Social pedagogy for looked after children

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    Wednesday, 16 September, 2015 - 16:02

Social pedagogy is a term that is becoming more familiar in England. Whereas in UK ‘education’ and ‘social care’ have long been seen as very separate disciplines, in much of mainland Europe, social pedagogues work across a variety of settings, including foster care support, residential care and early years, and blend informal education and care practices. The education of social pedagogues prepares them to share many aspects of children’s daily lives. In Denmark 25% of the curriculum for social pedagogues consists of creative activities, seen as a medium for relating to children and promoting creativity.

This visualisation gives an overview of social pedagogy, supporting and developing with and around the child. The text in this visualisation builds on the Artist Pedagogue Framework developed by Helen Chambers and Pat Petrie for NCB (National Children's Bureau) and CCE (Creativity, Culture and Education). You can find out about the work with vulnerable children that this emerged from on the NCB website. Click on the dots for more information about the different parts of the diagram.

Waypointwaypoint/what-social-pedagogyWhat is social pedagogy?15.5121.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/politics-social-pedagogyPolitics of social pedagogy361.5218.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/principles-social-pedagogyPrinciples of social pedagogy862.560.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/artist-pedagogy-backgroundArtist pedagogy: the background562.5256.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/children-whole-personsChildren as whole persons486.5404.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/relationship-childrenRelationship with children109.5862.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/relevant-theories-and-self-knowledgeRelevant theories and self-knowledge838.5727.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/everyday-activities-well-creative-workEveryday activities as well as creative work784.5833.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/being-and-working-togetherBeing and working together707.5470.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/rights-children-be-heardThe rights of children to be heard677.5955.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/team-around-child-centredTeam around the child-centred351.0448.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/positive-role-modelsPositive role models58.5659.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/artist-pedagogy-how-workers-reactedArtist pedagogy: how workers reacted243.51132.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/creating-safe-environmentCreating a safe environment597.01037.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/reflective-practiceReflective practice96.5572.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/practical-guide-music-making-looked-after-children-0A practical guide for music making with looked after children8.517.2""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/working-challenging-behaviour-experiences-working-looked-after-childrenWorking with challenging behaviour: experiences from working with looked after children804.01095.2""#0000002

Social pedagogy is a term that is becoming more familiar in England. Whereas in UK ‘education’ and ‘social care’ have long been seen as very separate disciplines, in much of mainland Europe, social pedagogues work across a variety of settings, including foster care support, residential care and early years, and blend informal education and care practices. The education of social pedagogues prepares them to share many aspects of children’s daily lives. In Denmark 25% of the curriculum for social pedagogues consists of creative activities, seen as a medium for relating to children and promoting creativity.

This visualisation gives an overview of social pedagogy, supporting and developing with and around the child. The text in this visualisation builds on the Artist Pedagogue Framework developed by Helen Chambers and Pat Petrie for NCB (National Children's Bureau) and CCE (Creativity, Culture and Education). You can find out about the work with vulnerable children that this emerged from on the NCB website. Click on the dots for more information about the different parts of the diagram.


Click here for a text version of this visualisation

What is social pedagogy?

Social pedagogy is a term that is becoming more familiar in England, but a brief outline may be helpful. At the level of policy, social pedagogy can be seen as addressing social issues by educational means – it has been described as ‘education in its broadest sense’. Whereas in UK ‘education’ and ‘social care’ have long been seen as very separate disciplines, in much of mainland Europe, social pedagogues work across a variety of settings, including foster care support, residential care and early years, and blend informal education and care practices. The education of social pedagogues prepares them to share many aspects of children’s daily lives. In Denmark 25% of the curriculum for social pedagogues consists of creative activities, seen as a medium for relating to children and promoting creativity.

Social pedagogues see the child as a whole person, a thinking, feeling, physical, creative and social being and bring themselves, ‘head, hands and heart’ – their thinking, their practical help and their emotions - to their relationships with children. They are not distant professionals. Their aim is to support children’s overall development by active encouragement and building trust, seeing the children as human beings of equal value to themselves and worthy of respect. They present children with new possibilities and offer activities that are challenging, but not too challenging.

As professionals, social pedagogues are encouraged to reflect on practice individually and with colleagues as the basis for moving the work forward. In doing so, they resort to both theoretical understandings and self-knowledge. There is a strong emphasis on team work and cooperation with the other professionals and members of the community (Petrie et al 2006; Petrie, 2010).

Politics of social pedagogy

In the UK in the late 20th Century there was a substantial separation between the 'education' and 'care' of children and young people manifested by

  • These services being located in different departments of national and of local government;
  • professional disagreements between social workers and educationists on the ground.

The New Labour commitment to joined up thinking was furthered through the Laming Report after the death of Victoria Climbie. Subsequent policies, set out in Every Child Matters and Care Matters and embodied nationally in a Minister for Children and locally in Children and Young People's Departments, brought together Education and the childcare dimension of Social Services and,  in the national and local Children's Plans,  raised an awareness of social pedagogy's potential contribution to these developments.

Social pedagogy's profile is increasing among those working in social care with looked after children and more generally with 'early years' and youth services - all three of which are frequent partners of community music organisations. It may therefore be helpful for community musicians to understand the principles influencing these sectors.

