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Easter Half Term Activity Days

Polaroid pictures of children cooking, bowling, holding farm animals and a panoramic of a farm

During this Easter Half Term, the Participation Team has been busy with lots of activities for children and young people. We've tried to offer a variety of choices to meet the needs and interests of every child involved.

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Starting with Arts and Crafts, we had a couple of activity days for younger children at ‘The Activity Box’ in Herne Bay, where they had the chance to make their own pottery and do UV painting in the dark.

At the Canterbury Leisure, we all enjoyed a day full of fun with Crazy Golf, Laser Tag and Bowling.

For those interested in cooking (and eating!), we were back for a couple of activity days at ‘The Cookery Cabin’ in Gravesend.

Creativity and expressing ourselves were at the centre of our Wellbeing Interactive Drama Workshop, where children explored their emotions through different scenarios and tried positive thinking techniques.

Luckily, the sun was out during this Easter Holidays, and we could make the most out of our outdoor activity days! Curly’s Farm, with our disabled young people, and Yew Tree Farm.  We also hosted a filming activity day, where we interviewed our young people and children to listen to their stories and opinions about being in care. The interviews will be part of a film that we’re producing, with the aim to look at the past and compare it with the present to see how the services we offer have evolved over the years.

The Young Local Authority of the Year Competition

Our two apprentices at the competition

The Young Local Authority of the Year Competition is a public speaking competition. The competition is held every year in Lancaster and local authorities, like Kent County Council, will send teams to represent them. We represented Kent County Council this year as Apprentice Participation Workers for Virtual School Kent, and from 9th-11th of March, we presented 3 speeches alongside 22 other teams from local authorities all over England, including one other team from Kent.

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Our first speech was around pride of place, so we had to use the theme of what makes Kent special. We chose Dover welcoming refugees and how we work to support them. We also had to do a speech around a question set by the judges, and we chose “what would happen if animals could talk?” and wrote a humorous speech about Charmaine’s anti-social cat, his rights and his wishes to find a new home, which got lots of laughs. The final speech was on a topic of our own choosing. We decided to speak about equality for those with protected characteristics, particularly race, gender and LGBTQ+ rights, which left the crowd pondering this topic afterwards.

As apprentices we gained a great deal from the event. It led us to come out of our comfort zone, speaking in front of a large audience, as well as doing a lot of networking and meeting new people. We learnt about other parts of the UK and how their councils work and the diverse workforce amongst them. We also developed our own knowledge by listening to other people’s speeches about social media, women’s health and the impact of pets on the environment. These were really interesting, and made us think about our own point of view. We think it is so important to help young people get their voices heard, give them a chance to speak up and gain opportunities. We are really glad we got a chance to attend this competition and we really enjoyed ourselves.

By Charmaine Chapman and Shyanne Ali

Care Experienced Civil Services Internships

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Do you know about the Civil Service Internships that are available for Care Experienced young people? 

Click the link below to find out more: 

YPBMF Care Experienced Internships 

If you would like further information, please do contact the Care Leavers Internship team at

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A day in the life of Sarah Hammond

Photo of Shyanne with Sarah Hammond

My name is Shyanne, and on Tuesday 28th February I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to shadow Sarah Hammond.

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Hi, my name is Shyanne and I am an Apprentice Participation Worker in the VSK Participation Team.

On Tuesday the 28th of February, I had the opportunity to shadow Sarah Hammond who is the Director of Integrated Children’s Social Work Services. Sarah’s role is to continually develop the service and make decisions that ensure all staff have the tools and training to deliver an exceptional service for young people and their families. She told me that her main priority is to create an environment and set of strategies that enable Kent County Council staff to be the very best that they can be. A normal work week/day of Sarah Hammond consists of a variety of meetings including Cabinet committee meetings, leadership meetings and many more.

On the Tuesday, I arrived at Canterbury Christchurch University in the morning where I attended a business support hub consultation with Sarah. This meeting was all about making changes to improve ways of working across different business support services in Kent County Council.

After this meeting, we went to County Hall in Maidstone where I attended a Divisional Management Team meeting. These meetings are made up of Directors and Service Managers from across Kent; they come together to discuss what is going on in their area, what good practice is taking place and where there are differences between areas.

