For some time I have been helping develop a summer camp that will bring together siblings who are in the care system but may be separated. The first camps – called Siblings United – are planned for August at the Shaftesbury adventure centre Arethusa in Kent, where we hope to receive 30 referrals of children wishing to participate.
During my research, I came across a camp in the US that had been bringing siblings together for four years. It was full of activities from dawn till dusk but there was little time for siblings to actually have a moment to talk. In the US there is a whole culture of camps that we do not have here.
Inspired by this I approached Shaftesbury to get this going over here because they were already running the adventure centre. The then CEO Hilton Dawson was on board and wanted to make a thoughtful camp for the young people we work with.
Art therapy sessions will play a big part in shaping the activities at Siblings United. It is an excellent therapy for engaging young people, particularly those in the care system. Young people can develop a deeper trust in their creative abilities and open up without having to rely on verbal communication, which they can struggle with.
The creative aspect towards building upon relationships is significant, as it creates a neutral territory for young people in which to communicate their feelings, building upon new and more positive experiences as well as safely acknowledging their past, which has invariably been out of their control.
In art therapy, young people create with their imagination, so it becomes an empowering experience, which is central to claiming their own identities. Work remains safe and private, and can be reflected upon and is the sole property of the young people when they finish the therapeutic work.
A great deal of incredibly powerful emotions can be expressed safely through art therapy, in particular, anger, since those who have experienced abuse have often been denied an opportunity to express their feelings of rage and despair.
There will be art therapists as well as social work students who will be working in these camps. On top of the daily adventures, we have planned activities that will be focused on helping siblings have time and have fun together. A bonfire, camping, barbeque, picnics and a day at the seaside if weather permits. This never happens for a child in care.
Children these days are totally familiar with digital photography and use this medium in a very positive way to communicate with their networks. They will be given a whole load of images of themselves and their siblings where they have been doing activities and parties together at the camp. They can create their own visual library of more positive images to reflect upon over the year.
We can as art therapists help a child to become reflective as well as responsible for their lives, which are the very things that were absent in their early experiences as a child.
Delma Hughes is an art therapist who runs groups for young people in Shaftesbury’s care. She worked as a consultant in establishing Siblings United
This article appeared in the 19 June edition of Community Care