Principles of social pedagogy

Professor Pat Petrie of the Centre for the Understanding of Social Pedagogy at the Institute for Education, University of London, is a leading authority in the UK on social pedagogy. Pat evaluated the recent Sing Up/NCB national programme of singing projects with looked after children. In her view, social pedagogy is based on the following principles:

  • There is a focus on the child as a whole person and support for the child's overall development
  • The practitioner sees her/himself as a person in relationship with the child or young person
  • Children and staff are seen as inhabiting the same life space, not as existing is separate hierarchical domains
  • As professionals, pedagogues are encouraged constantly to reflect on their practice and to apply both theoretical understandings and self-knowledge to the sometimes challenging demands with which they are confronted;
  • Pedagogues are also practical, so their training prepares them to share in many aspects of children's daily lives and activities;
  • Children's associative life is seen as  an important resource: workers should foster and make use of the group;
  • Pedagogy builds on an understanding of children's rights that is not limited to procedural matters or legislated requirements;
  • There is an emphasis on team work and on valuing the contributions of others in bringing up children: other professionals; members of the community and especially parents;
  • the relationship is central and allied to this is the importance of listening and communicating.

(Petrie P et al 2006)

Petrie elsewhere also highlights the 3H model of Head, Hands and Heart which is central to social pedagogy:

Head - thinking about the child and what they need
Hands - dealing with all the practical stuff of everyday life so that children can be safe, have fun and learn about the world around them
Heart - taking a ‘whole child’ perspective, making a relationship with the child, sharing their joy and wonder about the world and being there when they are sad and upset or things go wrong.

Artist pedagogy: the background

In 2008, the Arts Council England and Creative Partnerships funded Helen Chambers, Principle Officer at the NCB, together with Professor Pat Petrie of the  Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy at the Institute of Education, University of London, to examine how creativity could be embedded in the lives of looked after children and how this related to social pedagogy. The report People with Passion, one output of this project, identified from its preliminary survey of 6 local authorities that

  • there is minimal understanding and some anxiety among care practitioners, managers and commissioners about a range of issues, including how to engage with cultural services, what is appropriate arts practice and how to assess the quality of the practitioner and practice
  • looked after children need support and encouragement from carers and social workers to access opportunities to take part in arts and creative work and to try out unfamiliar activities;
  • arts and creativity are not generally recognised as contributing to child development;
    (Petrie and Chambers 2009)

The fieldwork undertaken in three high quality arts organisations for this project, led to the development of ‘A brief Learning Framework for Artist Pedagogues’, funded by Creativity, Culture and Education and the NCB (give forthcoming web reference here)). The Framework also drew on a study for Arts Council England of the part played by the visual and performing arts in the education and practice of Danish social pedagogues
(Petrie and Chambers, 2010)

In ‘I want to sing: the Sing Up National Children’s Bureau Looked After Children Evaluation (2011), the authors noted:

The principles of social pedagogy were seen by project leaders to benefit singing and music making because they set a social context where children could enjoy themselves, feel safe and accepted, and risk making their own valuable contributions to activities.

They also highlighted that:

One of the biggest learning points ...was children's capacity

  • for creativity and
  • for singing and enjoying challenging music, both from the Western tradition and from world music.

This should not be underestimated.
(Evaluation of the Sing UP NCB Programme)


As part of the Learning Framework, Chambers and Petrie offered in Figure 1 a table which set out in its left hand column 8 Areas for Reflection and in its right, statements of what each Area might look like "In Practice'. We take the content of Figure 1 and add illustrative examples of how individual music/singing activities with looked after children have attempted to address the principles.

Children as whole persons

In Practice

There is a focus on children  as whole persons  and support and consideration  for their well-being physically, emotionally, socially and creatively. There is place for the expression of fun and joy, as well as more difficult emotions.

Illustrations from practice

In Sound It Out, at the beginning of each session while eating together, the adults encouraged the children to talk about their day or share any news. For example, a singing leader reported that in one session, some of the boys were talking a lot about school and she felt that it was important for her to listen attentively to what they were saying, rather than move on immediately to singing as if this was not connected with the rest of their lives:

“I think it’s remembering that everything you say has an impact on them and that training on social pedagogy really helped us understand that a lot more. It was definitely worth doing. The fact that you’re playing a part in how they all develop – I know we should be aware of that anyway but sometimes it’s difficult.”
(Support worker, Sound It Out, quoted in Evaluation of Sing Up NCB programme)

Working with children holistically rather than seeing music activities as separate from the children's other experiences was seen by almost all of the leaders as essential for good practice:

“We are community musicians and we have to work with well-being in a holistic way, about feeling good, positive engagement and finding out what the children are like and are good at.”
(Singing leader, Music Pool)

Illustrated in another project by:

"At one session that was observed for the evaluation, a large part of the session was taken up with the children drawing and writing about their week in a scrapbook (an activity they thoroughly enjoyed). In this way, the children were seen as being ‘whole’ and not just there to learn singing."
(Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB Programme)

Another example of this principle – from SoundLincs in the Sing Up NCB programme - was described by one of the music leaders who attended the fostering BBQs. At one of the BBQs – which also coincided with an England match in the World Cup – there were 3 boys who appeared to be angry that they had been made to go to the BBQ. They refused to get involved at first but rather than be discouraged how the boys were feeling, the music leaders used this anger positively when they asked them act as drummers. They also used the Warrior song to appeal to the boys’ interests. This approach also validated the boys’ feelings and encouraged the integration of their interests into the groups’ activities. 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.

