A fun filled week with the OCYPC!

During the February half term, the VSK Participation Team were really excited to meet with the Our Children and Young People's Council members. 

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Not only were we holding our OCYPC meeting in West Kent and our OCYPC Extra meeting in East Kent but for the first time we were meeting with young people in South Kent!  This means we now have two mobile OCYPC groups so even more of you can get involved, have your say and help make positive changes for young people in care in Kent. 

We began each meeting with a fun ice breaker to help us get to know each other better before moving on to a very important task.  For World Social Work Day, Kent County Council is creating an E-Book packed full of writing and artwork created by Social Workers about what their role means to them, their best experiences working with young people and why they do their jobs.  But, it was really important to include young people’s ideas and experiences in the E-book too!

So, OCYPC members set to work.  They began by describing their ideal Social Worker.

In East Kent, members said that Social Workers should:

  • Believe in us 
  • Listen to what we have to say 
  • Be there for us 
  • Be helpful, caring, honest, and funny 
  • Smile at us.  

Members of OCYPC Extra South thought Social Workers should:

  • Be themselves 
  • Get to know us properly
  • Be interested in their young people
  • Be courageous and stand up for young people

And finally, West Kent OCYPC members suggested that Social Workers should:

  • Be on time
  • Care about us
  • Be understanding, kind and funny
  • Be on our side
  • Tell us the truth
  • Listen

Next, OCYPC members discussed some of their favourite Social Worker Moments.  These included being taken on trips or to get food, Social Workers helping them to visit their family, stay in contact with their parents or create a memory book or workers being there for them when they needed them even if things were tough.  They wrote up some of their best moments and illustrated them so they could be included in the E-book.

As we have been thinking about the information young people receive when they come into care, members of OCYPC also thought about the advice they would give their younger selves which might have helped them when they came into care.  They came up with lots of great ideas including:

  • Remember there are people out there to help you
  • Stay calm
  • Remember things may not be as bad as you think

Finally, like at all meetings we finished with some food and a bit of time to socialise and catch up with friends. 

It was a great week for the OCYPC, starting a new council group and bringing even more young people together.  If you would like more information about OCYPC or think there should be a council group in your area, why not get in touch?

Recruitment and Selection Training

On the last Friday of half term, me and a group of young people were able to take part in Interview Panel Training.

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This program was created to make sure that young people understand the skills they will need to use when they sit on interviews panels for Kent County Council.  KCC believes that it is really important to include young people, who have had experience of the care system, when they are recruiting new staff who are going to be working with children and young people.  It also gives all the participants an accredited L2 qualification and an experience they can add to their CVs!

I arrived in Ashford for 8am, with excitement about how the day would be. About an hour later, I met with two young people at the train station and walked to the Ashford Youth Centre.

We started off with a bit of an icebreaker exercise. We were asked to pick a straw each, from the different colours in the pack and answer the question that was displayed on the screen. Mine was “Who is your favorite actor?” to which I replied with Jim Carrey. It was a fun exercise and we all enjoyed it.

After that, we learnt about different skills that we needed to take part in the interview panel process and what we should be looking for when we interview.  We also talked about the benefits of a diverse workforce, laws designed to stop discrimination and why confidentiality is really important. There were lots of group activities and discussions.

But it wasn’t all learning.  We had an amazing and tasty lunch. We were all digging in to the wraps, hummus, carrots, crisps and chocolate cornflake cakes. Me and another young person played a lot of table tennis.  He kept beating me, so I was not a happy bunny!

After what seemed like ages, we came back together and started learning more skills that we could incorporate into the interview panel and what to look for.  This is probably the best time to say that I am an actor by heart, and this was the best part of the afternoon. I was tasked by Sarah and Andrea, our tutors for the day, to take on two styles of people, one person that was rude and not really interested in the interview and one person that was over enthusiastic and happy. It was hard to do but it was so fun, and it was probably the best part of the afternoon.

Overall, I think that the training was really fun and really made us think about what to look for and how to act whilst doing the interviews.  I’m looking forward to sitting on an interview panel with some of these young people soon! If you want to find out more about this training or sitting on interview panels, then why not contact us?

Rob Barton

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

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

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

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

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