Music classes for families with moms in conflict with the law

The Cause

For over a decade, Sing for Life Society of Alberta has brought the performing arts to marginalized communities in Edmonton, with a focus on women in conflict with the law and men experiencing economic challenges. We provide choral programming, music lessons, and workshops and classes, with the goal of providing high-quality music education that also cultivates personal and social skills and builds community. Our programs are based on research that shows that participating in the performing arts produces a number of personal, social, educational, and health benefits.

In working with women in conflict with the law, we have seen that most incarcerated women are mothers, and many have very young children. Recent research has found that mother-child music programs in prison contexts not only fosters significant parent-child bonding, but group music classes can strengthen social ties between mothers as well as encourage child development along cognitive, physical, and social lines. However, to our knowledge there are no music programs in Edmonton for families with mothers in conflict with the law, despite the significant numbers of incarcerated women who have children.

Our idea is to pilot participatory music classes designed specifically for families whose mothers are incarcerated, or have been recently released from prison. The music classes target children under 6 years of age and will include lap songs, singing games, alphabet and counting songs, and action songs that moms and children can sing together. Our goal is to provide 2-4 sessions of music classes for at least 20 families by June 30, 2018. Each session will last 8 – 12 weeks, length varying by the specific requirements and needs of each location.

We already have partnerships with two prison facilities (Edmonton Institution for Women and Buffalo Sage Wellness House). We are currently working toward securing 1-2 community-based locations to serve families whose mothers have recently been released.
We have raised funds and developed partnerships for approximately two-thirds of our proposed project. We are requesting $5,000 from Field Law Community Grant Program to support the final third of this project, which will support the development of 1-2 sessions of classes in one location.

Who Will it Benefit?

The target population for this program includes incarcerated mothers who have their children with them, incarcerated mothers who are separated from their children but who want to learn songs and games they can sing and play when their children visit, and mothers being released from prison and reintegrating with their families. Consequently, we anticipate that the program will benefit a number of groups:

1. The children: Based on existing research on similar programs in the world, we believe the classes will strengthen parent-child bonds through musical interactions. The classes will also benefit children by fostering cognitive, social, and physical development. The curriculum will be based on recent research on music and brain development, incorporating language, rhythm, movement, turn-taking, and sharing, as well as fostering literacy and numeracy skills development into the weekly classes.

2. The mothers: The moms will benefit not only by learning a repertoire of songs they can continue to sing with their children, but also by developing social networks with other mothers in the class. Social isolation confronts many women exiting the prison system, and these weekly classes will strengthen community integration for participating mothers.

3. The community: As women and their families develop their social networks through the classes, they will become more integrated into their communities, and contribute to the health of their communities.

4. Sing for Life: This pilot project will help Sing for Life determine the components and strategies that make this program most successful. Our intention is to continue building the program to serve more families affected by crime, poverty and social isolation throughout the city. We hope to take the lessons learned from the pilot project and expand the program to reach other communities such as young people in the community who have babies and who are living on the margins of society, at risk of coming into conflict with the law. We therefore hope that the program will have far-reaching effects across the city over time.