In the Sing Up NCB programme there were several examples of the curriculum emerging from the very specific needs of the individual:

In Pie Factory Music, a particularly successful piece of work was carried out with a boy aged 8, described as on the high end of the autistic spectrum. Project staff wanted to include him but were concerned that with severe communication and learning difficulties he would not be able to take part in group sessions. So singing leaders visited him at home over a number of sessions and made recordings of him at home, with the sounds that he appeared to enjoy the most. Regular communication with the foster carers was crucial. For example, the child appeared to enjoy humming but the foster carers said that he hummed either because he was happy or because he was trying to drown out a sound he found irritating. The leaders produced a DVD in which the child was central. There was the noise of a washing machine and rhythmic sounds such as a clock ticking, together with the boy’s voice, singing and humming. Later, the carers said that they had used the DVD when the child was 'over stimulated and having behaviour issues' and it had a positive, calming effect.

And finding ways to personalise within the school system:

"A high point was when a participant highlighted the (music) project as the only thing they were currently enjoying and we were able to send resources to his school so they could work on this with him when he was excluded from class."
(Project report)

Playfulness and fun are taken seriously:

“Our approach is about being free, about play, about ‘space to be’, and that is part of our philosophy and ethos.”
(Project leader)

"It's an opportunity to play - especially important for our children who may have missed this and it is hard for them to do it in an age appropriate way without feeling embarrassed - the arts provides this in a legitimate way." (Care Manager in People with Passion)

The focus on meeting individual needs contributes to impact. A participant in a leaving care project comments:

"I love it. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me at the moment."

Relationship with children

In Practice

The artist pedagogue sees her/himself not only as an artist, who inspires children's creativity, but also as someone whose relationship with the children can have a wider effect. The relationship between the artist pedagogue and the children should be based on respecting the children and building their trust. The children need to experience a sense of security as a basis for developing confidence and a feeling of worth, in themselves and in their creative practice.

Illustrations from practice

"In Sound It Out, part of the Sing Up NCB programme, sessions began with snacks and news sharing by children and adults for half an hour followed by musical games, then break-out groups for more focused music making, according to what the children wanted. At the beginning of the evening, a simple buffet was provided for all the children, young people, foster carers, musicians and support staff so that they could socialise with each other and start the session on friendly terms."
(Project manager)

“It’s like the pieces of a jigsaw, they come along and they start to feel comfortable and secure, then their confidence starts to build and then comes trust”
(Programme director)

People in the projects tried for a different relationship with the looked after children than these young people usually had with their teachers:

"The advantage of this approach was that young people were taken ‘at face value’ and were not judged on their previous behaviour. This was perceived to add to the feeling that music was a ‘leveller’ and their relationship with the music leader would be different from that with other adults in their lives. However, this was dependent on carers being involved and providing appropriate support where necessary."
(Project report, Sing Up NCB programme)

A care leaver participant on the Curveball project commented:

"The musicians don’t look down on us. They help us learn at our own pace, trust us with the instruments and make it easy for us and fun."

One of the musicians on the project felt:

"Emotions are infectious – instilling positivity and peace to counteract bad vibes & not reacting and ‘not holding grudge’ – giving YP fresh start every week."

The project manager of CoMusica asserts the value of relationship-based provision as a constant in looked after children’s lives.

"It was important that it was more than just a 5 session project. ‘We developed a model which had weekly sessions in term-time over the course of a year – and some young people have been in the group over the three years we’ve been doing it. We try for consistency in staffing too. Building up relationships with the same musicians over a long period contributes to the consistency that is missing in so many looked after children’s lives."

Relevant theories and self-knowledge

In Practice

The artist pedagogue is open to learning opportunities such as finding out about relevant theories such as attachment theory.

Artist pedagogues are also observant of their own emotional reactions to the work. They need to reflect on the feelings that arise in the sometimes challenging demands they may meet when working with children.

The artist pedagogue applies both theory and self-knowledge to practice.

Illustrations from practice

A social care manager in a project on the Sing Up NCB programme noted the appetite of  the musicians for learning:

"Musicians suddenly got a passion when they saw the little changes. Wonderful to work with community musicians who just wanted to keep growing, for example, really seeking to go into depth on autism."

Social pedagogic reflection proved beneficial in most Sing Up NCB projects. One reported:

"The singing leaders received an initial training session before the project delivery began, during which they were introduced to Social Pedagogy and the concept of Artist Pedagogue. ... During the training session the singing leaders also heard from a social worker, a foster carer and a child psychologist in addition to a member of staff  from ECLAS. The training was ongoing and practical (which suited most of the leaders learning styles) and took place before each delivery session with group reflection at the end. This enabled us to address issues and learning as needed."