In the afternoon, I got to see Sarah’s office, which is also based at County Hall.  Sarah told me all about Kent’s Social Care Academy.  This is a teaching training partnership; together with Kent County Council, they will be delivering the first roll out of Social Worker Apprenticeships starting in September. This meeting was interesting for me as I’ve always wanted to be a Social Worker but didn’t want to attend university so instead chose the apprenticeship route. I think this is a fantastic chance for people who want to take this path to be a Social Worker, so look out for amazing opportunities in the future.

Throughout the course of the day, it was a pleasure to get to know Sarah. She told me that she enjoys working with her colleagues to improve the lives of vulnerable young people and those who have additional needs. However, the only downside is that she doesn’t get to see our children as much as she would like to as she is always in and out of meetings and making things happen from behind the scenes.

To wrap up my day of shadowing, I had a 1 to 1 chat with Sarah in which I asked if she has any words of encouragement for her colleagues and young people in Kent County Council.  She said her mantra is, “It is never too late to do something you want to do, so never give up.” As Director of Integrated Children’s Social Work Services, Sarah advised that there are lots of exciting opportunities across the county and that we should all use this to our advantage and grasp these when we can.

Tia's Trip to London!

Tia's Trip to London!

On the 17th October I was lucky enough to attend a co-production event at the Social Care Institute of Excellence in London!

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Today I was lucky enough to be a part of a new project that the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE) are creating. I travelled to their office in Marylebone, London and met some other care experienced young adults. This new project was all about co-production and what it means to us. This means a lot to the VSK team, so we were all able to share ideas around this. For those who aren’t too sure what co-production is; it’s about how young people and professionals work together. We did some activities with discussions about the importance of co-production and how we could help the SCIE create something to offer Local Authorities. I really enjoyed the workshop and hope to continue working with the SCIE to improve co-production for all our young people and councils across the country.

If you are interested in getting involved with co-production and the designing of different services that impact you, then get in touch with us at

Horse Riding at Nelson Park!

Horse Riding at Nelson Park!

On a sunny Thursday in August, we visited Nelson Park Riding School with children between the ages of 6 and 14 years.

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On arrival at 9:30 the children were all signed in and then given a tour around the Park to see all the different horses they have there. They have 42 horses in total! The tallest horse we met was called Big Mumma who is from Belgium.

Our next activity was to be split into two groups, one group to groom two tiny ponies and the other group to ride inside the school arena.  When grooming the ponies, we got to plait their manes and tails and brush their bodies. All the young children loved doing this.

The next adventure for the young people to do was the letter scavenger hunt. This was where they had a sheet of paper giving them clues to where they might find some letters hidden around the park. At the end, once they had found all of the letters it spelt out a word and the word was HORSESHOE! This was lots of fun!

The last part of our fun filled day was to get to play in the sand pit.  Us apprentices loved this as much as the young people did! We all built sandcastles and the young people were digging for treasure; some even found some special looking stones.

We had such a great day meeting all the horses and riding them.  The young people can’t wait for another activity day just like this.

By Amy Barden


Work Experience at VSK

Work Experience at VSK

Hello, I am Charmaine and I have spent the last week doing work experience at VSK. 

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I spent the week busily making resources for the Corporate Parent Team Challenge day which celebrates how corporate parents can support young people in care. I helped to design some of the display boards and posters for the day. While doing this, I discovered what Mind Of My Own is (the app for children in care to use to interact with their social workers). If you are a young person looking to interact with your social worker, I highly recommend this app. I shadowed a few meetings and learnt about what VSK does and more details about fostering. I helped to make a scavenger hunt for an activity day later in the summer and perfected my skills in laminating! It was really fun and a great place to do work experience because I was able to learn lots of transferable skills.

A Trip to the Panto!

A Trip to the Panto!

On one cold Thursday in December, me and the team were given the chance to take members of our three councils (Super Council, OCYPC and the Young Adults Council) to Maidstone’s very own pantomime, Aladdin.

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Meeting at the Hazlitt at around 5.30pm, I was able to sign everyone in and get seated just as the panto started.

Every time I enter the theatre, I always get an excited feeling, and I do think that the children felt that as well. We all knew that this was going to be brilliant and an enjoyable experience.

So, after a few toilets stops, we were able to sit down and begin to watch the panto, firstly being introduced to the character of Wishy Washy. All the young people loved him. The panto itself was so good. The actors were brilliant and the panto was so interactive.  The young people loved joining in with the ‘Oh no he’s not’ or the ‘He’s behind you’, the booing and the cheering! Some of them enjoyed it a bit too much (Tom!).

The second half started of with Aladdin in the cave with the genie and the lamp. The genie was very funny and definitely my favourite character. All the kids laughed at him and smiled.

