Benefits of music for looked after children, and how to achieve them

  • by Anonymous (not verified)

    Wednesday, 16 September, 2015 - 16:02

Music and music making can have very significant benefits for looked after children, as found repeatedly through a broad range of music-making projects and programmes. The visualisation below looks at some of the different benefits that have been found through various bodies of evaluative evidence, and breaks them down into social, personal, emotional and musical benefits. (Click on the dot at the top of the noticeboard to see the sources.)

For each benefit, you can find out why it's significant for looked after children, some of the ways in which it's achieved and some examples from practice. Click on the dots for more information.

Waypointwaypoint/information-sourcesInformation sources53.085.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/team-working-skillsTeam working skills14.5212.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/team-working-and-group-buildingTeam working and group building173.5197.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-team-working-and-group-buildingExamples of team working and group building407.5196.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/making-friends-0Making friends13.5299.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-making-friendsExamples of making friends412.5288.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/positive-relationships-adultsPositive relationships with adults13.5390.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/adults-modelling-positive-relationships-each-otherAdults modelling positive relationships with each other172.5356.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/accepting-young-people-without-accepting-unhelpful-behaviourAccepting young people without accepting unhelpful behaviour171.5392.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-positive-relationships-adultsExamples of positive relationships with adults414.5387.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/ability-manage-boundariesThe ability to manage boundaries174.5446.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/challenging-negative-perceptions-looked-after-childrenChallenging negative perceptions of looked after children12.5484.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-perceptions-looked-after-children-being-challengedExamples of perceptions of looked after children being challenged416.5494.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/extending-young-peoples-musical-experienceExtending young people's musical experience8.5675.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/exposing-young-people-range-musical-opportunitiesExposing young people to a range of musical opportunities164.5636.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/ensuring-quality-musical-opportunitiesEnsuring the quality of musical opportunities164.5683.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/designing-flexibility-meet-individual-well-collective-needsDesigning flexibility to meet individual as well as collective needs166.5723.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-extending-young-peoples-musical-experience-1Examples of extending young people's musical experience 1419.5626.6""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-extending-young-peoples-musical-experience-2Examples of extending young people's musical experience 2417.5710.6""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/developing-musical-confidence-and-skillsDeveloping musical confidence and skills4.5833.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/designing-sessions-move-familiar-more-challengingDesigning sessions to move from the familiar to the more challenging165.5795.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/using-creative-methodsUsing creative methods167.5883.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/good-group-work-which-creates-climate-collaboration-and-learning-each-otherGood group work which creates a climate of collaboration and learning from each other165.5836.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-developing-musical-confidence-and-skillsExamples of developing musical confidence and skills416.5796.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/progressing-other-music-makingProgressing to other music making7.5966.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/promoting-music-making-homePromoting music making at home165.5942.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/providing-successful-experience-safe-environment-encourages-progressionProviding a successful experience in a safe environment encourages progression165.5984.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-progressing-other-music-makingExamples of progressing to other music making419.5942.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/access-additional-skillsAccess to additional skills462.5202.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/engagement-learningEngagement with learning463.5286.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/improving-relationships-carersImproving relationships with carers464.5437.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-access-additional-skillsExamples of access to additional skills849.5193.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-engagement-learningExamples of engagement with learning851.5278.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-concentrationExamples of concentration852.5357.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-concentration-0Examples of concentration852.5357.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-improving-relationships-carersExamples of improving relationships with carers852.5442.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/ability-have-funThe ability to have fun458.5614.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/providing-solaceProviding solace458.5654.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/learning-trust-peersLearning to trust peers458.5698.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/self-expression-and-self-awarenessSelf-expression and self-awareness457.5765.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/self-discipline-and-responsibilitySelf-discipline and responsibility458.5920.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/developing-confidenceDeveloping confidence457.51032.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/sense-belongingSense of belonging457.51099.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/managing-angerManaging anger458.51139.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/creating-fun-atmosphereCreating a fun atmosphere621.5614.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/creating-calm-and-safe-islandCreating a calm and safe 'island'621.5656.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/creating-secure-and-trusting-environmentCreating a secure and trusting environment623.5691.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/supporting-lyric-writingSupporting lyric writing624.5725.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/emotionally-literate-workers-able-create-safety-and-facilitate-communication-feelingsEmotionally literate workers able to create safety and facilitate the communication of feelings623.5767.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/recognising-musics-potential-catalyst-emotional-expression-and-self-identityRecognising music's potential as a catalyst for emotional expression and self-identity624.5810.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/structured-group-workingStructured group-working624.5908.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/understanding-challenge-and-supportUnderstanding, challenge and support621.51141.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/empathising-individual-circumstancesEmpathising with individual circumstances625.51054.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/building-solidarity-through-shared-music-makingBuilding solidarity through shared music making621.51101.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-ability-have-funExamples of the ability to have fun865.5605.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-providing-solaceExamples of providing solace866.5652.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-learning-trust-peersExamples of learning to trust peers869.5690.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-self-efficacyExamples of self-efficacy874.5869.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-self-expression-and-self-awareness-1Examples of self-expression and self-awareness 1870.5724.6""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-self-expression-and-self-awareness-2Examples of self-expression and self-awareness 2873.5821.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-self-discipline-and-responsibility-1Examples of self-discipline and responsibility 1874.5905.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-self-discipline-and-responsibility-2Examples of self-discipline and responsibility 2873.5931.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-decision-makingExamples of decision-making873.5972.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-developing-confidenceExamples of developing confidence873.51026.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-sense-belongingExamples of sense of belonging871.51097.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/examples-managing-angerExamples of managing anger871.51141.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/social-benefitsSocial benefits117.0161.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/personal-benefitsPersonal benefits582.0158.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/musical-benefitsMusical benefits125.0593.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/emotional-benefitsEmotional benefits583.0578.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/return-looked-after-children-and-music-home-pageReturn to Looked after children and music home page1.05.2""#0000002

Music and music making can have very significant benefits for looked after children, as found repeatedly through a broad range of music-making projects and programmes. The visualisation below looks at some of the different benefits that have been found through various bodies of evaluative evidence, and breaks them down into social, personal, emotional and musical benefits. (Click on the dot at the top of the noticeboard to see the sources.)