Another project manager reflected:

"Overall I think the process of in depth evaluation using the Heads, Hands and Heart model, the reflection process, meetings, gatherings and training has left all of them thinking and saying lots of positive things, being honest about the tough bits, applying the learning they have made but wanting to do more of the work."

A typical response from musicians on the Sing Up NCB programme was:

“The project work has been very hard but rewarding, I have learnt a lot about levels of expectations, seeing past the obvious, recognising a wide range young people achievements outside of singing. It has had a big emotional effect on me but has given me more of a heart for this work in the future”
(Singing tutor)

A project manager made the important observation:

“The training had a big emotional impact on the participating artists /singing leaders and reminded us of our responsibility to their welfare and the emotional support we must give them throughout the project.”

One project involved care experienced young people as co- or sole trainers:

"Total Respect Training, devised by CROA was also delivered to Rhythmix music tutors, to improve their knowledge, skills and practice when working with children and young people in care. This was delivered by the Youth Development Service and a Care leaver, where tutors learnt about the issues that young people in care face, as well as dealing with the risk of emotional triggers and safeguarding procedures and the care system in general. The learning from this training has been evident in the direct delivery to children and young people, as tutors have shown a real empathy toward the young people and are better equip to deal with their emotions."

Senior staff in one of the Sing Up NCB projects were cautiously exploring the interface with therapy:

"Although I don’t think we can claim to be music therapists I do think we have a part to play in the therapy and therapeutic input to LACYP. I believe we can unlock doors that trained therapists can go through. (The Lead Musician) summed it up at the gathering by saying she has learnt how far to go and recognising when to pull back and to leave the next stage to the professionals."
(Project Manager)

Everyday activities as well as creative work

In Practice

Artist pedagogues are practical. They pay attention to the everyday activities that their work involves, alongside those that relate more directly to creativity. This may include, for example, arranging and giving considerations to mealtimes and snacks, settling in times at the beginning of work; and transport arrangements.

Illustrations from practice

Whitewood and Fleming, quoted in People with Passion, recount how they stumbled across the importance of this principle:

"We booked a room for all our sessions with young people. We booked it from 12 noon-5pm to allow for set up and de-rig time for a series of 2-2.5 hour sessions. The participation worker from the local authority on hearing the session times naturally notified the young people and organised transport to suit. We then realised our mistake - we had inadvertently organised a five-hour session with looked after children of all ages, all at the same time!

"We decided to look upon this as a unique opportunity to approach our work differently. If young people were with us from 12 noon until 5pm they would have to work alongside us and help every stage in the process - help unload the van, prepare the room, sort the kitchen arrangements, eat lunch, prepare the forthcoming sessions etc.

"The results were extremely interesting. As sessions progressed, we all began to look at the whole experience differently - no longer were we running a coherently planned two hour session. Instead we began by chatting over sandwiches, talking through events of the past week, making friends, sharing jokes - and setting up workstations of activities around the room together - a video corner, a photography corner, piano keyboard, music laptop etc., a making table, a sofa downstairs for chats and talking...

"The relaxed nature of the process also allowed us to relax our planning, undertaking this process together, empowering each individual further - so each session began with a descrip0tion of what was on offer today, followed by a summation of what jobs were left over from the week before - 'X, you have to finish your film, Y, you have to work more on your poem if you want to turn it more into a song, and so on...\We were spending time together as young people and artists, sharing skills, supporting individuals, discovering new technology in a totally non-pressured way.

"Perhaps we have unearthed and extremely useful working model, one that can develop creative relationships to a high, intense degree."

Similarly, on the Sing Up NCB programme:

"Each week at Curve the children were given special individual tea-time boxes and we also provided the children with exotic fruits that they perhaps wouldn’t have experienced. It was a great way to get them eating fruit and by the end they were intrigued and excited by what they were going to get this week. We made fruit cocktail pineapples and gave them sharon fruits, lychees etc… It proved good fun and meant that we avoided any artificial sweeteners or too much sugar which obviously has a direct effect on behaviour."

Being and working together

In Practice

The artist pedagogue fosters the importance of working together as a group. This applies to all the children and adults who are involved in a piece of work, including for example, carers.

There is no feeling of 'us and them' among the different professionals who may be participating or between adults and children. This understanding can be demonstrated, for example, by everyone sharing mealtimes or snacks or clearing up.

Illustrations from practice

One Social Care manager on the Sing Up NCB programme commented:

"These children are capable of so much if they are drawn in to the process as well."

A sense of belonging and egalitarianism seemed to predominate:

"Social pedagogues often speak about people sharing the same living space when they are engaged in activities together. In the living space, everyone is seen as of equal worth - there may be people with different functions but there is no feeling that some are more valuable than others."
(Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB programme)

Most projects successfully involved social workers and foster carers as participants, not as disciplinarians:
Involving adults such as foster carers is in tune with social pedagogic principles of encouraging non-hierarchical relationships in the lives of children and for adults and children to inhabit the same life spaces.

