Older News

Starting College or University?

Going to College or University can be a very difficult time in anyone’s life. It can be unsettling and can require a complete change in routine, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Whether you’re deciding to go to college or choosing what university is best for you, don’t leave yourself in the dark!

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All Colleges and Universities offer the opportunity to go and view the campus and facilities by organising open days. These are a great way to familiarise yourself with your new potential surroundings. Often current students will offer tours where you can be shown all the areas of the college or university that you will use the most so that when you start it isn’t unfamiliar. Open days are a great way to get more information that will help you make the all-important decision. You will have the opportunity to ask students and tutors about your chosen courses and what life at the college/university is really like.

Top Tips!

  • Make sure you are booked in for a tour of the campus/site if necessary, not all Open Days allow you to walk straight in.
  • Be prepared, make sure you have a clear idea of the information you want to gain from attending the Open Day, perhaps make a list of questions.
  • Picture yourself there, going to college and university is a big commitment and you need to be sure it is suited to you.
  • Check out the other facilities. Where is the gym? Are there any clubs you can join? Where’s the restaurant/café?
  • Get to know the surrounding area, Open Days give you the chance to explore the surrounding areas so you can work out the easiest way to get home.

College and university Open Days are taking place throughout November and December.  You can find College Open Day dates here. Click to find out more information about visiting The University of Kent, The University for the Creative Arts or Canterbury Christ Church University here.  Don’t worry if you miss an Open Day.  You can often arrange to visit informally – just give the college or university a ring to find out more.

Don’t forget there are also advisers in Virtual School Kent and the Care Leavers 18+ Service who can help you too.  Talk to your Social Worker or PA who can put you in touch with the right person.

 

 

Kent Youth County Council Elections 2019

Calling all our Children in Care aged 11-19 years old! Registers are now open for you to sign up and become a candidate for the KYCC Elections.

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KYCC stands for ‘Kent Youth County Council’. The KYCC voice the views and opinions of young people in Kent. KYCC work on multiple campaigns every year; last November the following campaigns were voted in by young people across Kent:

• Curriculum for life • Mental Health • Anti-Bullying • Developing emotional Resilience.

Not only do KYCC members work on the campaigns chosen by Kent’s young people each year they also work in project groups that cover topics such as: Transport, environmental issues, promoting equality, tackling racial and religious discrimination, positive stories etc.

You can stand for election by becoming part of the following:

District Seats

You could be elected as a ‘Member’ or a ‘Deputy Member’. You will have the opportunity to get involved in lots of opportunities including campaigning and make important decisions about changes happening. KYCC Members meet regularly with KCC Members and can get involved in making a difference to the lives of young people in Kent. KYCC Members also elect 7 young people to represent Kent nationally at UK Youth Parliament, which includes the incredible opportunity to debate in the House of Commons!

Community Seats

We also elect a Member to ‘Community Seats’, to make sure KYCC represents all communities within Kent. If you are a young person and feel you could represent a minority community, complete the attached registration form.

You don’t need any experience to get involved, just a desire to get involved, make a stand and make a difference.

Young people who would like to stand as either a District or Community seat can access the opportunity here.

If you would like further information - email kycc@kent.gov.uk or visit www.kent.gov.uk/kycc

If you’re interested in registering your school as a polling station, or if you’re interested in registering to stand for election, you can sign up now www.kent.gov.uk/kyccelections

Talk to the Top

On Thursday 5th September, Matt Dunkley, the Corporate Director for Children Young People and Education attended one of the Young Adult Council’s monthly meeting. YAC members had the opportunity to ask Matt a series of questions about the kind of stuff that affect Young People in Kent.  Here are the ten questions the YAC member came up with and Matt’s responses…

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Q1 How are you going to help support Young People with disabilities in education?