For each benefit, you can find out why it's significant for looked after children, some of the ways in which it's achieved and some examples from practice. Click on the dots for more information.

Click here for a text version of this visualisation

Information sources

The examples  of musical activity with looked after children used  in  the ‘With what outcomes?’ column below are taken from
• Youth Music Evidence Review. This is shorthand for Lucy Dillon’s (2011) Looked After Children and Music-making: an evidence review compiled for Youth Music.This review focused on work specifically with looked after children and young people in seven YMAZs –general music-making with mostly secondary age young people.
• Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB Programme. This is shorthand for Petrie,P and Knight,A (2011) ‘I want to sing’ Sing Up National Children’s Bureau Looked After Children Bureau Evaluation  and evaluated the work of 7 projects working on singing projects with primary aged looked after children.
• Two further projects: the Leicester Sing Up NCB project (a singing project with primary aged looked after children) and Curveball, a music project between Brighter Sound and Barnardos Leaving Care Team in Manchester.
• The work of Myrtle Theatre Company, SoundLIncs (both also in the Sing Up programme) and of Whitewood and Fleming in Cumbria that contributed to Chambers, H (2008)People with Passion: getting the right people round the table. London: NCB.

Reference is also made to:
      Gilligan,R (2009) Promoting resilience: supporting children and young people who are in care, adopted or in need. London:BAAF.
      Pedersen,L (2011) Attachment Theory: an introduction in Social and Emotional Learning Update November 21st.

Team working skills

Looked after children sometimes have problems working within a group. This is attributed to a lack of opportunity to learn the necessary social skills in the ‘usual’ ways, such as through positive family relationships or stable friendships.

Team working and group building

Group work within music-making projects provides an opportunity to develop the skills of sharing, empathising, negotiating, listening to others’ point of view and making group decisions.

Examples of team working and group building

Common themes from the music-making projects surveyed were that in the course of the project young people had ‘pulled together’, they had learnt to share, negotiate, empathise, listen to other people’s points of view and make decisions on a group basis. Being part of a band provided a valuable opportunity to develop these skills - they had to negotiate what the group would perform, who would play what instrument and in which formation. The experience fostered co-operative working for them to achieve their joint goal- as noted in one project while young people come to the project as an individual, when playing in a band they had to “learn to come together and adapt to fit with each other”(programme director). In another project, participants specifically acknowledged in their introduction to a performance of their work the collaboration necessary to produce the work and expressed appreciation to the project staff who had supported them in working in this way.(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Sensitivity to other people’s emotions and thoughts – Working in a team with other looked after young people encouraged participants to develop empathy with others. They learnt to be respectful of other people’s views and developed a shared sense of identity.(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Learning to work as part of a team helped young people develop a sense of responsibility to themselves and others. They learnt about the ‘knock on’ effect for the rest of the team when they did not deliver on their tasks (Youth Music Evidence Review)

Making friends

Looked after children’s often frequent change of placements can disrupt schooling and friendships.  The occasional erratic behaviour of some can be scary to their peers. Support to enjoy the company of others is important. Individual support when needed is a key role for adults working with looked after children, particularly those in informal relationship i.e. not  in the authority relationships of foster parents, teachers or social workers.

Examples of making friends

Taking part in a group project meant young people could make friends. Friendships were sometimes grounded in their shared experiences of care. Reports of participants being eager to see others in their group and developing strong links over the course of the project were common. Given their sometimes limited opportunities to make friends due to instability in their placements, among other reasons, being able to make friends through a positive activity was highly valued. These friendships appeared to form in both short and longer term projects.(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Meeting new people and seeing them regularly was a welcome opportunity for many. To give just two examples: two girls, aged ten and twelve years, who hadn't met before joining the Myrtle Theatre Company project, said with great enthusiasm that they had really enjoyed making friends with each other and that they are going to meet outside the project (Project report)

In a different project, another ten year old said:

“She’s [another girl in the group] one of my bestest friends and I met her here – I am going on holiday soon with her in her caravan“ (Project report from Sing Up NCB programme)

Positive relationships with adults

There are a bewildering number of adults in the lives of a looked after young person. Some looked after children were described as

‘ having been consistently let down by adults and also being acutely aware that most adults responsible for their care were paid to do so’ (Project report, Sing Up NCB programme)

All young people pick up messages about ‘how to be’ from adults around them. Musicians and other adults on musical projects may be able to provide some positive and powerful models both generally and also around specifics about e.g. working together, managing conflict, having fun, being respectful.

Those looked after children who have experienced disorganised attachment or inconsistent parenting need the adult to hold clear boundaries and provide consistency.

‘Being reliable  and consistent is essential. Maintain boundaries and keep a professional  relationship.
Be specific when  praising the child, for example, ‘a good drawing’ or ‘a neat piece of work’. Avoid  generic compliments such as ‘you are a good boy’.Give the child a  sense of control by offering choices, but the choices are decided by you, the  adult.( Pedersen 2011)

Adults modelling positive relationships with each other

Music leaders on the Sing UP NCB programme were often  described as positive role models for participating young people. A Children’s Services worker described how the “relaxed, respectful and positive way” that music leaders had interacted with other adults involved in the project and the young people themselves, provided a positive behaviour model for the young people to follow. This was considered particularly important in terms of modelling constructive ways of dealing with conflict.

