by Author rob.hunter

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What is the particular significance of scheduling in musical activity with looked after children?

The landscape of work with looked after children is complex. In addition to the young people themselves, there are several other interests to be taken into consideration when scheduling a project:

  •  Voluntary and independent as well as statutory providers
  • Foster carers
  • Several teams within statutory providers e.g. teams supporting the looked after child, teams supporting the foster carer, residential teams, the Virtual School, the overall Corporate Parent Team
  • Your own musicians.

Organisations or sections have different ‘rhythms’ to their work life, different heavy periods, different times where there is more space, and it is helpful to appreciate this when consulting over a schedule for your project.

Implications for practice

Overall scheduling

One tool is to build up a Gannt Chart such as the following. It might be valuable to do this at an early partnership meeting or in early bilateral meetings. Having blocked in key events on the different horizontal axes, this allows you, on the vertical plane, to identify areas of maximum pressure which may need to be avoided or managed. It also can be a creative tool opening up possibilities of links between the music project and other activity. There is software that can help manage the more complex Gantt Charts. This may exist in one of the partner organisations.

[attach PDF here]

Consultation and the lead-in time needed

The length of time it takes to consult with stakeholders may be greater than you are used to because of the complexity and sometimes the difficulty of getting hold of key gatekeepers. Once decisions are taken it may also take longer than usual to implement them. Patience and understanding are key qualities here and commitment to the partnership approach: it may be tempting to force the pace.

The value of building taster sessions into the schedule

What participants are ‘tasting’ is

  • not only 'what music/singing can mean and do I enjoy it?'
  • but also the 'style' of social pedagogy which can be very different from how they have experienced such activity in the past; and
  • the other children who are also taking part

Some of your musicians are also tasting a new approach. Some musician teams are working together for the first time. Team work is so important in this work (see Section E Social Pedagogy) that experiencing this and reflecting on that experience before the main project produces valuable learning.

Build in time for ongoing and end-of-project evaluation

Time in the project schedule may need to be built in for end-of-project evaluation and embedding activity. Artists are (usually appropriately) concerned to end such a project with a performance. This can be a very useful focus and participation can cement children and young people's sense of achievement. But such performances  are often placed  just before Christmas (would this prevent some children taking part in ‘integrated’ performances?) or at the end of the school year in July, making an end-of-project evaluation more difficult to schedule. Some projects, to counter this and recreate momentum and motivation for the evaluation, create a special evaluative event at which a DVD of the concert is shown and personal CDs or certificates are presented as well as key evaluative questions explored.

Models of delivery

Different projects will prefer different models of delivery, some blending more than one model. Models include:

  1. ongoing weekly sessions
  2. residential (for young singing leaders)
  3. summer school
  4. weekend day workshops
  5. integrated within a bigger looked after children's day (as an option)

Time and day of the week

Deciding on the day of the week, time of the day and venues for both one-off and ongoing groups is inevitably complicated. The key appears to be

  1. consulting with as many interested parties as possible before deciding;
  2. being seen to be being consultative in this manner: reasonable people will understand that they may need to lose out but need to feel their perspective has at least been heard
  3. demonstrating that consultations have informed the eventual decision

Illustrations from practice

Overall scheduling

Consultation and the lead-in time needed

"Having established a good rapport with S_ and the integrated services support team, the key challenge was getting our offer out to the wider LAC teams and ultimately to the carers and young people. I think the main lesson we learnt was good communication with all those involved, not getting frustrated if the level of support or enthusiasm for the project was a lot less than expected, trying to understand the workload of the partners and making sure our message was support their work not adding to it."

(Project manager, Sing UP NCB programme)

In another Sing Up NCB project:

"It cannot be over estimated how much time and effort it takes to ensure engagement. We employed a number of strategies to ensure this happened, including phone calls to the carers before each session, personal letters to encourage both carers and children to attend, contact with social workers and schools.  This personal care and building of trust proved invaluable and successful but took a great deal of time and commitment."

"We spent a considerable amount of time setting up our partnership between LeicesterShire Arts, Bullfrog Arts and Leicester City Council.  This was incredibly time consuming but on reflection was key to the success of the project."

(Leicester Sing UP NCB report)

And this time needs budgeting for. In another Sing Up NCB project, the manager said:

"It would be unlikely that I would have the capacity within my role to maintain this partnership alongside other work, unless it was costed into my role at full cost recovery."

The value of building in taster sessions

The Youth Music Evidence Review suggests that taster sessions could be particularly beneficial. Projects varied from those where young people arrived at the first day of the project without knowing much, if anything, about the project, to those that held taster days so that young people could self-select for participation. Where taster sessions were held they enabled young people to meet music leaders and possibly other looked after children who may be taking part before actually committing to the project.
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

Curveball, the brighter Sound/Barnardos project, not only ran a taster session at the Leaving Care Christmas party but also viewed the first four sessions of the eventual project  as a pilot both for the young people and the musician team.

Taster days were one way of enabling

"...outcomes for the project to be agreed between the project lead and young people, and that these would include individual outcomes. This helped distinguish the project from school where there may be a set of expected standards and young people might feel set up to fail."

