Children coming into care are often disadvantaged in so many ways compared to their more fortunate peers. The headline grabbing issues around abuse, neglect, violence and sexual exploitation inevitable get people’s attention. But it is important to remember that looked after children often fare badly because they may never have had much exposure to the ‘Arts’. And here we are not talking about ‘high brow’ culture – just the simple engagement of sitting down and exploring a hidden talent – an enthusiasm for drawing, painting or music. At Rainbow Fostering, we place great emphasis on the artistic life of our children. Our own image, a rainbow, shows the make up of light itself – the physics of which determine how we experience the world visually. And the means by which our collective ‘artistic soul’ has evolved over aeons. But before lobbying for the vital significance of the arts, and the importance of the role they can play in fostering, some context is required.
It is a strange irony of the times in which we live, that the expressive arts have been sublimated in the school curriculum to the ‘core’ subjects. These are obviously important with regard to getting a job, but have we reached a point where enabling people to simply spell and add up, are the only criteria our education system measures success by? If so, we are on the verge of entering a new ‘Dark Age’. It is odd that as human beings, we seem so blinkered when it comes to considering the essential nature of our humanity. We know from cave paintings from around the world that the artistic impetus lies at the heart of our collective psychology. It led ultimately to the development of symbolic language – culminating in the alphabets used for written communication. These same letterforms now ‘live’ in the digital world we inhabit or, more accurately, are increasingly imprisoned by. It is important to realise that these forms have their origins in the early symbols and images seen in cave painting. Observing primitive societies today, it can be seen that all still use their ‘art’ to communicate messages about their culture. Other art forms, such as music and dance, perform the same function and are deeply embedded in the collective psyche of human beings the world over.
Art has a direct and important relationship to the way we experience time itself: there is the time spent in creation, but bound up with this is also the time spent in thoughtful reflection. So one of the saddest ironies of all is that the digital technologies surrounding us, are developing at such a pace we sense we are no longer in control. We are bedazzled – always waiting for the next phone upgrade or app. Our politicians and policy makers like the rest of us in thrall to technology that is accelerating at a remorseless and unremitting rate. We just need to stop and think: for there is nothing more valuable to all of us the world over than our art in all its various manifestations. Why? Because it is our art that has shaped our minds and made us who we are. We depend upon it to know and understand ourselves and where we have come from. And this goes beyond mere geography: it is central to the way the human mind has evolved. Given this, it is perverse that, particularly at secondary level, schools are being compelled to push the Arts to the ‘frozen wastes’ of the curriculum. This is in preference for the so called ‘useful subjects’: The English Baccalaureate now comprises a core group of subjects that doesn’t include any arts. All this proves that politicians and policy makers have, true to form, missed the point on a massive scale. It demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the human species and its most basic drives. Tied to this is the emergence of a kind of apartheid within the arts. Families with the resources are able to pay for their children to have private music and dance lessons. They are also going to be families likely to expose their children to the artistic life the country has to offer. So trips to the theatre or to concerts will be commonplace. Children in care who have experienced various forms of rejection – further compounded by placement instability – simply get little or no chance to explore their artistic abilities. And virtually no opportunity to share in the cultural life of the nation.
The function of art is to communicate. It invites participation. This means that any art based activity provides a great opportunity for a foster carer and their child to create a shared world. A place where enthusiasm and creativity can come into being. The act of engaging with a child around the simple act of drawing a picture, is a tangible way of demonstrating your interest and care. If a child has never experienced someone caring for them, it is a very powerful way of building a relationship. Foster carers shouldn’t be thinking they have to be good at drawing themselves – that’s not the point. It is the shared activity and the opportunity it offers for communication. So whatever the activity is, it does not have to be especially therapeutic. Taking a child or young person to the theatre, or to an art gallery, also creates opportunities for discussion. Many children who are in the care system – quite apart from often having had awful experiences – have simply never been ‘heard’. Feeling their opinion matters about something – such as a picture, and possibly for the first time ever – is enormously significant for a child. Building a fostering relationship in this way, is a very good way for a foster carer to lead a discussion into other areas of the child’s educational experience. It also means a child or young person can begin to feel a wider sense of belonging and engagement with society.
And art should be fun and London, especially, is really spoiled for choice when it comes to experiencing art. So if you are
fostering a child or young person interested in art you can choose to visit any (or all) of the ten best family friendly art galleries in the capital – visit http://londonist.com/2014/11/the-10-best-family-friendly-art-galleries-in-london
And the good news at the end of this rainbow…we already have some exciting ideas to get the most from our ‘in house’ music facility which will mark our 18th Fostering Anniversary. We are confident it will play a significant part in improving outcomes and placement stability. Our Youth Participation Officer already has some budding musicians, computer buffs, song writers and graphic artists queuing up for a chance to ‘hit the big time’