Accepting young people without accepting unhelpful behaviour

‘Emotions are infectious – instilling positivity and peace to counteract bad vibes & not reacting and ‘not holding grudge’ – giving YP fresh start every week’ (Music Leader, Curveball Project)

Separating the person from the distress pattern.

‘You are a good person but when you do X, I feel Y and I’d prefer you to do Z’

Examples of positive relationships with adults

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

Another benefit was the context in which the relationship developed. Young people were being taken ‘at face value’ by the music leaders – their views were being formed based on the young person’s musicmaking and engagement with the positive activity rather than on information in their ‘case file’ history.

They also provided a sometimes rare opportunity to engage with an adult through a positive activity, which was not linked specifically to their care status. Some music leaders were described as ‘inspirational’ for young people having shown them how they could live a life engaging in positive activity Youth Music Evidence Review)

The ability to manage boundaries

Where these relationships developed it was noted that clear boundaries needed to be maintained between what was appropriate for a music leader to discuss with the young person and what would need to be referred onto a social worker or other carer. Furthermore, a suitable ‘exit strategy’ had to be developed and communicated to young people through which it was made clear when the project would end and whether they would continue to have any contact with the music leader. This was considered essential to avoid the relationship with the music leader mirroring other relationships with adults in their lives where they had been let down (Youth Music Evidence Review)

Be confident in leadership and authority (Advice from music leaders, Curveball Project)

Challenging negative perceptions of looked after children

Looked after children are commonly stereotyped and explicitly or implicitly blamed for ending up in care despite the fact that only 2% are taken into care for socially unacceptable behaviour. It is common, though, for children who experience little appreciation for being ‘good’ to ‘internalise the stereotype, and seek attention by being ‘bad’.

Examples of perceptions of looked after children being challenged

People’s perceptions of children in care were challenged. A Children’s Service worker explained that they were often seen as “problems to be managed” but by being exposed to them as “a creative being” a more holistic approach to meeting their needs could be supported (Youth Music evidence Review)

Insights into young people’s skills and new areas of interest could be fed back to carers and used to inform their Personal Education Plan .

“Any comments made on an individual plan [which would inform a Personal Education Plan] might present a unique insight into their abilities, interests and potential which are not being observed and captured in other parts of their lives” (Project lead, Sing Up NCB programme).

The looked after children in another Sing Up NCB project also confounded one of their singing leaders:

‘I wouldn’t approach [this music] with secondary school students – but these are from primary school!’. She thought it was ‘absolutely amazing ...

Extending young people's musical experience

  1. The corporate parent has a responsibility, along with any parent, to introduce their children to new experiences and opportunities to develop interests.
  2. Looked after children’s’ lives are fragmented and frequently disrupted by changes of placements and schools . This makes regular engagement with ‘positive activities’ sometimes problematic.
  3. Many looked after children and young people are anxious about the unknown, about joining new groups. Their behaviour when doing so is sometimes disruptive. This means that groups especially developed with looked after children in mind – and staffed accordingly - are a safe starting point.
  4. Musical expression is accepted as a particularly valuable activity for young people with emotionally troubled backgrounds
  5. Achieving and making a good sound individually or collectively enhances looked after children’s sense of self and can contradict others’ low expectations of looked after children.

Exposing young people to a range of musical opportunities

Young people developed a range of music-making skills across the projects, including:

  • DJing;
  • lyric writing;
  • music technology;
  • music production;
  • performance and stage techniques;
  • performing in a collective (in a band or choir);
  • playing a musical instrument;
  • singing;
  • song-writing; and
  • writing compositions.

(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Four artists were employed for the project in order to provide the young people with the broadest possible scope of musical options (typically two or three artists work together on a project). (GMMAZ Barnardos)

Ensuring the quality of musical opportunities

The 'wow' factor, being surprised, delighted and impressed by the music and by the abilities of the musicians was a new experience for many children and young people, reported by singing leaders and others on the Sing Up NCB programme

. A 12 year old from a singing project said

'It's really good. Really good music, it's clever how they put it together.'

In Co-Musica’s Newcastle project, a foster carer said that a child's teachers reported he had come to school buzzing about what he had been doing and how good the musicians had been. Usually he had little to say to them about what he had done out of school.

Designing flexibility to meet individual as well as collective needs

Singing leaders on the Sing Up NCB programme helped some looked after children discover previously unknown musical talents and it was hoped that this discovery would have long-term effects.

Examples of extending young people's musical experience 1

Observations on children’s achievements through the eight Sing Up NCB projects included:
They gained confidence in music and singing, enjoyed being introduced to new instruments and having opportunities to compose music, write lyrics, and perform in front of an audience.

While reports varied  about the quality of music they were often highly complimentary, with one project lead describing the outputs from some of his sessions as “outstanding”.

They responded well to this.

“Musically, they were amazing, especially those who had played the CD during the holiday.There was one moment when Steve [aged 8] helped an adult singer who was having difficulty with her pitch, and Jimmy came in too. It was amazing.”

Another singing leader, echoed this saying

‘I wouldn’t approach [this music] with secondary school students – but these are from primary school!’. She thought it was ‘absolutely amazing ... The whole process children coming together to create this’. The music was described by a further singing leader as ‘sophisticated’, but the children did not find it difficult to sing.

Examples of extending young people's musical experience 2

Developing ‘a precious sense of mastery’ can help looked after children develop the resilience they need to manage their lives. (Gilligan 2009)

Some examples were reported on the Sing Up NCB programme:

"A 15 year old at Pie Factory was discovered to be an ‘amazing producer’ and has been working on producing songs and now an album.”

