Music lessons are a lifeline to a better future for foster youth

Jun 07 2012

Kids in a New Groove, CASA, Foster Care, Foster Children, Foster Youth, Music Lessons

By Callie Langford, Originally published in TODO Austin Magazine

As a felony prosecutor in juvenile court, Karyn Scott was constantly surrounded by foster youth who were getting into trouble. “I saw a lot of wonderful kids with great potential, but they didn’t have a stable home environment or resources,” says Karyn. Karyn has always had a place in her heart for foster children. She’d served as a CASA volunteer, and a few years into her work in the juvenile court she started coming up with ideas for a program that would reach these children and help them set goals and achieve success in their young lives. Having managed local bands in the past, it was a natural progression for Karyn to land on music.

Karyn founded Kids in a New Groove (K.I.N.G.) in Austin in 2009. “Music is a powerful way to reach kids that have been abused or neglected. It’s a great tool that provides structure and patterns and gives kids a nonverbal tool for expression,” she explained.  The program aims to help kids in foster care have the same access to achievement that other kids enjoy by providing private one-on-one music instruction to kids in foster care throughout Texas, with most students residing in Austin. K.I.N.G. has a vision to build a solid foundation for foster youth through music mentorship, so that youth age out of care with tools for success. Students perform in recitals and shows, and learn about setting goals by working to earn their own brand new instruments through meeting various program objectives. The music teachers are all volunteers, and they continue working with the foster youth even when they move to a different home or placement. Knowing they can count on their music teacher for those weekly lessons no matter where they are adds consistency to a very traumatic time in these children’s lives. K.I.N.G. even tries to ensure that children who are moved out of Austin don’t miss out by expanding their program to Houston and Dallas.

Kids in a New Groove, CASA, Foster Care, Foster Children, Foster Youth, Music Lessons

K.I.N.G. believes that music lessons are a lifeline to a better future for foster youth, a lifeline that is sorely needed. According to Casey Family Programs, only 3% of foster youth go on to graduate from college, and 22% will experience homelessness after aging out of care, but K.I.N.G. is working to beat the odds. The average number of youth who have gone on to college after leaving the K.I.N.G. program is much higher than the national average of children in the general foster care population. In addition, many K.I.N.G. students have earned superior ratings at performances and recitals, and even made records in professional recording studios.  “KING is helping change the grim statistics facing youth in care by giving them an opportunity to engage in an activity that allows them to express themselves through a positive outlet, while also building confidence and providing a stable mentor,” says Sonia Kotecha, Director of Volunteers for CASA of Travis County. Many youth that CASA serves have benefited from the K.I.N.G. program. CASA volunteer Mary Nev Talbott worked with a teen girl in foster care who got a lot out of her lessons with K.I.N.G.: “It really built her self esteem. She was so pleasantly surprised when she learned that she had these hidden musical talents. She didn’t realize she could sing until her music teacher discovered her voice, and now it’s her favorite thing to do. A lot of good came from having the strong adult connection with her music teacher, and even her math scores improved as she learned music.”

Kids in a New Groove currently serves 60 children in Texas but they are looking to grow. They need more music educators to volunteer as teachers and mentors. They also need instruments donated to the program. You can find out more about helping them on their website, www.kidsinanewgroove.org.