Musical Ripples and Reflections: The Story of Charlie, His Music and His New Foster Family

Karyn Stuart - Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy


Music therapy is a valuable tool for working with vulnerable children who have experienced trauma and neglect, working intimately to draw out their playfulness and resilience, and create an experience of a safe and trusting relationship. In South Africa, with its overburdened social welfare systems and under-resourced communities who remain affected by poverty and unemployment, there is limited access to medical and psychological services. The South African foster care system aims to provide safety and security for vulnerable and at-risk children and youth, but it is often overwhelmed with the extent of the needs. This anecdotal story features professional and personal reflections and vignettes on the music therapy journey with a very withdrawn and isolated young boy at a place of safety in Cape Town. I, as music therapist, and his favourite red drum, accompanied Charlie through four months of weekly individual sessions, unlocking his Music Child (Nordoff & Robbins, 1977). Sessions shifted from isolated to interactive; from silent to communicative; from tentative to confident. Our music therapy journey continued, moving beyond the safe music therapy room to the unknown space of a new foster family through a home visit - an unusual occurrence in the context of community work in South Africa due to the limited psychological services available and the vast number of children in the social services systems. Collaborating with the social workers and the foster mother, I was able to visit Charlie at his new foster family’s house. The known and safe music therapy space expanded to include his foster mother and new foster siblings with whom he could share his newfound independence and confidence. The article describes music therapy’s role in ‘introducing’ Charlie to his new foster family and how it created musical connections, shared enjoyment and a sense of togetherness between them. I, as his music therapist, followed where he, the music and the context led, as reflected in the notion of community music therapy described by Ansdell (2002). Although the focus is on the story of Charlie’s music therapy journey, it highlights the benefit of the music therapy’s role in all aspects of foster care and the need for collaboration with social welfare systems in under-resourced communities in South Africa.

This article is included in the Voices Special Issue on Music Therapy and Child Welfare