The style was open:

"Adults and children working in partnership together and in a democratic manner was particularly evident in the small group music sessions. The children and young people were observed to be very engaged and focused on song writing and/or performing."
(Project report)


In the Music Pool project on the Sing Up NCB programme:

"A direct result of the work of their Participation and Partnership Manager means that Herefordshire Looked After children experience and demonstrate a natural feeling of’ family’ between the older and younger children and this was no more evident than at the ‘Celebration Evening’. Several members of the audience were overheard commenting on this strong sense of bonding. This helped to make the work of a project like ‘High Tide’ both natural, simple and focused. This shared approach which is embedded in Social Pedagogy, was embraced by Music Specialists and Local Authority management, and together with the children’s sense of ‘family’, was key to the success of the project."

A  social care manager of Curveball leaving care project commented:

"It was an opportunity (for staff and young people) to have fun together. Too often workers are forced to see young people as problems rather than people with problems."

One observation for the Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB programme, picked up on the easy intergenerational and peer-peer relationships:

“The session is taking place throughout two rooms, one larger with floor cushions and rugs and a smaller room through an adjoining door.  At times this door is closed. At others the children move freely between the two rooms. I am not always sure why children go from one room to another as no one has asked them to, but they seem to know what they are doing and the free nature of their movement adds to the informal and relaxing atmosphere. This part of the session is an unstructured session after lunch with approximately 12 children (ages c. 4-11) doing a variety of activities, such as their work books, drawing, singing songs, using the microphone and recording, alongside about 4 adults.

"Some of the children start singing ‘out of the blue’ while they are drawing and writing.  I am struck by their freedom of expression. The staff are working alongside and with the children – there is no sense that the adults are there as people who necessarily know more than the children; this is a partnership and the adults and children are doing activities together.”

The rights of children to be heard

In Practice

Artist pedagogues do not limit their understanding of children's rights to procedures and legislation. They believe that children have a right to contribute their experience and ideas to the activities in which they participate - creative or otherwise.

A strength of creative practice is that it is a means by which children's voices may be heard about matters that concern them deeply. However, creative activity with looked after children should not necessarily be 'issue led.' Play and fun can be just as appropriate.

Illustrations from practice

Myrtle Theatre Company exemplified the approach of many projects on the Sing Up NCB programme, encouraging children to ‘lead the way’:

"We set out to make the sessions as playful as possible with an emphasis on fun. It seemed essential to let the children lead the way by creating a story, lyrics and music that came from them. It is important to note therefore that given the freedom to set their own agenda the story became a metaphor for their lives with “lava man who stole children’s voices” being a central character. By allowing creative freedom the children were able to have a voice and explore difficult areas of their lives without having an issue imposed on them. As pedagogic artists working with them we felt it important to help them create a positive ending."

The Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB programme reported the empowering aspect of some of the work with looked after children with disabilities:

"In one place, two profoundly disabled children, age 9 and 5, received hour long weekly sessions in their foster home with a singing leader over a period of several months. The singing leader introduced the children to music by using his laptop to make electronic sounds, a microphone, a keyboard and shakers and bells. On one occasion a carer's friend also brought a harp for the children to touch and experience.

"The effects of the sessions on the children were said to be visible and profound. The residential staff reported that the sessions gave children the opportunity to make choices and decisions for themselves, apparently lacking in other areas of their lives....One of the foster carers described the sessions as ‘an answer to a prayer’ as other after school activities would not accept these children because of their profound impairments...One of the foster carers described the sessions as ‘an answer to a prayer’ as other after school activities would not accept these children because of their profound impairments."

The Youth Music Evidence Review commented:

"By ensuring that young people felt they had choice in terms of their participation and the content of the project, this was perceived to be an empowering experience for a group of young people who could often feel disempowered by their experience of being in care."

Team around the child-centred

In practice

Artist pedagogues value teamwork and respect the contributions of others in bringing up children. They form good working relationships with other professionals, members of the local community, and especially with parents and carers. This is for the well-being of the children concerned and to underpin the success of the creative activities undertaken.

Illustrations from practice

"A strong team around the child provides consistency of care and smooth handovers between agencies."
(Project manager)

Music projects invested substantial time in building up this team approach:

"Attention to setting up a project, probably a very long run in. Work with other partners. With partners across social services. Not a good idea to rely on one strong relationship as they can move. Carers have busy lives, so very careful work to bring your carers in. To appreciate the value of what an arts organisation can provide but respecting their situation."
(Project Manager)

The team included support staff:

"Dudley Children’s and Youth Services donated the time of five support workers to the project in kind. Their input to project delivery was invaluable and their contributions to the weekly reflection sessions were incredibly helpful to the musicians on the project. Their unique perspective was beneficial in helping the artists to understand the behaviours of the participants in a wider context. This collaboration between musicians and support workers added another dimension to the partnership that will be sustained in the future work of all involved. The musicians and assistant musicians have all gained valuable experience in working with LAC and would be keen to continue working with LAC in the future."

....and foster carers

"Foster carers’ input was considered invaluable. They knew the young person extremely well and their on-going support and engagement was perceived to contribute greatly to the positive outcomes for the young people. Furthermore..it could benefit their relationship with the young person through the principles of social pedagogy."(Project Manager on Sing Up NCB programme)

"In Sound it Out we were very pleased that a small group of foster carers regularly attended sessions and spent time developing their friendships. This had been our original intention and we feel that this opportunity for foster carers to socialise and spend time together was very beneficial. However, nearer the end of the project the carers started to come and join in some of the sessions and this seemed to have a very calming effect on the group. In retrospect I think it could have been a good experience for the children to have their foster carers present and involved from the beginning."