One thing we need to do is to ensure Young People with disabilities have the Education and Disabilities Teams that support them working alongside each other, and if necessary, in conjunction with Social Workers. There needs to be more opportunities and more support for Young People to be in their local mainstream school, rather than Young People having to commute far distances to find a school that meets the Young Person’s needs. Young People should be able to connect to their local communities.

Q2 What about separate induction days for Young People in Colleges who have disabilities?

I know that they are mixed up together at present.  If you would like a more bespoke induction I will make sure when I meet all the colleges’ principals in Kent I will give them your suggestions.

Q3 What is your main priority as Corporate Director for all Children in Kent?

That all Children & Young People should have a great childhood so they feel happy, secure and loved. I want people to look at the whole child, not only things like exam results but to help them to achieve their full potential - socially as well as academically so they can build connections and feel supported in life.

Q4 Is there any advice you would give us as a Corporate Parent?

Yes, the same advice as I would give my own children - focus on your own happiness, don’t sweat about the small stuff, bad times will pass. Treat people the way you want to be treated yourself, and that you can determine your own destiny.

Q4 What role does Kent County Council have in challenging bullying in our schools?

If we hear about an individual child, we can raise this with the school. If we see multiple issues, we can alert the education safeguarding team to look into the situation. Many secondary schools are academies which we do have strong relationships with, but we don’t have as much power to address all issues. Some schools do a fantastic job and some still have some work to do, so my honest answer is it isn’t always easy.

Q5 How do you support Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Young People with housing?

We have workers and funding for this specific support. For unaccompanied care leavers, it is not easy for us to find housing as we are not a housing authority. But there is the Rent Guarantor Scheme which has been recently introduced. Some young people are entitled to housing grants so can rent through their local councils.

Q6 Why did you want to do this job? 

I was Director in East Sussex for 8 years, then worked with schools in Australia for 4 years.  I missed working with Children in Care in Australia and when this job came up and I jumped at the opportunity. I think I have always had a connection with Children in Care and young people like yourselves. My parents were foster carers and I am very passionate about making things better for Children in Care.

Q7 What do you do on a day to day basis?

Well, my youngest son – who is 15 – said when he was younger ‘my dad’s job is going to meetings!’ He’s not wrong as I do go to a lot of meetings. I normally meet with politicians and my staff. Today, I went to visit an academy in Canterbury and met with Headteachers. Then, I went back to Maidstone and had another meeting with politicians about the budget and looked at some inspection reports . Then I had some supervisor meetings with members of staff before coming to this YAC meeting.  

Q8 Are there any big changes coming up that could affect Young People in this room?

There are a few changes that are happening locally, change of Kent County Council’s Leader and nationally Brexit being two big things. Kent is doing an enormous amount of planning around Brexit. Young people have grown up in a period of austerity i.e. cuts etc. We have 45% less money then in 2010. But, for the first time in 10 years we have been promised more money by the government, although not enough to cover what we lost. This could mean there could be more support for young people and Care Leavers.

Q10 If you think about what the state does, not much is more dramatic than being the Corporate Parent for a child.  What do you think about this?

I agree. If we are going to place children in the state’s care, we need to make sure it is the best it can possibly be.  We can be the pushy, most demanding parents as we all have the advantages - we know the schools, police NHS etc. Care should be a positive experience and once you are in care, we should ensure it is just that. 

 

Come Along to the Young Adult Council

Our Young Adult Council is one of three councils created by young people and supported by the Participation Team within Virtual School Kent. We are made up of passionate Children in Care and Care Leavers aged 16+.

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Being the eldest of our councils; we have a great opportunity to speak up and represent the voices of those starting their adult lives. Our council is commonly called YAC; our meetings are held once a month, in alternating areas so everyone has the chance to share their views and opinions. Membership has grown immensely, and we continue to become more and more involved with our Corporate Parents too. Earlier this year; we had an amazing experience at our Corporate Parent Takeover Day in which all our young people became a member of the Corporate Parenting Panel. We got to know the Corporate Parents and voice our views to some of the most important people in Kent County Council who represent us.

