Healing childhood trauma through art: Art Matters
“Art Matters is about helping to develop skills and self-discipline through art, as well as providing a sense of achievement and improving self-esteem.”
Award-winning illustrator and Life Matters advocate, Quentin Blake CBE
Pioneering Art Therapy proven effective for all children
First time many children have felt safe to open up about their traumatic past to start to heal
200+ children centres involved
Physical, mental and emotional childhood trauma strikes profoundly and leaves a lasting scar.
It’s an issue that occurs behind closed doors. And it exists in households across the country of any education, income, or background.
Physical, mental and emotional abuse towards children, including neglect, is usually inflicted by the people they trust most. So when it’s parents, guardians, teachers, and community members committing acts of cruelty, children will never truly understand the gravity of what is happening to them.
In 2020, neglect or abuse changed the lives of 50,010 children for the worse.
While organisations are working to stop it from occurring in the first place, its insidious nature means thousands of children will continue to experience abuse daily.
And when the abuse stops, through intervention or situational changes, without a safe outlet children internalise their pain. Creating a lifelong weight for them to bear.
Abuse is a cycle that we can only break by talking about it. When children have nowhere to process their trauma, they carry it with them into school, work, and relationships.
Typical therapy can have long waitlists on the NHS, isn’t available countrywide, and simply doesn’t work for every child.
Children need an outlet on their level.
Something that works for all backgrounds, ages, and ability levels.
An idea from across the pond
Art therapy for children was rare 20 years ago. But a few fledgling programmes in the USA proved its effectiveness. Small programmes were trailed in London in the early noughties, also achieving astounding results.
The science behind art therapy – or at minimum, inspired revelation – is that creativity stimulates the brain’s right-hand side.
The right hemisphere is the side that controls our imagination and emotional intelligence. By engaging in art, children break down their barriers and successfully process feelings in a way we thought impossible.
The programmes in America and London gave Action for Children that light bulb moment.
They needed to create a UK-wide art programme that challenged the status quo of trauma therapy. A new way of thinking that works for every child, especially those failed by traditional counselling.
Through art, Action for Children began to change the lives of thousands of children with trauma.
But they never predicted how big it would get.
The Solution - Life Matters (later, Art Matters)
Determined to give all children a safe space, Action for Children came to us to turn their experimental art therapy idea into a scalable UK-wide revolution.
Together, our newly formed dream team scaled the approach into the ‘Life Matters’ program.
Life Matters, which eventually became ‘Art Matters,’ gives children a safe space to create art as a therapeutic medium. Through their art, children begin conversations about their experiences. And in many cases, they talk about their trauma for the first time in their lives.
The art produced was extraordinary. Parents and carers regularly told us how astonished they were by the positive changes in their children in just weeks.
That’s when we knew we were onto something.
A full-scale Art Therapy revolution
With such astounding results we had to find a way to keep growing. So we created the opportunity for Action for Children to pitch for funding and resources from various corporations.
At that time, Ernst & Young (EY) regularly supported the visual arts galleries as part of its sponsorship and business strategy.
That’s why when Nicky Major from EY, was presented with a corporate social responsibility opportunity that incorporated both art and life-changing therapy, she jumped at it. And after seeing the pilot’s impact on children and families, she gave the green light to support the program.
Now, with funding, resources, and volunteers from EY we had the power to scale. Fuelled by Action for Children’s vision and its experts in vital children support services, Art Matters was ready to become a revolution.
Impacting On The Lives of Thousands of Children
The children’s artwork moved thousands to the point it gained support from illustrator Quinten Blake.
As a perception-smashing first in mainstream media, the art world invited 20 pieces to be featured in an EY-sponsored exhibition at the National Gallery in London.
“She drew a lemonade bottle and used it to explore her painful early memories. She said that in the past she bottled everything up but sometimes she exploded. Now we are able to explore her feelings bit by bit.”
NCH counsellor, sexual abuse treatment centre
Year two with many more centres and programmes launched, once again supported by EY, the children were encouraged to create artworks inspired by Matisse and Picasso. This time in association with a Tate Modern exhibition.
In year 3, the initiative had expanded to 200 centres, incorporating music and drama with tens of thousands of children taking part all around the UK.
Each year the programme grows as parents and councils see how art can transform children in a way other therapies can’t. That was the true power of Life Matters.
Today, hundreds of thousands of children across the UK take part in our art sessions. Sessions that successfully help them to navigate and process experiences with physical, mental, or sexual abuse.
Sessions that give them a second chance at life.
“Holly loved making masks – it helped her talk about the difference between outer appearances and what she was feeling inside.”
Holly’s mum, NCH domestic violence support service
“Although Richard does not want to talk about the incident, an incident which affected him greatly, he has been able to express his feelings in the painting.”
JP, NCH vocational trainer