“A girl, aged 8, had tried rapping and then identified that she really liked playing the guitar. Although she was not keen to perform to others as her concentration was sometimes poor, she really concentrated on composing. She really looked forward to the sessions and missed another out-of-school activity to come.”

Developing musical confidence and skills

Looked after children’s often traumatic and disrupted lives may leave them short of personal and social confidence. Being helped to move from the ‘safe’ to the less familiar – and surviving – discovering that they enjoy music-making and may be good at it can increase confidence.

Designing sessions to move from the familiar to the more challenging

The musicians often aimed to find a balance between meeting children 'in their comfort zone' and broadening their horizons by using unfamiliar repertoire and activities, with songs drawn from different countries. The intention was to extend children's musical awareness.

Sessions built from one session to the next, first using simple games and rounds, introducing part songs and gradually creating new music by fitting new words to known songs, then by working on new music. They introduced new repertoire such as African circle games, with a strong pulse, as an aid to recognising the beat.

Projects also used rhythmical rapping and clapping to help children become more aware of beat and rhythm. The challenges introduced often went beyond those of conventional Western music forms and more complex art forms were not avoided:

“The session was conducted with the whole group of children, young people, mentors and staff. Singing together and copying lines was followed by more complicated rounds of the singing, using sticks to pass around the room at the same time.

"Although one boy found this really difficult – and said so! – most of the group were fully engaged with the activities and there was lots of laughter. A Zulu song and a Ghanaian song were also introduced to the group, the latter in Ghanian, so a challenge for the young people.”

“I’ve mainly noticed the growth in confidence in the kids because to start with no one wanted to sing out – there was a lot of mumbling going on – so we started with getting them to sing songs they might already know and they might like.

"We had a few teething problems about the best choice of song. The artists were trying to choose something and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but now we’re into them creating their own songs and performing to the rest of the group. And now we have some children every week desperate to sing a bit of song by themselves to the rest. So we have a lot of solo singers which is amazing and week by week, people singing out a bit more and performing rather than looking at the floor and pretending they’re not there. Now they’re more proud of what they’re doing.

"The whole project is ever so good because some of them are discovering they can write songs and children who don’t normally sing are coming out and saying ‘I want to sing’. Some of them maybe don’t want to sing so it’s making them think about playing an instrument and looking at music.”
(soundLincs project report, Sing Up NCB programme)

Using creative methods

In another project: ‘Painting the music’ was one way. The children conveyed their musical ideas in terms of colour, shape, intensity and size by painting on large sheets of paper. At other times, when they had agreed a line for a song they would come round the keyboard and the composer would ask them how they thought it should go ... fast, slow, happy, sad, up, down ... ? He said:

“It dawned on me that it helped if the words they were coming up with had names [given to them], so the Maze became Lazy Maze. Then I asked what it should sound like and they said it should go slow, so I would improvise, in a very bluesy way, and it was easy after that – it seemed to open the door for them, and help them to understand [about the relationship between words and music.”

For another song the composer played a melody in different ways: first legato, but the children said no, then more robotic, which they agreed on. The children themselves came up with an answering phrase, which had the same melodic structure. Some of the children were confident enough to suggest musical settings for different lines. The children were encouraged to be expressive in their singing. For example, the MD asked them to stop singing, precisely on cue (‘when you stop, the silence is just as exciting as the storm noise’), also to hold notes as required and to observe rests. They were encouraged to sing ‘in a floaty voice’ in quiet parts. (Myrtle Theatre Company, Sing Up NCB Programme)

At CoMusica sessions started with a warm up. Children were introduced to using their voices in different ways, head voice, mouth voice and chest voice, and involving the whole body in singing.

Overall, sessions included singing, song writing, recording, being introduced to musical instruments, such as the guitar, the ukulele, keyboard, percussion instruments (sometimes made by the children themselves) lyric writing, drumming and rapping. Some of these were identified as being particularly of interest for those boys for whom singing was not immediately attractive. The musicians could be adept at finding what particular children liked. At a taster session which coincided with the World Cup, there were three boys who appeared to be angry that they had been made attend.

“They refused to get involved at first but rather than be discouraged by this the music leaders used
their anger positively by asking them to be drummers. They also used a song about a Warrior to appeal
to the boys’ interests. This approach acknowledged the boys’ feelings and encouraged the integration of
their interests into the group. At the end, the boys wanted to do the drumming again, a good sign that the
strategy had worked successfully and had encouraged their involvement.”
(Singing leaders’ Reflective Journal, SoundLINCS)_

Good group work which creates a climate of collaboration and learning from each other

The active participation of older children and young leaders was seen as encouraging for the younger ones, and when some of the younger children became confident it encouraged their peers:

“They blossomed because they liked the singing and wanted to do it – they showed us their routines and it was a really lovely focus for everyone else and showed the others it was non-threatening and gave peer encouragement“ (Project manager, Sing Up NCB Programme)

Examples of developing musical confidence and skills

"When X came to us two years ago, we privately described her a tone deaf. She had no opportunity to explore music at all and given her story of deprivation and loss we were sure she'd had no reason to want to sing. She is now showing great improvement and loves to sing along to herself. Her confidence has improved enormously and she is very proud of the lovely CD you made together."

“I feel confident – I love singing! Singing is my favourite hobby. I liked some songs – now I like all songs! I want to be a pop star” (SoundLINCS, boy aged 8 years)

"The boys produced an original track where they composed and played all the music and lyrics – they were really proud of that. They both got lots of confidence from this session and managed to behave beautifully for two hours which  according to their foster carer was a miracle."

Progressing to other music making

  1. Finding something they are interested in, enjoy and may be good at it can be  immensely stabilising for looked after children and contributes to the key questions about identity: ‘who am I?’ and ‘where do I belong?’
  2. Music-making can be portable, low cost and emotionally powerful: all offering opportunities for connection and social integration.

