• Cindybet Perez

Music Therapy at the Group Foster Home Shelters in Puerto Rico

Hurricane María brought with it catastrophe but also opened the doors for music therapy to go into the group foster home shelters in Puerto Rico.


In the midst of the catastrophe, many entities were moved by the desire to aid the island in different ways. Many non-profit organizations united to bring food, healthcare, and clothing among many other items and services of first need to the Puerto Rican people. The “Fundación Banco Popular” (Popular Bank Foundation) approached the “Fundación Música y País” (Music and Country Foundation) with a special interest in providing music therapy to meet the emotional needs of the children in the group foster home shelters in Puerto Rico. An alliance was made with the “Red de Albergues,” an association of shelter homes/organizations to help by identifying area and group foster home shelters with the most need.

Our first stage of the project was “first response emergency music therapy”. We did not know the participants and we had to be prepared to assess and meet the needs of our clients in our first meeting. As the project continued, there was better knowledge of the population, the shelters, their personnel and, their needs. There was the opportunity to create a therapeutic relationship with these communities too, an essential element to meet the therapeutic goals successfully.

In Puerto Rico, besides the typical foster homes, it is more common to have group homes for children and youth who are in the foster system than in states of the US. These group foster homes provide the children with many professionals and services to address their physical, mental, and medical needs effectively. Some of the children within this system are children who are in the custody of the state permanently or temporarily, usually because they have been removed from their family homes. The government philosophy tends to yield in favor of the children’s reunification with their parents or other family members. However, sometimes for this to happen there are different steps and processes, including the rehabilitation of the family home. The average of time for a child to be in the foster care system is 2 years. Many of the children stay longer and even reach adulthood while living in foster care. Research shows that children in foster care have challenges in the areas of socialization, development of rapport and relationships with adults and peers, excess or lack of physical and sensory information processing, mental health needs, self-regulation issues, and emotional processing and expression among others. (Callejón-Póo, et al., 2011; Eroski, n.d.; Layman, et al., 2012; McDonald, et al., 1996). Music therapy is an effective and non-threatening way to reach this population and help them achieve the therapeutic goals (Coholic, Lougheed & Cadell, 2009; Davis, 1997; Infinity Music Therapy Services, 2018; Layman et al., 2012; Panel Discussions, 1937.)

The music therapy goals used with the minors in group foster homes in Puerto Rico were designed from a combination of research and the clinical observations done by the music therapists. There is limited information and research on music therapy and the population of minors in foster care. Taking into account those clinical observations became key to the development of targeted goals that took into account the actual needs of the children, the cultural differences, and idiosyncrasy. This is a summary of the goals targeted in group sessions:

To increase emotional self-expression
To promote attention span
To develop mindfulness
To increase self-regulation
To develop empathy between peers

The results for this project have been extremely favorable. Data shows that there has been growth in all areas for all the shelters (an average of 80% of the goals were met), even in those that serve mostly children with special needs.

The greatest growth (based on pre and post assessments) was in the areas of socioemotional skills.

This music therapy project has grown and evolved thanks to the contribution and kindness of people who have believed in this evidence-based project. What started with two visits to 27 shelters supported by Fundación Banco Popular (2017), which turned to 8 visits to 26 shelters supported by The Hispanic Foundation and The Boston Foundation (2018) and then 20 visits in 15 shelters supported by the St. Clair Foundation (2019). It is expected that there will be a continuation of this service for the year 2020 with the continued support of the St. Clair Foundation. Other foundations, individuals and entire families have assisted the music therapists in acquiring appropriate instruments to serve these children (at the beginning the same instruments and props were shared by three music therapists).

Currently, there are five music therapists working to provide music therapy to these amazing children across the island.

For more information or to contribute to the music therapists to get appropriate musical instruments and materials, please send an email to cindybet.perez@gmail.com.

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