The taster is in one way just as much for the foster carers as for  the young people. Apart from allowing the foster carers to get more understanding of the musicians’ approach and how their foster child reacted, it was one way of giving

"...a chance that the right balance of information exchange would be established between the music leaders and carers. Projects varied in terms of the extent to which this happened. Where reflected upon, a limited exchange from carer to music leader appeared to be preferred. This would be limited to specific issues that may impact on the young person’s capacity to engage with the project, and information about their musical interests."
(Youth Music Evidence Review)

In Herefordshire Music Pool on the Sing Up NCB programme, they describe a very particular approach to a taster day.

“a 2 hour walk across fields, along the riverside, up woodland tracks, climbing up and down a long series of wood and earth steps, over river bridges and hiking on country lanes, all with children ranging from 1-12 years old (the youngest being in a pushchair). We stopped to stroke/feed horses, play with and pick up dogs, chat to people and country residents and generally engage with the world around us. We then piled into the minibus and drove up to the Arboretum where we had a picnic amongst many other families enjoying the good weather, played music and instruments, played on the woodland obstacle course and generally had a good time. In retrospect, the day was fraught with dangers and threats, but the day was carefully planned and every adult worked within the team and had a tacit, combined responsibility to make sure that nothing untoward occurred.

"This day out set the positive and 'no-nonsense' approach for our future engagement with the project and Hilary Jones was active in managing the attendance at the workshops and even collecting children so that they could attend. Centre 18 provided a safe and familiar environment for all and Hilary Jones or her Deputy were generally always near at hand in the office if we should need them. They often popped into the workshops to see how things were progressing or if they were particularly drawn to a song or activity with which we were engaged just a as a parent would. This allowed for a feeling of safety to surround the project without the need for unnecessary intervention. I believe that Hilary knew that she had a team of highly experienced, properly   checked, music specialists working with the children, used not only her own judgement but also the response of the children in deciding our professional reliability regarding safety and risk. Hilary Jones is presently undertaking an MA in Safeguarding Vulnerable Children. We were fortunate in Hereford, not just to have such a highly qualified member of staff overseeing the project, but also a person with highly developed sense of perspective and good common sense.

Build in time for ongoing and end-of-project evaluation

After the performance of their Opera Adventure on January 8th, Myrtle Theatre Company in the Sing Up NCB Programme

"...had a final session on Saturday 29th January.  Originally we had planned a multi agency day, but it seemed far more appropriate to use the time to celebrate, and to consult and evaluate with the children, carers and singing leaders / artists.

"The morning was spent with the singing leaders and artists reflecting on the performance day and then evaluating the project. The carers and children arrived just after lunch (all but one who had performed attended) and after a group singing session everyone listened to the recording of the opera and saw the photographs taken during the dress rehearsal. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it felt valuable that the participants experienced being an audience of their own work.

"Evaluation then took place with the children working one to one with a singing leader / artist and the carers in a group with a Myrtle Theatre Director and an Associate Director."

Models of delivery

One project manager on the Sing Up NCB programme commented:

"We had a 6 session ‘run’ and this was too short. I suspect it is ideal to have around 10 weekly sessions if you are doing group work. This gives the group time to develop and bond. We found that weeks 1 and 2 are in which the group has an opportunity to meet one another. Weeks 3 and 4 friendships develop and members of the group start to feel familiar with one another. By week 5 and 6 the group dynamics work really well and everyone feels comfortable and unthreatened. Another 4 weeks of activity allows for the group to work in a fully formed and nurtured group."

Managers and musicians in the Curveball project working with care leavers reflected that 23 sessions was with hindsight too long, particularly in that the sessions spanned the summer holiday when participants’ other commitments interfered and numbers dropped. The problem for some was that those who didn’t go away on holiday and might have had the greatest need, missed out.

"It might have been good to have had specific freestanding holiday provision into which we could have integrated them?"

In some projects there was as much learning about the best models for work with foster carers as there was about working with looked after children:

"The decision to run the training sessions for the foster carers alongside the direct delivery sessions with the children proved invaluable. Not only did the carers receive the planned training and development, they also had the opportunity to experience the project in the same way that the children did, developing their singing and creative skills and strengthening their bond with the children through the shared experience.  It meant that artists, carers and children alike worked together as creative equals and the benefits of this were many. It also encouraged the foster carers to keep bringing the children as they were enjoying the experience themselves."

In another project:

"We were also advised by G_ to make sure that the sessions had a friendly atmosphere with readily available drinks, free parking (or indeed we paid for parking if required) with taxis ordered as necessary and most importantly that we should provide lunch as part of the foster carer training sessions. I cannot say how much we appreciated the sensible advice given to us. The Foster Carers took the sessions as a real ‘battery charging’ activity, getting to know us, and each other, whilst partaking of a non-threatening fun activity."

Time and day of the week

Examples from the Sing Up NCB programme of projects grappling with logistics:

"FCs’ other commitments e.g. to own family, may mean them wanting their own family to be able to join in. If music projects were timetabled against other projects which lasted a full day, FCs weren’t willing to leave foster children for only half a day."

In another project:

"As the Foster Carers are drawn from a wide geographical area, we were told by our Lead Social Work Partner G_ that it was essential any foster carer training sessions fitted within the school day (ie 12 to 2pm) to enable the Carers to attend."