Providing a time to talk informally and get to know the foster carers was important. In the Leicester Sing Up project:

"When the foster carers dropped off their foster child they stayed for tea and cake in the Curve café where registration and a meet and greet takes place.  This gave us a chance to talk to the children on a 1 to 1, share a sandwich and talk with the individual carers about the children.  We started to form good relationships with the carers and have been able to sign post them to the next foster care training sessions. Carers also talked to each other over coffee, which was great to see."

Social workers

"It was really important that we had a mixture of artists and staff from CYPS. It meant that we had a broader and deeper understanding of working with Looked After Children. It was also fantastic for both parties to share knowledge, develop new skills and work together."
(Project Manager)

..and even Independent Reviewing Officers

"Independent reviews can be very useful. Make sure that the independent reviewing officer who chairs the review knows about the child’s interests, activities and achievements. If you are having problems getting something organised or finding the right activity – this is the time to speak up. Encourage children to mention their interests as it is all part of helping them feel good about themselves."
(Project Manager)

as well, of course, as administrators

"Our Liaison person between the Foster Carers and us from Leicester City Council Fostering Services, was absolutely vital to get the Carers we did get. She produced the registers and even publicity leaflets and Certificates which were recognisable to the Foster Carers, by matching them to other courses offered such as First Aid for example."
(Project Manager)

but roles within the team needed to be discussed and agreed:

"Several examples of multidisciplinary teams, washing up, co-planning the work, not people sitting on the edge to troubleshoot."
(Project Manager)

Roles included liaising over progression for the young people:

"Supporting young people’s musical progression was another key role for partners. This was both during the lifetime of the project and beyond. This included buying or organising access to an instrument; providing a place for young people to practise outside the sessions and beyond; and giving them the encouragement to keep progressing. It was also noted that they needed to work with the project lead on the ‘what next’ plan so that signposting could be acted upon."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

"I spent some time going to young people in their homes and in youth provision to consult and build in progressional paths."
(Project Manager on Sing Up NCB programme)

Positive role models

In Practice

Artist pedagogues should be aware of themselves as role models for the adults and children with whom they work.

This should be reflected in the respect they show to others and the importance they attach to attentive listening and responding supportively to other group members.

Illustrations from practice

"Music leaders tended to be described as positive role models for these 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. 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 music-making 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)

A foster carer on one of the Sing Up NCB projects commented:

"These children and young people are not particularly trusting of the adult world and to see them work together is great; 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."

Artist pedagogy: how workers reacted

"For most of the projects and their partners there was the impact of working, perhaps for the first time, in a social pedagogic framework.... This allowed practitioners to work with greater confidence in themselves and in the children. Many commented that they would take this way of working with them to future work – both with looked after children and with other children."
(Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB programme)

A project leader commented on the impact that (their local) partnership had:

“It's wonderful, we want to learn from [the looked after children's educational service] and they're learning from us about what they can provide for the children [they see that it's] more than a spare time activity, it's about their development.”

The educational partner at the same project, who had herself taken a full and active part in sessions, said:

“It's given us a vehicle for everybody - carers, artists and for me to take back what we've learned to the looked after children's education services... The project will definitely have an effect on me.... And definitely it has had an effect on the carers themselves.”

She thought that the social pedagogic approach used by the project showed that it was possible to be a bit more informal and take more risks:

“It's brought awareness about the level of complexity in children's lives, it's astonishing for me, I'm used to learning about them as cases.”
(Evaluation of Sing Up NCB Project)

Creating a safe environment

What is the significance  of creating a safe environment for musical projects with looked after children?

Creating a safe environment is a central element of the social pedagogic approach.

"The importance of providing a safe and secure environment for looked after children was emphasised by both carers and music leaders- this refers both to their physical and emotional safety. Without this they felt that participants would not have the opportunity to benefit from the full range of potential outcomes. While this is important for all projects with young people, it was considered particularly so for looked after children because many will have experienced unsafe environments in the past."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

And:

"Taking a child/young person-centred approach had particular value for working with looked after children. First it helped create the safe and secure environment.... Second, it encouraged them to take risks that they felt comfortable with that could result in their learning new skills, and in turn a valuable sense of achievement."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Implications for practice

The importance of familiar faces and consistency

There are a great number of adults in the life of a looked after child.  The early hurts in the life of some looked after children – physical, emotional and sexual – were at the hands of adults. As a result, some looked after children are wary of adults. Projects need to

  • develop consistency in the membership of the musician  team where possible
  • ensure care staff who are familiar faces to the children can provide continuity in the group where possible
  • develop good relationships with foster carers who can be helped to judge when to be present but in the background/elsewhere in the building, when their foster child needs specific support, and when it is mutually beneficial for the foster carer to join fully in the group.

Implications for the choice of venue

Discuss criteria for the selection of venues with care managers at the outset. There is tension between safety and stimulus but care managers will have substantial experience of what needs to be taken into consideration.

