Ruth Jones is the Access and Inclusion Associate for Arts Award. She has specialist experience of developing and supporting creative arts programmes with and for young people at risk, has been working as an associate and senior trainer with Arts Award for ten years, has also worked on programmes for Arts Council England and Youth Music as well as a range of local authorities and arts organisations across England. You can read more about Arts Award in Foster Care Magazine.
I’ve been involved with Arts Award since its launch ten years ago and I am used to seeing it being delivered in schools, colleges, youth groups, and arts organisations. But recently I had the privilege of working with partners in South Tyneside to develop a completely new way for children and their foster carers to enjoy Arts Award together. This has been a real highlight for me, and the whole team at Arts Award.
If you haven’t come across it before, Arts Award is a set of nationally recognised qualifications for children and young people of all ages up to 25. The way it works across all five levels means that children and young people can enjoy taking part in any creative activity, developing their communication and leadership skills along the way – and they can use their favourite methods to evidence their creative arts journey. So I’ve seen fashion design evidenced in scrapbooks, music projects evidenced in online blogs, and animation projects evidenced using film. Children are not being assessed on their literacy, so evidence does not have to be written word. Arts Award advisers, such as myself, can work with small or large groups of children, but can also work one-to-one.
There’s no set time to complete an Arts Award, so activities can be planned according to the needs of the young people involved – including leaving it for a while, and carrying on later. Because of this flexibility more and more Arts Awards started being delivering outside of the mainstream – in hospitals, with young carers, in therapeutic settings, and with home educated children. So at Arts Award we carried out some research to find out more about the benefits and challenges of doing Arts Award outside of schools and youth centres, and funded some projects through a programme we called Reaching Out.
We commissioned NCB to work with us to design a programme for foster families, and worked with The Customs House arts centre, South Tyneside Fostering Services, and South Tyneside virtual school The Place. Together we came up with a programme inspired by The Fostering Network’s Head Heart Hands programme and family learning. Instead of delivering a programme to children in foster families we trained foster carers themselves as Arts Award advisers so that they could work with their children, grandchildren, and foster children. Everyone in the Arts Award office loved hearing about the latest news from the project, and were delighted to hear that during the ten month programme a total of 22 families took part. Twenty-one foster carers and seven education support workers were trained as advisers, 35 children achieved Arts Award Discover or Explore, and eight progressed to Bronze Arts Award.
Foster carer involvement
The success of the project is down to the willingness of foster carers to get involved – and the strong support given by the local partnerships. No experience was necessary for foster carers –they were given guidance, opportunities and support from the team at The Customs House arts centre. Even better news is that the partners have continued to use Arts Award, and have just trained their fourth cohort of foster carers as Arts Award advisers – who can use the children’s log books and achievements to evidence their own work as foster carers. The feedback from all involved confirmed that it creates closer bonds within the families, as well as a way to get to know children. It also provides certificates and qualifications that can be shared with schools and in PEPs. Oh – and it was a huge amount of fun!
Ah yes….so what did they actually do?! Well they had a fantastic time visiting the theatre, making up comic book characters, making a film, playing music, doing craft work for their log books…and ended up having their certificates presented at an Oscars-style ceremony! Fantastic!
The three-way partnership model between a cultural organisation, education, and fostering service has proved successful – and is transferrable – so if you know any organisations who might be interested do let us know.
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The Fostering Network brings together everyone who is involved in the lives of fostered children and young people to lead, inspire, motivate and support them to make foster care better. To support our work visit www.fostering.net/donate or to donate £10 text FOST37 £10 to 70070.