Little did we all know; Baby Shark was one of the songs at the end. This got a lot of laughs and the young people were soon up and dancing to this viral song.  Even me and Chelsea joined in!

The Panto was a very enjoyable experience. We all had fun; eating popcorn, strawberry fizzy laces and dancing along to Wishy Washy’s songs. We sang and danced, laughed and booed till our throats hurt! We can’t wait for Beauty and the Beast next year!

By Rob Barton

Skills to Foster

Skills to Foster

On the 26th November, Tom and I were able to interview people who want to be Foster Carers.

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Arriving at Whitstable, we met with Sarah to pick up the selfie stick so we could do some filming of our experiences.  Then we were off, on our journey to the ‘Skills to Foster’ session in Seasalter.

Me and Tom got there with lots of time to spare, so we took the time to do some vlogs for the website.  We had a massive laugh and a giggle while doing these so we were in a great mood for interviewing Foster Carers!


After setting up our interview room how we wanted it, we were brought into a big room full of the prospective Foster Carers.  It wasn’t that scary… for us, the Foster Carers were terrified until it was explained that we’re actually very nice!

Rob and I went on to explain about our responsibilities as VSK Apprentices. We listed off some things about our CiCC (Children in Care Councils) and how they have helped resolve some problems in the past and made things better for all Children in Care in Kent.  We then went on to give a short talk about our activity days.  We said a little about our recent October 2018 Art days and some more about the plethora of activities we held over the summer holidays, like Bewl Water, Betteshanger Park and Howletts Zoo. They all seemed very impressed!  Hopefully, they’ll get involved when they become Foster Carers for real!

We had 3 couples to interview today.  We wanted to find out about how they would welcome children into their homes and how they would support any young people who were experiencing challenges.  They were all actually really great and answered the questions really well.  Myself and Rob both think they’d all make great Foster Carers.  Our feedback will be be used when the final decisions are made.

It’s really important that young people get a chance to have a say in who becomes Foster Carers.  If you want to get involved in supporting a ‘Skills to Foster’ session, then why not contact us at  You can even take part in an accredited Level 2 Course that teaches you about interview skills and recruitment procedures!

Rob and Tom's Top Tips for Cheaper Shopping Bills

Rob and Tom's Top Tips for Cheaper Shopping Bills

At our most recent YAC meeting, the council members and apprentices got to try lots and lots of food.  The catch? We were blind folded! Half the food came from the very pricey Marks & Spencer, the other half from the far more affordable Aldi.  Could we tell which was which and was the M&S food worth the extra money?!

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The Results

Whilst M&S definitely came out on top for a few things (especially sausage rolls!), YAC members were surprised how often we picked Aldi as our favourite of the two (particularly for fruit, vegetables and sandwich meats).  We were astonished at how much cheaper Aldi products were and how much more we could get for our money in a budget supermarket.  In fact, the entire shop was about half the cost in Aldi as it was in M&S!  It reminded all of us of the importance of shopping around.  Whilst M&S might be great for the occasional treat, there are definitely cheaper alternatives out there that are just as good!

This activity made YAC think about how we all can reduce our food bills more generally – Tom and Rob with the help of YAC members compiled their Top 10 Tips and Tricks for a cheaper food shop…

  1. Plan ahead and go in with a list to stop you topping up with expensive extras.  People who take a shopping list save on average £200 a year on their food shop!   
  2. Try supermarket own brand food – it’s substantially cheaper and can be just as good.  Some own brand tea bags for example can be up to 95% cheaper than the most expensive brands.
  3. Buy in bulk – check out the shelf labels for the price per weight.  Buying a huge bag of pasta might seem pricey initially but you won’t need to replace it for quite some time!
  4. Make your own sandwiches.  It might be convenient but buying a ready made sandwich every day soon adds up.  Even the cheapest sandwich will still cost more to buy every day than a loaf of bread and packet of meat which can last all week!
  5. Use your freezer! Portion up bread, meat or cooked meals like curry, Bolognese or chilli.  This reduces waste and means you always have something ready to defrost and eat.
  6. Store food correctly to prevent waste.  Put cheese in resealable bags in the fridge, potatoes in a dry, dark, well ventilated cupboard (not a plastic bag or air tight box) and keep bread fresh in a bread bin.
  7. Check out whether frozen fish and vegetables could save you money. Choosing frozen salmon over fresh can save you up to 55% for example!
  8. Choose cheaper cuts of meat.  Chicken legs or thighs, for example, are much cheaper than chicken breast and often tastier too.
  9. Double check those offers.  They might sound like a bargain but are they actually cheaper than other brands?
  10. This may sound unexpected, but don’t always buy the cheapest product. Some things cost more for good reason. Buy sausages and burgers with plenty of meat rather than fat, gristle and who-knows what. They’re probably better for you, cost just a little more and you don’t have to eat five of them to feel full.