Promoting music making at home

Singing leaders in the Sing Up NCB programme:

  • Raised awareness among foster carers of the value of integrating singing into everyday life and not leave it to structured singing opportunities
  • Offered training and suggestions about how this might be done
  • Provided CDs of songs developed in the project to support activity in the home

Providing a successful experience in a safe environment encourages progression

Behavioural difficulties and issues such as a lack of confidence had prohibited some looked after children from taking part in ‘mainstream’ music-making activities. However, once their confidence had been developed through a targeted project, ‘mainstream’ options opened up.

For example, a young man had been playing the drums in his school but had been asked to leave due to behavioural difficulties. After he had taken part in a targeted project in which he had the opportunity to express himself, develop his skills and explore his feelings of anger he re-engaged with the school group. Others had not felt confident enough to put themselves forward for local projects but once they had developed their skills in the ‘safe’ environment of a targeted project they felt better able to apply. (Youth Music Evidence Review)


Project leads tended to work with carers to signpost young people who wanted to continue their music-making and this was seen as an important part of any project. However there were a number of practical barriers to progression for this group including: lack of information about opportunities; transport and finance; and sometimes a lack of support for the integrating children into the group. (Rhythmix research)

Examples of progressing to other music making

Participants were reported to have continued to progress with their music-making after the project. This included playing in a band, continuing to practice themselves without other support,  receiving private 1-1 tuition, joining music-making activities in their school, and joining other (non-looked after children targeted) projects in their community.

All LeA  Leicester Sing Up NCB project reported: Allfoster Children we worked with will have access to Sing Up within their school as Leicester-Shire Arts have signed up 100% of schools to the programme.

The Leicester Sing Up NCB project reported:
Foster carers will continue to sing in their own homes using the CD provided by the project and are now are all skilled on how to use the Sing Up website after our training...New foster carers will receive the new foster carers handbook that now includes a section on singing as part of the health and well being section written by this project.

Loud and Clear CoMusica reported:

"Most recently, with our Early Years taster sessions in Newcastle, we had immediate reports of the carers using the songs to make bathtime more fun, bed time less of a traumatic experience, and even using ‘Walk & Stop’ as a game along the street to stop that particular child from constantly running away!"

A Herefordshire carer said that she and her family were now more involved in music. The children who had been given a guitar, a keyboard and a percussion instrument for Christmas were all singing the ‘catchy’ songs introduced to them by the project.

One girl, as a result of participating in Forest of Dean Music Makers sessions during the summer had requested violin lessons.(Singing leader, Herefordshire  Music Pool)

“I’m having singing lessons and I’m going to the theatre” (Girl, age 11, Sound It Out)

Access to additional skills

Those looked after children who have moved placements frequently  tend to have had a fractured experience of education and so benefit from supplementary learning opportunities.

Engagement with learning

The pattern of educational attainment nationally of looked after children is substantially below that of their peers. Causes include: the disruption of their schooling caused by changes of placement; the difficulties some have in engaging with schooling, aggravated by emotional issues. They need as a result to reclaim their self-concept as a successful learner.


Though concentration problems are clearly not confined to looked after children, experts in the field highlight these as often caused by growing up in chaotic, disrupted and unsafe environment. Poor concentration clearly affects educational attainment.

Improving relationships with carers

Being in care is challenging and so is fostering. In some relationships, any activity that can provide opportunities for foster carers and their foster children to enjoy doing something of quality together in a supportive atmosphere is of great value.

Examples of access to additional skills

"Young people developed skills other than just music-making ones in the course of some projects. For example, where they were multi-media they learnt how to use videos and cameras or to dance. Skills could also be transferable to other educational settings, for example the computer skills learnt through music technology were reported to support their use of computers more generally, the same with design skills learnt through making a CD sleeve.

"Participants who did not have English as their first language could improve it through the project. This happened through conversation with the music leader and other participants and was evidenced in their
use of English in their lyrics."(Youth Music Evidence Review)

"Many of the youngsters have problems reading and writing so getting them to write a song and feel good about it is such an achievement, it makes them want to communicate and to see that they are good at it. We have seen them flourish,week by week." (musician, Voice Box,Dudley)

Examples of engagement with learning

Projects encouraged them to learn new skills and ‘push through’ the associated frustrations and setbacks. Furthermore, they helped them improve their concentration, and learn to trust and engage with adults in a learning environment. By doing so this provided an opportunity for other carers or workers to support young people in their education. In some cases this was to re-engage with them. For example an Education Plus co-ordinator involved in a project said that

“their self-confidence starts to come through, they trust adults again and it makes them feel good, which enables us to re-engage them and work towards getting them back into education”.

This is further evidenced by young people’s progression to ‘mainstream’ music projects.

For others it was more about encouraging them to remain engaged “when sessions go well the consequent lift can carry participants through the rest of the week at school” (teacher’s feedback via project report)

(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Adult staff on separate Sing Up NCB projects commented:

"We have seen a huge difference in J (foster child) - he's a totally different boy...he's fully involved"

"Their body language says it all! Before they wouldn't stay in the (singing) room, perhaps (they were) a little disruptive, now they are really involved."

Examples of concentration

One participant in particular improved dramatically in this area. In the first few weeks he attended he was quite disruptive within his small group and demanded a lot of attention. A turning point came when he was asked to draw a picture to represent his ideas for the song the group were writing. This picture was then used to write lyrics for the song. This really engaged this child in the group activity and he received a lot of praise. Since that point he was much easier to engage and his concentration span seemed to double.
(Project report, Sing Up NCB programme)

Examples of concentration

One participant in particular improved dramatically in this area. In the first few weeks he attended he was quite disruptive within his small group and demanded a lot of attention. A turning point came when he was asked to draw a picture to represent his ideas for the song the group were writing. This picture was then used to write lyrics for the song. This really engaged this child in the group activity and he received a lot of praise. Since that point he was much easier to engage and his concentration span seemed to double.
(Project report, Sing Up NCB programme)

Examples of improving relationships with carers

Some projects involved carers in the music-making process. In some cases this was reported to have improved the relationship, the communication and the understanding between the looked after children and their carers – and so stabilise placements.

