Posted: 03 September 2015

Using art as a therapeutic tool

Senior Practitioner, Amy Craven, talks about how our services use art to help children open up about the issues they face.

I’ve worked with The Community Hidden Harm Awareness Team for over five years. I was supported by the services they provided when I was growing up, so I feel very strongly about the work we do here to help vulnerable children. 

We work with children across Essex who are affected by a wide range of issues. This includes issues which many people don’t like to talk about, such as sexual exploitation, and drugs and alcohol misuse. 

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Many children who come to us are looking after a parent with a substance misuse problem. We know that 57,000 young people in Essex alone are living with a substance misusing parent – but that's just those who have been counted.

These children are often scared to tell teachers or others as they know that those professionals have a duty of care to contact the parents. So, in order to protect their parents they’ll keep quiet about the substance misuse, but this leaves them isolated with no one to talk to.

Others end up passed from foster home to foster home. We had one boy who’d be in 15 foster homes over a year! As you can imagine, this leaves them with little trust in other adults. 

How we help

Children referred to us are given intensive one to one psychotherapeutic sessions and targeted group work to help develop their self-confidence and provide them with the skills to cope with the challenges they face.

They find it incredibly beneficial to work in a group and meet others in the same situation who can relate to their problems. We’re always looking at new ways to help these children open up and talk about the difficult and complex feelings surrounding their parent’s behaviour. This is how the art exhibition came about.

Using art as a therapeutic tool

A group of children involved in our Community Hidden Harm Awareness programme were given the opportunity to work with an art therapist once a week for 12 weeks. The project started with a trip to the Tate Modern in London, followed by weekly creative art sessions.

Although they found it hard at first, many had grown in confidence by the end. One child told me: “The first few weeks were tricky, trying to put your emotions onto paper. But it got easier after that. It’s boosted my confidence [and] now it’s a lot easier to talk to family members.”

The work was exhibited at the Minories Gallery in Colchester and we had such an amazing response from both children involved and the general public, that were planning to host it again. Having their work on display not only helped to make these children feel heard and valued, it also helped to raise awareness of this hidden issue.

Art work produced by the children who took part in the project

By Amy Craven - Guest bloggers
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Read our impact report

Our impact report sets out the positive changes we’ve made to the lives of vulnerable children across the UK.
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