Happy Shopping!


Rob Barton and Tom Byrne

Fostering Appreciation Awards

Fostering Appreciation Awards

Every year, Kent County Council holds the Fostering Appreciation Awards to recognise the outstanding work carried out on a daily basis by Kent Foster Carers and this year, the VSK Apprentices got to be involved!

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This year, the VSK Apprentices got the amazing opportunity to be part of the judging panel for these awards.  Rob and I looked at all 125 nominations, many written by Children In Care themselves.  There were so many examples of fantastic foster carers who are really making a difference for Children and Young People in Care!  It was very difficult to narrow the nominations down and pick the winners for each category.  This year, the panel decided to invite us to present some VSK Apprentice Awards recognising Carers who help their Young People participate in our activity days and Children in Care Councils with the 3 winners chosen entirely by us.  It was great honour! 

So, on 14th November, we got the train to Folkestone to attend the Awards Ceremony which was been held at the Leas Cliff Hotel.  When we arrived, we were given a script so we could present the Apprentice Awards.  While waiting for everyone to arrive, we ate some homemade cake which was really yummy!  

At 10am, the Awards Ceremony started.  It was opened by Caroline Smith, Assistant Director for Corporate Parenting.   We watched excitedly as the awards were presented and finally, it was our turn to hand our Awards out.  It was really scary as we had to talk in front of over 100 people!  At the end of the ceremony, it was photo time and of course us Apprentices jumped at the photo opportunity!  After the photos it was time to go home.  Hearing the nominations and meeting the foster carers was such a lovely experience.  We had a great time!

by Tia Pires-Higgins 

A Day in the Life of a VSK Apprentice

A Day in the Life of a VSK Apprentice

Hi, my name’s Tom and I’m an Apprentice Participation Worker in the Participation Team.  I wanted to tell you all about what I get up to on a typical day at work!

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So, my day starts off like any other. It begins with an annoying alarm telling me it’s time to get up. I do all the usual morning stuff, and then rush out the door to get my train because I’m interviewing potential Foster Carers this morning.

Now, this may not sound the most interesting start of the day but it’s actually pretty great and I really enjoy it because I have an opportunity to get my voice heard.  Although we have a “strict” set of questions to ask we often go on tangents because we find most of the people wanting to be foster carers kind and interesting to talk to. Of course, they’re not all like that, and that is why we’re there, to separate the wheat from the chaff.  These interviews generally don’t last too long and by lunchtime we’re finished (unless we overrun because of all the talking!).

After lunch, I need to get back to our office, as I have activity day permission forms to send out and one of the other Apprentices needs help with their preparation for a big presentation on “Lifelong Links” (a project about making life long connections with people to create a mega support network, which is extremely useful at any age). We essentially get to go back to playschool for the afternoon to do some colouring, sticking and other arty crafts.

Of course, it’s not all gluey hands and coloured paper; every now and then I did have to check my emails for permission forms for our activity day, which I had to put on a spreadsheet (definitely as fun as it sounds I can assure you!). But, it’s only a couple of minutes per permission form so I can pop back to my art work shortly!

After making a few phone calls to Social Workers to see if their young people would like to attend the Young Adult Council, we need to make sure that the venue is booked for our upcoming activity day. Whilst on the phone, I also check that we can go along and complete a risk assessment.

We have a YAC meeting in the evening although it’s not exactly one of our usual meetings where we have a professional visit and hold a discussion or talk about issues that care leavers face.  On this day, we were going bowling, so we made our way to the bowling alley and waited for a short while for our YAC members to arrive. First things first though, once everyone had arrived we ordered food and drinks!

So, after stuffing ourselves with food we moved over to the bowling lanes and began to bowl. Competition was fierce with even one of our own apprentices getting very competitive with numerous strikes to their name.

Overall though, it was a great night and a really fun end to an already good day. All that was left was a wait for a train and a walk to my place where a comfy sofa and a kettle were waiting for me to make a nice cuppa.

by Tom Byrne