Managing the physical environment

Care managers will need to do risk assessments of the premises to be used and musicians should aim to be partners in this. In the early meetings of a group in particular, attention needs to be paid to the size of the rooms to be used ( a balance between space to run around and let off steam after schools and a space where individuals have a clear focus on the task in hand), the positioning of musicians’ equipment, the timing and positioning of any drinks and snacks, and the way young people move from the entrance to the building to the rooms to be used. A seating plan for the group may be a good idea. A collectively developed set of groundrules about the use of the environment will probably need to be developed – and can be developed into a song if required.

Building relationships, creating emotional safety and appropriate boundaries

Social pedagogic practice has the quality of adult- child, child-child and adult- adult relationships at its heart. All need attention and constant reflecting on and re-evaluating.

Information sharing

Care staff in the delivery team will need to be updated by foster carers and social workers if something significant happens in a child’s life between sessions which may affect their behaviour. There will be an understanding between the musicians, care staff and foster carers about how, if at all, such information should be shared.

Illustrations from practice

The importance of familiar faces and consistency

Myrtle Theatre Company on the Sing Up NCB programme reported:

"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."

Loud and Clear, Co-Musica, runs weekly sessions throughout the year and staffs them musically for continuity. This enables trusting relationships to be built up between musicians and looked after children with the support of carers.

Implications for the choice of venue

"Safe physical environments included venues where: other uninvited people (both adults and young people) could not observe their music-making, as confidentiality was an important concern; and those to which they could travel without worrying about meeting adults with whom they were not supposed to have contact (for example a parent)."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Managing the physical environment

The Leicester Sing Up project described thinking which was replicated in many Sing Up NCB projects:

"Each week at our weekly singing sessions we engineered the space to ensure that we created a safe, calm environment. Using a circle of chairs in the centre of the room was instrumental to creating a calm environment from the off. We used a carefully planned adult/child seating plan and got the children to find their chair each week at the beginning of the session. It was good having two rooms as we’d all meet and greet in one and then move through into the activity room to sit down. This meant that we were able to calm everyone down before entering the creative space.

"Positioning of activity chairs and tables were also carefully considered. Placing them away from any potentially hazardous areas. Anything that wasn’t required and would potentially distract any of the children was removed or hidden away. We’d make sure there was calm before we started and that if things started to get out of control staff would ask whoever it was an instruction in a calm authoritative tone and all activity would stop until that person either rejoined the group or was distracted by a member of staff with another activity in the breakout room."

Building relationships, creating emotional safety and appropriate boundaries

"Sing Up NCB looked after children projects were best undertaken not as singing classes in miniature, but as pleasant places for adults and children to form warm relationships – places for a variety of musical and other creative and social activities with singing at the centre."
(Evaluation of SingUp NCB programme)

“It’s like the pieces of a jigsaw, they come along and they start to feel comfortable and secure, then their confidence starts to build and then comes trust” (programme director)

“We have seen dramatic changes and improvements in individual self-confidence and self-esteem as the children feel supported and safe within their group environment and grow together” (report by project lead organisation)

"The skills of the music leader and other project staff were at the core of creating this safe environment, as well as there being a child/young person-centred approach to delivery."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

The musicians had to be able to recognise boundaries in relationships: being friendly but not a long term friend.  In one Sing Up NCB project, some young people, too, had "difficulty understanding the boundaries of the relationships with tutors", something which benefited from collective reflection and taking a team approach.

“After the first session, some leaders said that they needed support about children initiating physical contact with them, for example, feeling uncomfortable when a child came and sat on their knee or when another child had been digging another practitioner in his tummy."

One social work manager linked with a Sing Up NCB project commented:

"The children felt comfortable and held."

This requires a degree of emotional literacy on the part of the musicians. One singing leader in another project showed awareness of this aspect:

"Emotionally: how do you hold yourself to enable the young people to be safe to say what they need to through the lyric-writing?"

The emotional well-being of the staff team was of paramount importance:

"Ensure artists have support for their emotional well-being to ensure safe practice... and enable them to 'hear the wells of unhappiness."
(Project managers, Sing Up NCB project)

and, from another project, to support them emotionally so that young people can "tap a forgotten world of happiness."

In one project a project manager commented, however:

"Care workers are so bound by procedures that it can distance them from the child: creative contact can keep a safe contact'."

Information sharing

And then there was the familiar problem about how much and how information about the looked after young people in the group should be shared.

One project manager on a Sing Up NCB programme reflected:

"Lack of information passed on about specific issues (ethical issues to deal with here). Need to work out how we share ethically."

"Very occasionally, musicians felt inappropriately vulnerable when exposed to a child's behaviour about which they felt they should have been warned. More often, carers highlighted in the pre-session meeting any changes in the child's life since the last meeting if it was likely to affect their behaviour. Some musicians didn't want to know much about the child  prior to working with them as they feared this might make them treat the child 'as a case'. Others felt they needed some background, particularly if they were pursuing with their social work partner what was in some cases almost therapeutic activity.

