What staffing considerations are there when putting on musical activities with looked after children?

Why this is an important question

Staffing considerations are central to providing:

  • Safety, both in terms of child protection and group management
  • Continuity, limiting the number of new relationships required of participants while at the same time providing ...
  • Creative stimulus, and responding to participants’ musical interests
  • Flexibility, allowing sufficient attention to be given to individual members while maintaining the group experience.
  • Progression outside of the group

Towards answers

There should be a minimum of two responsible adults in every group session, but preferably at least two musicians, at least one professional member of care staff and foster carers engaged in the session or available in the building.

Music organisations will need to engage community musicians with good emotional intelligence, interpersonal and group work skills. They will be effective team workers and willing to engage in individual and collective reflective practice. (See also ‘Social Pedagogy’ and ‘Training’) The make-up of the community musician team should ideally be able to respond to a range of young people’s musical interests.

Given the centrality of relationship-building, continuity of staffing over the life of a project is desirable.

The Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB programme commented:

"In order to work well with looked after children, singing leaders need to be part of the project team, rather than merely session workers. They need to have adequate time for planning and reflection, in addition to the time spent in face to face contact with the children. Project managers should be aware of what happens during sessions musically and in other ways, and provide singing leaders with supervision and support.

"Singing leaders should regard support workers as part of their team – not just people at hand to control the children. Care staff should be regarded as equal members of the staff team. In many projects foster carers will also play a significant part in the team approach."

Most successful practice has one or more experienced care staff planning with the musicians and attending each session. These staff will have knowledge of and preferably a relationship with the participants which will help in creating a safe space and a whole-child approach. They will be able to feed in information about any significant changes in individuals’ lives which might influence their enjoyment of the group.

There is a strong case for including foster carers as full participants in the group. The part they play should be discussed and negotiated with them, preferably in advance of the session. Successful practice will encourage foster carers to take musical activity into the child’s life outside the group and into the foster family.

In many cases there will be great value in including in the staff team young singing leaders who are looked after

  1.  for the experience they have in being part of the project, in taking some responsibility and in being part of the staff team in terms of planning and reflection
  2. because of their potential as role models for the younger participants: 'it's cool to enjoy singing and music-making'.

Supporting Young Singing Leaders outside the group so that they can make an effective contribution in it is a significant organisational task. Project managers do need to ensure sufficient support for young singing leaders - this may include texting reminders, travel expenses as well as 'supervision' - to ensure the potential of this arrangement is realised.

Musicians and care staff should be employed on a contract which meets the need for collective reflection time.

Illustrations from practice

(Taken from music projects funded by Sing Up and Youth Music)

The quantity, quality and nature of staffing on the projects was central to their chances of success. Care staff and managers associated with projects in the Sing Up NCB programme commented:

"The musicians’ genuineness has rubbed off on them (the young people) so they’re now hooked into creative fun. They (the musicians) were so connected. Going with the flow. That’s one of  the things that the arts can give to us."

!The skills have been impressive – and the skills of engagement"

"The children felt comfortable and held"

"We regarded the ratio of adult to child as very important (almost one to one)"

"Having so many has been good at providing a range of role models"

One project on the Sing Up NCB programme addressed the need for consistency of staffing systematically:

"The shifting population of adults through the lives of looked after children was acknowledged and explored at the planning stage and therefore there was an intended ‘ overlap’ of Musicians at the sessions so that a degree of continuity was maintained, i.e. each session was led by a familiar Musician from the previous session who then introduced and worked with a new Musician at the next session until everyone had been introduced. This helped to inject musical interest and a stimulating social context to the sessions whilst maintaining a stable and secure environment overall.

"The team of 4 Musicians not only brought different elements of musicality to the sessions e.g vocal work, games and activity, keyboard, composition skills, multi-cultural and scrap percussion and music and movement, but was also able to bring a valuable positive male role model to the sessions and many more, in diverse musical and technical roles, in the subsequent CD recording morning. "

And another project included the children’s welcome in this need for consistency:

"Throughout the delivery period we were able to build on previous partnership work with the Tobacco Factory Arts Trust and create an even stronger relationship. We requested a particular member of their front of house team to be on duty for each of the delivery days. The consistency of this role was important to us as on occasion she may have been the first person to welcome a child. In addition she worked as event assistant during the performance at the Colston Hall."

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