Musical Ripples and Reflections

The story of Charlie, His Music and His New Foster Family


  • Karyn Stuart South Africa



Place of Safety, Community Music Therapy, vulnerable children, marginalised communities


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anecdotal story features professional and personal reflections and vignettes on the music therapy journey with a very withdrawn and isolated young boy at a place of safety in Cape Town.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 (2002b). 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.

Author Biography

Karyn Stuart, South Africa

Prior to studying music therapy, Karyn worked as an occupational therapist both in Cape Town and London, specialising in neurology and geriatrics. After completing the Masters in Music Therapy programme in 2007 and registering with the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Karyn worked as Music Therapist and project manager at MusicWorks, an NPO that provides music therapy services in under-resourced areas of Cape Town. Here she worked with children, adolescents and adults in a variety of community settings. More recently, Karyn has been expanding her work as a private practitioner, with an interest in special needs, trauma, elderly/Dementia care and palliative care. Karyn is the co-founder and co-director of ‘Drumming with a Difference’, a small business that provides training and team-building experiences using Djembe drumming and creative arts. She was the Music Therapy representative on the South African National Arts Therapies Organisation from 2013-2015 and is currently a research supervisor for Masters (MMus Music Therapy) students at University of Pretoria.



How to Cite

Stuart, K. (2018). Musical Ripples and Reflections: The story of Charlie, His Music and His New Foster Family. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 18(4).