Why this is an important question
In work with looked after children, the group experience is core to success for both looked after children and for adults. Providing a successful group experience can not only be creatively satisfying but can lead to substantial personal and social learning. Groups must be made safe places for participants. For community musicians, this work is very different from the staple gig of 1-3 sessions in a school where the accent is exclusively on the musical activity.
Forming the group is central and caring agency partners will have views about and experience to inform recruitment.
There are three main options
- Setting up an open group, not solely for looked after children.
- Recruit solely looked after children
- Target looked after children but use discretion about allowing foster carers children and friends to join from the outset or once the core group is established.
In the neighbouring discipline of youth work, there is a tradition of separate work e.g. with Asian girls and young women, with black groups; with boys and young men. The aim is to create a place of safety in itself and one also in which group-specific issues can be handled for groups whose interests may otherwise be overlooked. This is seen as complementary to mainstream provision – a kind of affirmative action.
Illustrations from practice
(Taken from music projects funded by Sing Up and Youth Music)
“It seems an artificial thing bringing together looked after children who are scattered, but it’s something special for them to do as long as they’re not stigmatised”
"While looked after children are far from a homogenous group, they will have a number of shared life experiences associated with being looked after. By providing them with an opportunity to discuss and share their experiences, this was perceived to have helped them develop a sense of belonging and a shared identity....
"Many of the projects involved 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. 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”
(Evaluation of Sing Up/NCB Programme)
In the High Tide project, for example, a foster carer commented that it was important to have somewhere to go with her foster daughter that was specifically for looked after children. She felt that it was sometimes difficult to attend mainstream activities as her foster child exhibited behaviour which made her ‘stand out’ from others, but attending a project for looked after children meant that the child and her sometimes challenging behaviour were accepted:
“You can’t take them everywhere because of some of the behaviour problems. But here it didn’t matter, no one took any notice and it was good for them to let off steam.” (Project report)
Two comments received suggested a midway position, particularly once the necessary safety for looked after children has been established:
"If my birth children could have participated it would provide a common focus." (Foster carer)
"When projects are open to siblings and carer’s children, this can be successful as this makes it easier for carers to commit. It also normalises looked after children because they become family events." (Project manager)