Music was a ‘leveller’ and allowed young people to express themselves. This facilitated communication between the two individuals and encouraged understanding, which in turn could lead to improvements in young people’s care more generally (Youth Music Evidence Review).

The ability to have fun

  1. There has been little fun in some looked after children’s lives
  2. Robbie Gilligan (2009 see introduction) identified humour as one of the key elements of resilience, that looked after children need to manage their lives.

Providing solace

Some looked after children are raw from hurts in the past which are compounded by turbulence in their present, however good the care they are now receiving. A ‘safe place to be’, with music that in itself is soothing, can be particularly helpful.

Learning to trust peers

Looked after children, particularly those with attachment problems, often have difficulty relating well to other peers, as reported in research evidence, including Pedersen (2011 see Introduction).

Self-expression and self-awareness

The reasons for their being taken into care and their experiences whilst in care can provoke strong feelings in many looked after children. Sometimes they hold in these feelings, sometimes they express them inappropriately. Looked after children need support to acknowledge, explore and express what’s going on for them emotionally so that they can be heard effectively.

"Children in care may have very few opportunities to talk about their experiences of being in care with others in the same situation. Making music, and in particular lyric writing, provided them with an outlet to express their feelings as well as an opportunity to reflect on their experiences"
(Youth Music Evidence Review)


  1. Self-efficacy is one of the elements identified by Robbie Gilligan in fostering resilience in looked after children (Gilligan 2009).
  2. Looked after children can often feel that they do not have much control over decisions that affect their lives.
  3. Opportunities to achieve can be all too rare in the lives of looked after children.

Self-discipline and responsibility

Some children with insecure attachment  can act impulsively to fulfil their ‘need’ immediately, and therefore they often struggle to connect consequences with actions, often cannot relate well to peers; often others fear them as their behaviour is unpredictable and can struggle to trust anyone. They often do not know how to recognise, express or manage their feelings and cannot understand or recognise the feelings of others (Pedersen 2011)

Many looked after children experience insecure attachment. Being in groups can, therefore, be challenging for them and lead to challenging behaviour.


Looked after children, as all children, have the right to be involved in decisions directly affecting them. Because  of their often disjointed experience it may be even more important for looked after children to feel listened to and be involved in decision-making.  This may need particular persistence.

Developing confidence

Looked after children with attachment disorders ‘may exhibit signs of depression and low self-esteem’ (Pedersen 2011). Others ‘attempt to present as being self-sufficient  and superficially charming to hide their feelings of vulnerability and  self-hate’.

The implications for the worker include the need for encouragement, persistence, demonstrating a belief in the child’s abilities and creating a safe climate from which to take appropriate risks.

Sense of belonging

Discovering ‘who I am’ and ‘what I want to become’ are some of the central tasks of childhood and adolescence. Whereas many have one or two parental figures both as models and as people to explore these issues with, as well as with their friends, looked after children may have greater tensions and instability here.

Managing anger

Many looked after children have much cause for anger.  Some are easily ambushed by anger; others  feel very unsafe around expressing it. A musical activity group (i.e. not a full-on anger management group) yet sufficiently fully staffed and by staff committed to a whole person approach, can provide a very positive arena for making progress on this issue.

Creating a fun atmosphere

Several social workers and carers in the Sing Up NCB projects commented that music-making was fun and offered young people an opportunity to enjoy themselves and a temporary escape from their problems. It was highlighted that many looked after children do not have opportunities to play as children, and activities that enable this help their development. There was a fun atmosphere in projects, described as one in which there was ‘a bit of a laugh’ and “good jovial banter”.

"When I hear our teenager singing in his bedroom, I know it’s a good day and I know he’s happy. That always makes me smile because in the beginning he had so few good days."
(Carers Can)

Creating a calm and safe 'island'

Singing and playing an instrument offered some young people an ‘escape’ from their problems. Music leaders were keen for this to remain the case and were reticent about formalising an activity that offered these young people such a ‘refuge’.

For example, it was reported that

“three pupils in particular said that singing is a huge solace in their life and seem to use it as a retreat when they are anxious, upset or overwhelmed. It seemed vitally important not to take away that sense of sanctuary by putting them into a conventional pattern of achievement and therefore potential failure”
(project report, Youth Music Evidence Review)

Creating a secure and trusting environment

Following social pedagogic principles projects on the Sing Up NCB programme aimed to create an environment in which looked after young people developed positive and trusting relationships with both adults (music leaders and carers) and peers.

Supporting lyric writing

"Lyric-writing was a powerful tool for self expression and to build self-awareness. It provided children in care with the opportunity to draw on their own experiences, explore their feelings and express themselves through a medium which tended to be new to them. It gave children in care ‘a voice of their own’ and the space to articulate feelings and issues that were important to them.

