by Author rob.hunter

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What numbers should be aimed for when setting up musical activity with looked after children and are there issues around retention?

Why these are important questions

Funders may want to know numbers of looked after children involved. Numbers in projects working with looked after children can fluctuate substantially. due to varying factors such as contact with birth siblings/parents, changes in placement/school, social worker meetings, foster carers’ other commitments etc.  Low numbers can affect team and participant morale. They can cause management anxiety about whether to continue the project.



Towards answers

Expectations and concerns re numbers should be discussed by strategic partners at an early stage. Many projects go through low number phases. It is important for project teams to enquire sensitively re absences to understand their cause and whether or not the team can take action to regain participation.
It may be important to overrecruit to combat this turbulence.

The ratio of adults (musicians, care staff and foster carers) to looked after children is as much a consideration as overall numbers

Some participating children may need at times one-to-one attention to enable them to survive in a group

Some managers, while anxious about their own managers’ response to low numbers, advocate continuation if numbers dip because of the observed quality of the experience for the looked after participants

There may be an optimum number of sessions for a project. One project working with care leavers found that 23 sessions was probably too many for the participants to maintain full commitment. Another felt that five sessions culminating in a performance on the sixth was probably not long enough and would suggest 10-12.

There are pros and cons of running projects across holiday periods. Numbers can dip during holiday periods but the very children who don’t go away may want/need to continue musical activity.

Illustrations from practice

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

A number of factors were thought to impact on young people continuing to engage with the project..

  • Young people will not keep going to a project that does not interest them at least some of the time- they will “vote with their feet” (programme director).
  • Lack of carer commitment can mean they are not brought to the project.
  • In a context where they are facing a range of different challenges the project may be of low priority for them and their carers.
  • Regular changes in placement may mean they leave the area or their new carer will not facilitate their participation.
  • They may be dealing with particular problems and feel unable to attend.
  • Attendance may be withheld by carers as a form of discipline for bad behaviour.

    (Evaluation of the Sing Up NCB programme)

"Being aware that the nature of such a demographic made regular attendance tricky was one thing, but reacting to this and dealing with it successfully was a great lesson to learn."
(Project Manager)

In relation to older young people in care one project highlighted

"These young  people have never been shown commitment and have very rarely committed to anything themselves. They need extra incentives. They need travel expenses. They need reminding."
(Project worker)

"A total of twenty two children engaged in the project, two short of our target. Of the seven who didn’t see it through to the end, one moved placement, one moved with her foster family to another part of the country, two wanted to dance and felt the project wasn’t for them, and two could no longer attend as their carer had to have an operation. One young leader decided not to take part in the performance."
(Project Manager).

"Most of the children were taken away on holiday within their foster placements during the summer break and half term week..... We felt that it was important, however, that those children who were not taken away still had some positive activities over the school holidays. If we were to run this kind of project again we might run an isolated project over the summer holidays for this purpose and then run the main project through term time."
(Project Manager)