While most of our classmates had assessment forms similar to one another, ours looked a little bit different. Instead of being grouped into physical, cognitive, psychosocial, behavioral and motor domains, our assessment was grouped into executive function, self-concept and social skills. Additionally, a majority of the assessment for these kids focused on potential life stressors and ways in which they might manifest in the students’ behaviors. Going in, I expected some of these life stressors: experiencing homelessness and/or extreme poverty, frequent moves, and living in cramped conditions in a high-crime area. Others were a surprise. I had no idea that most of these children had witnessed violence, or been a victim of a crime. I did not expect these 9 – 12-year-olds to be dealing with adults’ mental health issues and experiencing the death of somebody close to them. And yet, when I completed my assessment form, I found that at least 50% of these students were experiencing all of these life stressors. Homeless children are almost always continuously surrounded by high rates of violence, mental health issues, and substance abuse. These things directly, regularly affect them.
I remember feeling particularly frustrated after completing these assessment forms and realizing the extremity of these kids’ situations. They did not deserve this. Why couldn’t I fix this? Nothing I could bring to the table would ever be enough to help them. During my time with this population, I had to realize that while music therapists may not be able to solve the housing crisis, what we can do is focus our full attention on spending time with these kids and meeting their needs moment by moment. I came to understand the power in providing opportunities for healing through music: helping clients to find, and use, their voices.
When forming goals for this group, we discussed in detail the different ways life stressors could manifest in these students’ behaviors. Within this group of ten 4th – 6th graders, around 30% of students experienced difficulties with speech, impulse control, depressive behaviors, and found it difficult to make friends. 100% of students experienced attention difficulties, had a history of truancy (lots of absences), and were falling behind academically. Classroom teachers and staff echoed a desire to address academic and social goals, and to promote improved executive function and self-concept.
Looking into current research studies with at-risk youth showed that music therapy has been found to be a successful tool in addressing the following goals:
- self-esteem, and
- mind-body connection.