Focus: Frontline - Coram Family Music Therapy

Graham Willgoss,

WHAT IT IS A weekly, 30-minute, one-to-one relationship-building exercise between a music therapist and children aged between one and 11 who have difficulty with expressing themselves and with forming relationships

WHAT IT DOES Enables vulnerable children from families in the care system and from local communities to communicate and build relationships through the non-threatening world of sound, helping them to develop self-awareness and social skills

HOW IT IS FUNDED A grant from the Music Therapy Charity and a three-year grant from the Health Foundation

"Music has historically been a very important part of Coram," says music therapist Tiffany Hughes, referring to composer George Frederick Handel, one of the London children's charity's original patrons.

Handel donated an organ to the Foundling Hospital, which was established by Captain Thomas Coram in 1739 to provide care for abandoned children living on the streets of London. Handel christened his gift in a performance of his Messiah.

Today, the Coram Family Bloomsbury campus stands on the site of the old hospital. Hughes sees about 15 children a week here, referred to her through Coram's adoption or child contact services.

Musical encouragement

Hughes sits at her piano and sings "hello" to encourage the child to take part in the session, in which he or she can choose from a wide array of instruments.

"All children have the capacity to respond to music, and everyone has a voice they can use - that's what's so exciting," says Hughes. "You can tap into their innate voice."

She responds to the child's movement, gesture, sounds and facial expressions, engaging them in playing instruments and singing along.

The contact Hughes has with the children changes from being very distant - they are often initially reluctant to take part - to very intimate as their enthusiasm for music and song grows and they learn to trust her.

Her role is often to enable children to sustain links with parents or siblings after serious family breakdowns or care proceedings.

Hughes says families are more willing to attend music therapy because "it doesn't have the same stigma as counselling, where they can think of children as being considered different".

Parents attend after an initial few sessions of one-to-one contact, and gradually become more involved.

"Children develop a voice of their own - a voice and connection with their parents that did not previously exist," says Hughes. "I use music as an underlying, safe foundation upon which the child can build or repair the relationship with their parents.

"I can offer support in my own little way. But it is their culture and their connection."

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