by Author rob.hunter

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Should foster carers be involved in the musical activity sessions with looked after children?

Why this is an important question

Very occasionally, the presence of foster carers in the music group alongside their foster children may be inhibiting. This can usually be resolved by good communication between the musicians, foster carers, CYPS staff and the child themselves.

For the most part, at least with primary aged children, the  strategy of seeing foster carers as full partners is most beneficial:

  • Getting there: if foster carers’ commitment to the project can be gained, this helps in maintaining the child’s enthusiasm for the musical and social aspects of the project as well, simply, as transporting the child to the session
  • Before the session: informal contact between project staff and foster carers on arrival can help build the partnership, exchange any significant information
  • During the session: there are two main possibilities:
    • Full membership of the sessions for fostercarers. This has enabled extra support for the foster child as necessary, having fun together outside the home, new insights for the foster carer about the child’s behaviour and potential
    • Foster carers sitting with other foster carers in the building but not in the group. Well-managed this can become an informal support or social group for foster carers while enabling them to be brought in if the child or situation needs it
  • After the session: conversations on the way home from sessions and during the week between sessions can help embed learning and explore progression routes.

Towards answers

It is important for the project managers to take a strategic as well as organisational approach to partnership with foster carers:

Strategic: involving foster carers and their associations in the local authority from the outset as key partners in terms of the purpose, potential forms and organisational arrangements

Operational: staff team to discuss and negotiate with foster carers their respective roles in the sessions in order to  develop clarity about what a good session will look like and to avoid misunderstandings.

Illustrations from practice

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

"Without the support of young people’s carers and the relevant services it was reported that projects would probably never have happened. Even if they had, their impact would have been limited. Commitment from carers was essential to their effective delivery. It was widely recognised that those working in this sector are extremely busy and are dealing with many competing demands on their time and other resources."
(Evaluation of Sing Up NCB Programme)

“It was really effective having the foster carers in the workshop with the children. For some children it gave them enough confidence to take part and once they were engaged the foster carers stepped back and let the child work independently. For those young people with more severe needs, it was helpful to have another voice of encouragement and practically another pair of hands to help with the workshop. On the whole I observed that having the foster carers in the workshop gave a feeling of safety to the children.”
(Singing leader’s reflective journal)

In other places, although some foster carers attended the sessions, they did not participate other than to intervene when a difficult behaviour became too much for a singing leader to manage. Sometimes, singing leaders felt frustrated that the foster carers did not do more to check children's behaviour:

“I think I was surprised that some of the foster carers, when the children are being a bit unruly, are doing nothing and you’d expect them to step in a bit more and help us out.”

An education support worker in a different project, who attended some sessions, remarked that she acted "as the big bad wolf" with the children but also she had to "stamp on foster carers who can let the children run riot". Some foster carers, on the other hand, took the line that it was the support workers' and musicians' job to look after the children (Evaluation of Sing Up NCB programme).

However, the following comment is more typical of the benefit to foster carers involved in the Sing Up NCB projects:

"Everyone agreed the project had brought them closer to the children they cared for. That they had bonded. They also felt they had rediscovered their own individual creativity which had been a revelation. They had had to overcome their own fear and vulnerability at first but this had given them an understanding and empathy with the children’s position. Subsequently they had grown in confidence together."
(Project Manager)