This blog aims to share our methodologies and philosophies when working with Looked After Children, which led to the huge success of "And The Beat Goes On 2".
In December 2017, we (The Boom Dang Foundation) completed our project “And The Beat Goes On 2”. Our aim for the project was:
- To deliver weekly music sessions in Barrow-in-Furness for Looked After Children in partnership with Children’s Services.
- Work county-wide to deliver 4-week blocks of work at residential homes in Whitehaven, Barrow-in-Furness and Kendal.
- To build a workforce specific to working with Looked After Children by continuing our Advanced Training Programme.
For the past six years, we have been working in partnership with Children’s Services, during which time we have run music activity, reflected on our work and researched methods. Our currently completed project was hugely successful due to our session content, our understanding of Looked After Children’s lives, our solid partnership with Children’s Services and our team. Here we share our methodology that resulted in our successes.
Using Boom Dang drums, keyboards, laptops, Garageband, and a mobile recording studio, we delivered music activities to Looked After Children who were mainly from Barrow-in-Furness and South Lakes. Weekly activity was in blocks of ten weeks and although the main focus in our sessions was music, we worked hard to create an environment that was welcoming and relaxing, one that assisted in the transition of being in a new environment with new people and musical instruments. Each block had a different musical focus which included composing, chord formation, music theory, song writing, building a band, recording, scoring and music leadership.
Our sessions were about building positive relationships between adults and young people and this happened by all project staff and Key-Workers taking part in music making with the young people. Jo (Key-Worker) became the comedian in the group as she got everything wrong, however, she celebrated this much to the hilarity of the young people and this helped them relax and see that making mistakes was ok.
Looked After Children can struggle to communicate how they feel, however, the sessions helped them communicate without them realising. During all of our sessions, young people learned to work as a team, not only musically, but also in helping us set up the room, loading and unloading the van and tidying the room afterwards. We were always clear that we were a group and not individuals and from this came increased confidence and self-esteem as everyone had a purpose.
We also supported young people to lead parts of the session. We supported them to teach the Key-Workers how to hold sticks, to lead call and response, how to play chords, how to play rhythms and how to record. From this came a feeling of being useful and about feeling good about themselves.
At the beginning of every session we sat in a circle and we gave each young person one minute to talk about anything (positive) that happened to them in the week. This could be about school or a hobby or something that they had achieved. For them it was about practicing to be reflective and having that time where they were not interrupted but listened to.
At the end of every session, we ran “Compliments”. The first time we ran this, nobody knew what a compliment was. “Compliments” became a space dedicated for everyone to give at least one person a compliment. At first project staff gave the compliments but once young people understood the pleasure of giving compliments, they took over.
“I thought C did really well tonight. She was very upset when she arrived but did really well at the music” P, 10
We wanted to reach as many Looked After Children across Cumbria as we possibly could, therefore, alongside our weekly sessions, we also worked in blocks of four weeks at Over-End Road Residential Home, Whitehaven, Sedbergh Drive Respite Home, Kendal and Hawthwaite Lane Residential Home, Barrow-in-Furness.
Looked After Children
Our sessions were made up solely of Looked After Children, which meant they didn’t need to explain themselves to their peers. Many struggle to make friendships and find school a challenge, however, by playing music with each other in our sessions, demonstrated that they felt relaxed and accepted.
Looked After Children can have many variables in their life so we designed sessions that were constant; they were weekly, happened on the same day, had the same project musicians, used the same venue, ran at the same time every week and we purposefully worked with small groups (6 maximum, 1 minimum). Key-Workers were present in every session.
A safe environment was created for young people to try out our activity, a place where mistakes could be made, where by forming a musical group there was a support network and a place where young people were able to learn creatively.
Evidence collected from Youth Music’s Well-Being Scale showed us that young people felt a sense of worth and achievement. In our sessions, we created an environment where young people could meet other young people, share musical experiences and develop new skills, which helped them become more resilient to challenges in their lives.
“Our young people can struggle to communicate how they feel. Music helps them communicate their feelings without them even realising it. Music is reflective of them. This activity creates a new interest, a place where they can release their emotions” Bee Allport, Manager Sedbergh Drive Respite Home
Bronze Arts Awards
We supported 18 young people to gain a Bronze Arts Award. Due to the transient nature of Looked After Children, we re-designed the paperwork in order to make them easier to gain and so that they could be achieved in a shorter space of time. We discovered that a barrier to achievement was the actual writing part. Many of the young people we worked with had difficulties with writing and spelling. As soon as we mentioned paperwork we could see them shut down, so, we became the ghost writers for them and all they had to do was talk creatively. Using this method meant that young people got one-to-one attention and had fun with paperwork.
Show and Tells
Celebration of the work of the young people was through very informal show and tells. We quickly understood that by mentioning the word “performance” many young people became anxious and wanted to leave the group. We designed the show and tells to run like a session so that young people knew exactly what to expect and not be faced with any surprises.
Although we have methods that work and have designed session content to meet the needs of young people, none of this would matter if it weren’t for our incredible partnership with Children’s Services. They absolutely believe in our music activity and see it is an important addition to the work that they do with Looked After Children. For the past six years they have committed to all our projects, providing in-kind support by way of Key Workers at every session, a venue, driving young people to our sessions and taking them home, providing juice and biscuits and being open to accommodating all the session dates that we give them. We have a very effective partnership model between Children’s Services and us (The Boom Dang Foundation) – without one, no project would exist.
Every music session had four project staff – The Boom Dang Foundation’s Artistic Director, a fully trained Project Leader and two Advanced Trainees.
In order to increase the workforce in Cumbria, specific to working with Looked After Children, we ran an Advanced Traineeship. We worked with two Advanced Trainees who had newly qualified from our Youth Practitioner Scheme. Their learning was work-based through mentoring, observation and reflective practice.
Sessions were split into 20 minute chunks. We began with games (Phill), then drumming (Therese and Kim), computers/keyboards (Phill) and recording (Damo). When not leading an activity, each team member shadowed the other sections.
The team met before the start of every session to create a running order and at the end to reflectively de-brief. Debriefing was a structured opportunity to feedback on progress supported also by self-evaluating and by keeping reflective accounts. The reflective conversations were always constructive and an environment was created where project staff were invited to share their joy or concerns of their practice. These conversations informed future sessions.
To conclude, all our methods led to the huge success of “And The Beat Goes On 2”. We found that our music sessions enhanced lives – not just the young people’s but also the project staff and the Key-Workers.