"Things seemed to go best when carers who know the children well were seen as full and important members of the project team. They were often astute at picking up warning signs of upset early on and, because of their relationship, particularly in the early parts of the project, had a good chance of offering the best support."
(Project review, Sing Up NCB programme)

Reflective practice

What is the significance of reflective practice for musical projects with looked after children?

The dynamics of a musical activity project with looked after children are complex. The agenda addresses the emotional, social and musical development of each individual young person, as well as child-child, child-adult and adult-adult relationships. There is the overarching imperative for safeguarding and creating a safe environment as well as for growth, development and creativity. Put simply, there is a great deal to reflect on and try to make sense of both for individual adults involved but where possible with all those who have been involved in delivery. There are also major benefits in involving young people at one level in the processes of learning from experience.

Implications for practice

Reflective questions may be helpful to help surface information and opinion and make sense of:

  • What went well and why in a session?
  • What went less well and why in the session?
  • Observation and interpretation of children’s individual and collective reaction to what happened in a session
  • Particular behaviours, positive and less positive, and possible triggers for these behaviours
  • Children’s achievements and changes during a session and from one session to the next
  • The adults’ teamwork during a session
  • The feelings that individual adults are left with after the session
  • Implications of the reflection for future sessions and any action before the next session

Carrying out some reflection with the children during the session perhaps on the Head, Hands and Heart model of what they thought, what they felt and what practical changes they might like to see, can

  • Give them a voice and demonstrate respect if their thinking is taken seriously
  • Develop their skill of reflecting on, analysing and learning from their experience in an age-appropriate way
  • Give the delivery team important information for the design of future sessions.

The delivery team members need to be committed to this approach and be given the paid time to engage with it both before and after a session and in more standback planning and evaluation activity.

Individual reflective journals, delivery team reflective journals and project books – in which young people and adults on the project together record accounts, thoughts, feelings and  images of the project – can both promote reflection and provide a valuable record of the activity.

Illustrations from practice

The Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB programme commented:

"Purposeful reflection, acknowledging the part played by feelings, building on successes and planning to avoid problems in future, is a principle of social pedagogy. At the beginning and throughout the Sing Up NCB programme, the project leaders, singing leaders and young leaders were encouraged to reflect on their practice using the ‘head, hands and heart’ framework. In one project, there was some difficulty in arranging time for joint reflection because of the costs involved in bringing leaders together.

"Nevertheless almost all of the project leaders kept reflective journals to chart their thoughts, feelings and plans about the work. In Sound It Out the ‘head hands and heart’ reflection framework, devised by the evaluators, was used in workforce development sessions to encourage musicians and support workers to think about their interactions with children. Twenty minutes were allocated at the end of each evening session for them to get together and discuss how the evening had gone, the positive aspects and any challenges. Elsewhere as much as an hour was allowed for reflection."

“This [working with looked after children] made us reflect on our practice. We realised that you need to look out for those children who don’t ask for help by setting a creative task and it's also important to notice children who are sitting without doing anything. “
(Singing leader, Music Pool)


Joint reflection could also be an opportunity to come to terms with areas which might otherwise not be aired. In one project a singing leader commented on problems that could arise when 'artist egos are brought together'. In another, a leader said supporting the children, not just showing what they could do as performers, had been difficult to start with and that other leaders may have had the same problem too. She said "I think it was the reflections sections which helped with all of this."

Having time to bring these different aspects of the work into the open and discussing them with colleagues were seen as of great benefit. One of the Pie Factory staff commented how the training sessions and reflective practice had helped a young leader specifically regarding some aspects of her work, which the music leaders had discussed with her:

"The session went well due to everyone joining in with the discussion. I had a view on everything but managed to avoid talking over people but failed once or twice. Action – Try not to have a view on everything.”
(Young leader)

SoundLincs observed of the use of group diaries in their project:

"Groups have valued maintaining their diaries, and this is especially true of the Family Groups.   Many of the participant anecdotes used in this final report have been transcribed from diaries.  Singing Leaders have reported that the Diaries bring a still and reflective mood to the group as they consider which of the sessions activities they will draw or describe. 

"The way Family Groups have used the books has been interesting to learn.  There seemed to be a reluctance to directly mark the book at the outset with individuals drawing or writing on paper which then became fixed into the book.  As the group became more established, participants felt more able to directly mark the book.  The keeping of a group diary seems more successful with smaller groups and an activity that soundLINCS will continue to develop with PITCH IN and other appropriate project work."

Individual reflective journals. In one project on the Sing Up NCB programme

"the music leaders have been encouraged to keep reflective journals – these have been handwritten in personal notebooks – and the Project Co-ordinator places high value of being available for supervision and support whenever necessary."

It is unclear whether the reflective journals and the supervision were linked but practice in allied professions e.g. youth work and some aspects of clinical supervision in health and social services is often for reference to reflective journals being part of the professional development aspect of supervision.

The logistical challenges in facilitating additional meetings for reflective practice were noted:

"Separate meetings for reflection have been difficult to arrange because the music leaders are freelance and meetings have a cost implication. Also, the geographical spread that soundLINCS covers has made it difficult for music leaders to meet together regularly."

In other projects, phone conferences have been used to overcome travel costs but staff time still needs budgeting in.

Working with challenging behaviour: experiences from working with looked after children

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