"Furthermore, they reflected on their experiences and by providing a forum in which to discuss these, it helped develop an understanding and awareness of the challenges they faced. This was particularly useful where young people found it difficult to express themselves through other mediums."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Emotionally literate workers able to create safety and facilitate the communication of feelings

"The creative process required young people to open themselves up to others and build capacity to express their emotions and thoughts. Looked after children may not have many opportunities to do this within a safe environment in which there is an inherent understanding of the challenges they face. Targeted music-making projects facilitated by skilled leaders provided such an environment."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Recognising music's potential as a catalyst for emotional expression and self-identity

"Music and creativity are a brilliant cushion and vehicle for delicate and sensitive issues when they are handled correctly."
(Project Manager, Sing Up NCB Programme)

"Singing,music and storytelling are part of childhood all over the world; and bring much joy and satisfaction to children and adults. It is another way of communicating and sharing that is uniquely human – it touches our hearts and minds and connects with our feelings. Music can make us laugh and cry, and create a memory where the feeling stays with us."
(Helen  Chambers in Carers Can)

"Arts are central and not an optional extra. They add extra ways of engaging with people.
Sense of wonder The wow factor that the arts can awaken in people....Moments where ‘that’s amazing’. I did that or I’ve seen some else do that. Those moments that can take you forward into a different sense of 'who I am and what I can do and what I can be'. Hear young people singing their own songs - that's one of these moments.

"When young people are in difficulty they need a different sense of self."
(Pat Petrie June 2010)

Structured group-working

"Attendance at a project required young people to follow a certain level of structure. For example they may have had to learn to turn up on time, follow an agreed set of team ‘rules’, and deliver on allocated tasks within a given timeframe. While this proved challenging for some young people, there was evidence that in the course of projects they increased their self-discipline."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Understanding, challenge and support

Participants on the music-making  projects sometimes found working as part of a team and the learning process involved in music-making frustrating, which sometimes led to behavioural difficulties. However, with the right support from peers, music leaders and carers, young people could learn to control their behaviour.

"MC B had been through a really traumatic experience which has left him with a massive anger problem. He was a keen budding rapper who was really keen to know how to write his own beats and record his vocals. At the beginning he was interested in copying other artists' beats. However, once copyright principles and the benefits of original creation were explained, he soon began working with the help of a music leader on his own tunes.

"MC B's rapping style was emulating American 'gangsta hip-hop'. His lyrics would be about driving cars and using guns and he would deliver them in an American accent. When he was challenged about this (through asking if he could drive, if he owned or used guns or if he was American) his response was defensive and there was ' a make or break moment'. This proved to be a turning point and MC B has since then been developing his own style that reflects his life as a teenage lad from his own locality.

"MC B's care workers report that his participation in the project has helped him find a new voice to express himself. They say that B's angry outbursts (that would involve smashing up furniture) are much less frequent as a direct result."
(SoundProof Plus – Make Some Noise quoted in Youth Music Evidence Review)

Empathising with individual circumstances

A music leader on one of the Sing Up NCB projects gave an example of this when she said that it was important for them, as music leaders, to value the whole child and not just the musical side.

In one session, some of the boys were talking a lot about school and she felt that, in regard to a social pedagogic approach, it was important for her to listen to what they were saying, rather than try and move them on and concentrate on the music as if it was separate to the rest of their lives.

Building solidarity through shared music making

While looked after children are far from a homogeneous group, they will have a number of shared life experiences associated with being in care.

Examples of the ability to have fun

"You should see the joy on her (foster child's) face - she is very quiet and withdrawn - as soon as you put a song book in her hand, she's totally different."

"It was really good and I enjoyed it."
"I really enjoyed it today and now I am really happy"
"It was fab"
"It was so cool"
(Comments on Sound it Out’s graffiti wall)

Examples of providing solace

“When I played it was like all my [bad] feelings faded away on one play of the bass [guitar]”
(participant feedback).

"...because if I was upset at home I could sing here. At home I couldn’t do that."

"When I’d had a bad day at school, I’d come here here and lose myself in the drumming and it would calm me down"

Examples of learning to trust peers

"The children felt comfortable and held"
(Social worker of the Myrtle Theatre Company project)

"By learning to rely on and support others in the course of a music-making project, this could help develop trust between participants. For example, when struggling with some of the activities they were described as ‘looking after each other, encouraging and urging each other to do it’

"Mutual support developed as projects progressed and was referred to as particularly evident at end of project celebrations when young people were coping with nerves and the excitement of performing."
(Sing Up NCB project report)

In another  project (in the sing Up NCB programme) it was reported that “[the participant] has involved herself fully in group discussions. She has gone from struggling alone with writing to asking for help and discussing her ideas” (programme director).

Examples of self-efficacy

The extracts in this section are taken from the Youth Music Evidence Review:

"By succeeding in something they didn't think they could succeed at, some of our participants find that their negative assumptions about themselves and their abilities are at least challenged."
(Project Lead)

As they developed new skills, felt more confident within a group, received affirmation from others, and learnt to trust both their peers and adults working on the project, they also started to feel better about themselves and develop an increased sense of self-worth.

Opportunities to ‘achieve’ were reported to be too rare in the lives of children in care. Many have a fractured experience of education and their separation from their family mean that they may identify themselves as a “failure” (Stafford et al., 2007 ). There appeared to be an assumption among some carers and young people themselves that this would also be the case for the music project. However, there are numerous examples to show that this assumption was wrong. Young people learnt new music-making skills, produced high quality musical outputs and did well-received performances.

"Actually seeing the song as one piece gave a lot of the young people a sense of achievement as they/their ideas had been involved in that.”

Where young people had an opportunity to perform it celebrated these achievements compounding the sense of affirmation:

“when doing the showcases it’s palpable the sense of achievement.”
(programme director)

Accreditation, certificates, CDs or DVDs of their music, and other meaningful awards or outputs in making concrete these achievements was noted as particularly important for this group.

Projects provided them with an opportunity to explore their skills and contribute to the production of a positive output. A strong sense of achievement was reported where young people had pushed themselves creatively and had an opportunity to share this with others, for example through a performance or the production of a CD.

And finally, care staff quoted in People with Passion state:

"They can see change happens from their actions. Practise a different way of behaving, looking at things differently. It helps them delay gratification."

