Can singing help looked after children settle into school? A foster carer shares their experience of a new pilot project

Foster carers worry about their foster children. I do all the time. School has been a particular area of concern for us. When our youngest foster child, then aged 5, moved schools, initially all was well. He was excited about his new uniform, met his class teacher, got a tour of the playground, and made friends quite quickly. But a few short weeks into the new term, things changed. He started to hit children, swear, slam doors in their faces, scribble on their work, and once tried to escape over the school fence because he was afraid I was being attacked by burglars. At home, he was unsettled too and started to become cruel to animals. He found two toads in the garden and threw them against each other. One died. To say we were worried was a massive understatement.

There was no way our child could learn his phonics and practise maths when all this was going on. It was obvious he felt unsafe, insecure and fearful. So we needed to ensure that these basic needs were met. At home we practise “therapeutic parenting”, getting behind the behaviour and showing empathy for how our child feels. We referred him for play therapy which used play to express and help make sense of feelings. And we got him onto the pilot of a new project, which uses singing to help looked after children settle into their new school.

The Singing Project is run by Bullfrog Arts, a specialist arts organisation in Leicester. With funding from the Leicestershire Schools Music Service and the Council’s Virtual School Team, a team worked with my child’s school (and a further two primary schools in Leicester). At the start of the 6-week programme, they ran a whole class singing session, teaching 6-7 songs that had been selected for their benefits, for example, in improving confidence, social skills, eye contact, self-regulation and concentration. The teachers continued to use the songs in the classroom, and the team returned at the end to evaluate and gain feedback. The teachers were helped to feel confident singing in class, and to improve their understanding of the emotional and physical benefits of singing.

I quickly noticed some immediate improvements in our child. He started to get better at eye contact, was able to settle at night by singing with us, and didn’t hit other children so often. The teacher noticed that he made some improvement in speech, was able to accept praise, that singing helped calm him down, that he was better at recognising and naming emotions and that he was more aware of personal space. We still need ongoing support, and there are many ups and downs, but this project helped him at a particularly difficult time. And we feel it could help many other looked after children in similar situations.

For more information about the Singing Project, or to receive a copy of the evaluation report (due to be released summer 2016), please email: Juliet@bullfrogarts.com.

If you have a similar experience to share on our blog, please get in touch with the Rees Centre team: rees.centre@education.ox.ac.uk

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