 2006, Dictionnaire des sciences humaines, Paris, PUF, 1277 p.

Aurélien Marnier

Currently in second year training as a specialised educator at the l’Institut Régionale du Travail Social (IRTS – Regional Institute of Social Work) in Basse-Normandie. Before coming to the IRTS, he was a social worker, then coordinator of extra-curricular activities in an area targeted for special help in education, in the district of Hérouville-Saint-Clair (Calvados).

Olivier Thomas

Ph.D. student in social geography at the Centre de Recherche sur les Espaces et les Sociétés (CresoUmr Eso 6590 Cnrs), his research is geared around public policies preventing deviant behaviours, and on the spatial practices of marginalised populations. He is also a part-time teacher in the Professional Masters “City policies, urban morphologies social interventions” and for the Professional Degree “Knowledge of the city and social intervention professions” at the geography UFR in the University of Caen, Basse-Normandie.

1We will not touch upon the afore-mentioned concept of social pedagogy again. The reader is also welcome to refer to pages 111-123 of the Methodological Guide.

2 Photo 7 on page 101 is a possible depiction of moving around in a living space.

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