Examples of self-expression and self-awareness 1

"While the lyrics they wrote often reflected difficulties in their lives they also provided the opportunity to tell the story about how they 'pick themselves up and carry on' and how they are 'not victims all the time', which can help develop positive feelings of self-efficacy."
(Children’s Services worker quoted in Youth Music evidence Review)

“[Writing lyrics] helped her to talk about the difficult topic of going into care fairly easily.”
(project lead)

It also helped carers and other adults understand the issues children in care face.

“It helps them develop awareness of who they are and what they’ve been through. It’s an expressive tool as well- some of them can’t articulate how they feel on a day-to-day basis but can say it through a song.”
(programme director, Youth Music Evidence review)

"Some developed insight into their own life’s difficulties, personality, and behaviour."
(Project manager on the Sing Up NCB Programme)

Examples of self-expression and self-awareness 2

"Before (the project) I didn't want to sing because my heart was hurting. I was really angry but I really wanted to sing. When you sing you can show how you feel. I didn't feel shy any more about singing at the end."

“I think it’s a great opportunity to really get out your aggression, especially on drums… it’s all really exciting” (project participant).

"Making music was described as providing looked after children with a valuable opportunity to express themselves and develop a stronger sense of self-awareness. It was identified as a core element of this work and one that set music-making apart from other ‘leisure activities’. For example, playing an instrument enabled young people to express emotions such as anger in a positive channel."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

And songs can be a way into expressing feelings. A foster carer described how a thoughtful question about a song led to much more:

"One of the teenagers l cared for continually played a particular track in the car.  I asked him why, and he replied ‘it reminds me of what happened at home’. This was the first time he’d talked about this and was the starting point for us to help him. Young people often listen to songs and lyrics that are important to them. I am so glad that I noticed he played this track so much, rather than ‘tuning out’ while I was driving, and that I asked him about it."
(Carers Can)

Examples of self-discipline and responsibility 1

"Being part of a group and engaging with the creative process was found to help young people learn self-discipline and develop a sense of responsibility for their actions. Behavioural difficulties of varying levels were mentioned in a number of reports but it was found in some cases that as projects progressed young people developed the self-discipline to address their behaviour.

"Their patience and concentration levels grew as they practised and ‘stuck at’ the creative process, learning their new skill. They also learnt to accept other people’s views rather than ‘kick off’ when their suggestion was not adopted by the group. All of these helped young people increase their self discipline and, in turn, improve their own behaviour."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Examples of self-discipline and responsibility 2

"Their sense of responsibility to others in the group also developed. Where participants were divided into small groups to carry out tasks that would feed into the work of the large group, this fostered both co-operative working and a sense of responsibility among participants. They knew that if they did not complete their small-group task then the whole group would be held back. Their timekeeping also improved where they understood the consequences for the group of not all members arriving or returning from breaks on time."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Examples of decision-making

"Where projects took a child-centred approach and encouraged team working this supported the development of decision-making skills. This could vary from which kind of music-making activity they wanted to engage in to what route their progression would take."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

"They developed skills and persistence in solving problems/overcoming challenges. Learning to make music can be challenging. Participants learnt to ‘stick with’ the process and overcame barriers that arose. Overall by supporting children in care to develop these skills, music-making projects provided them with an opportunity to bridge the gap with their peers. This is illustrated by the experiences of young people who progressed to ‘mainstream’ projects, which they previously would not have felt able to access."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Examples of developing confidence

"Cutting across all of these outcomes was the finding that taking part in music-making projects could improve looked after children’s confidence, both on a personal and skill-based level. There were many references to young people who at the start of the project were very withdrawn and shy but as the project progressed they ‘came out of themselves’.

"This was illustrated in a variety of ways - for example: young people who would not say anything in front of the group initially, performed solo in front of them by the end; young people initially hid behind their hoodies and had hands covering their face, but later displayed more relaxed body language."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

CoMusica’s Loud and Clear Project in the Sing Up NCB Programme reported: 

"The teachers of one boy who attended our sessions said he was a different child on the morning after, always excited to recount what they had done the night before, singing his favourite songs for friends and lovely to be around, whereas normally he was quiet, withdrawn and unwilling to talk."

Examples of sense of belonging

"By providing them with an opportunity to discuss and share their experiences, this was perceived to have helped  writing lyrics, which in some cases was done as a group. Where they drew on their own experiences of care and knew other participants were also in care, this often led to broader discussions about their lives. For example, how long it had been since they had seen a parent, how many houses had they lived in over the last while, and how they got on with their social worker and foster carer. In an environment where looked after children often felt excluded and ‘different’ from their peers, the experience of having ‘fitted in’ and feeling that they ‘are not alone in the care system’ were highly valued."
(Youth Music evidence Review)

"A Children’s Service worker reflected on the value for a couple of younger participants who had recently been taken into care, were not yet comfortable in their placements and were feeling “very at sea”- by spending time with other children in care they were able to feel a shared experience of being in care and a “sense of belonging'."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

"Another Children’s Service worker commented that some children and young people see the value in not having to explain themselves or their circumstances. Beyond the commonality of not being able to live with their parents, these children and young people recognised their diverse experiences and circumstances without feeling the need to focus on them or share information. In these situations, the commonality alone leads to a tacit understanding between the children and young people creating a positive environment without the need for further disclosure."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Examples of managing anger

On the SoundLincs Sing Up NCB project:

"One young person in particular now has the confidence to sit at the front with the singing leader and to help lead the singing. He has a number of problems at school with dealing with his emotions and handling his anger. The change in him over the weeks has been a joy to watch and I am sure that singing has helped him."
(CWD Officer, CfBT Education Trust)

Social benefits

Personal benefits

Musical benefits

Emotional benefits

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