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Children in foster care benefit from creative experiences

CMU professor’s program evaluation shows improved self-esteem and academic test results

Contact: Heather Smith

Anyone can say it's a good idea to introduce children in foster care to the creative arts, but who can show it improves school performance and skill building?

Kathy Woehrle can.

Children in foster care who participated in Fostering Creativity activities at the Ennis Center for Children in Flint, Michigan, improved in self- and teacher-assessment scores. In addition, the children’s academic performance and attendance improved while incidences of school disciplinary actions decreased.

Such data are the results of the three-year evaluation that Woehrle, a Central Michigan University social work faculty member, conducted of the grant-funded program that provides ongoing artistic opportunities in music, painting, dance, ceramics and creative writing.

Children in foster care who enter the Fostering Creativity program often are academically performing below their grade levels. Through her work, Woehrle has shown that students have consistently increased and maintained their academic performances to be at grade level.

“Foster care is a traumatic experience — not only the trauma of what led them to be removed from their homes, but the foster care experience itself,” she said. “Some of the behaviors we are seeing in the schoolchildren in foster care is they have higher rates of bending the rules, in part because of the trauma they’ve experienced.”

This is why Fostering Creativity and exposing children in foster care to the arts helps tremendously, Woehrle said. In addition to providing an outlet to express their feelings and emotions, participating in the program has provided the children a safe, predictable and stable place to interact with adults and learn skills that will help them cope with challenges.

“There was the intention that the creative experiences would provide the children some degree of stability and some degree of opportunity for self-reflection and self-expression that typically isn’t available to children in foster care,” Woehrle said. “Just offering kids in poverty situations some opportunities for creative expression levels the playing field, so to speak, with children who live in more stable environments.”

The goal of federal guidelines is to move children in foster care through the system and to a permanent home within a year, Woehrle said. But within this time, children undergo at least three transitions in home life: they go from living with their immediate family, to moving into a temporary or long-term foster home, and finally into a permanent home.

The Ennis Center operates sites in Flint, Pontiac, Port Huron and Detroit. It has worked with abused and/or neglected children for nearly four decades, with its services reaching more than 3,500 Michigan children and families in crisis annually.

Over the course of the past three years, the Fostering Creativity program has served more than 100 children in Flint. With its proven success, the center now is replicating the program at its Pontiac site.

Fostering Creativity funding is provided through the Ruth Mott Foundation, The Hagerman Foundation, The Flynn Foundation, The Bernard J. and Camille Cebelak Foundation, and the Ticket to Dream Foundation.

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