At YAC, we have lots of important discussions ranging from accommodation, life skills and further education, to our comments on the services we have received from KCC and how they can be improved. Another fabulous aspect of our Young Adult Council is the involvement of guest speakers that come and see us and give us fantastic information. Previously, we have had the guru of Universal Credit help us with all our questions about benefits and our entitlements; an Addaction spokesperson enabled our discussion around addiction, drug use and support that is out there for anyone who may be struggling; and some Looked After Children nurses gave us some top tips about keeping healthy.

Some of our guest speakers are looking for advice and suggestions before making any changes or introducing new policies that affect children and young people in care or care leavers. We have even had Matt Dunkley, (Corporate Director Children, Young People and Education) come and speak to us and answer our questions! Furthermore, YAC challenges their Corporate Parents through the Challenge Card process – for example, we have successfully challenged Kent County Council to become our Rent Guarantor should a Care Leaver want to rent privately! It’s an opportunity to have your say, be listened to and make a difference to the lives of children and young people in care.

One of our favourite things to do is attend activity days and focus groups. We love to have fun and make new friends at YAC. We are very lucky to be given the opportunities we have, to voice our opinions and then be able to do things like: gliding, water sports, meals out and so much more! All these are free of charge; travel is paid for to our YAC meetings as well as getting food like pizza and snacky bits! We welcome all Children in Care over 16 and young Care Leavers to our Young Adult Council, and we promise that anyone who comes along will be guaranteed a rewarding time!

Get involved and contact us at: VSK_Participation@Kent.gov.uk

Have Your Say on Kent County Council's Plans for a Greener Future!

Kent County Council wants to hear what young people think about our plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve air quality in Kent and Medway.

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We have prepared a short version of our new strategy for you to read to explain what we think needs to happen and what we will do to protect our environment, but still make sure that Kent and Medway can continue to grow and develop.

We know that the decisions and actions we take today will affect the future of everyone, particularly young people. This is why we would like you to tell us what you think about the strategy by filling in a survey online at:  www.kent.gov.uk/energyandlowemissionsconsultation. You can do this until 23 September 2019.

This shortened version of the strategy will help you fill in the online survey. You can read the full version of the strategy and the full evidence document at www.kent.gov.uk/energyandlowemissionsconsultation.

Civil Service Internships

Are you interesting in a career in government? Want to develop some new skills, gain experience of working in central government and ultimately strengthen your career prospects in the longer term? Then, why not consider whether a paid 12 month internship in the Civil Service might be for you? 

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The internships will be in one of the Government Departments and agencies, working in roles that will be based in various locations across England, Scotland and Wales.  The 2018 interns are currently working across 17 Government Departments and their agencies that have offices around the country – information about locations for 2019 will be shared shortly. 

Have a look at the Civil Service careers website for more information about the different Government Departments that exist. 

To apply for the internships no qualifications are required, but applicants must be a care leaver aged between 18-30 years.  Successful applicants will however be asked to confirm their care leaver status (e.g. through a letter from your Personal Adviser, other officer from Kent County Council, or a named contact in your supporting organisation).

The internships will be offered at two levels: Administrative Officer (typical salary £18,000 per annum); or Executive Officer (typical salary £21,000 per annum).  London salaries may be higher.  Those that apply unsuccessfully for the Executive Officer role may be considered for the Administrative Officer role.

Administrative Officers work in a supporting administrative role with no line management responsibilities, and typically within a team structure.

Executive Officers are involved in problem solving, business planning and policymaking within Government. They usually work within a supportive team structure, under the direction of relevant team leaders. They can also hold individual responsibility for pieces of work within a programme or project.

The Civil Service uses an online application system, which will open for applications on Thursday 29 August and close at 23:59 hours on Thursday 26 September.  Go to the website to apply.

If you are interested in this opportunity, speak to your Personal Adviser!

Summer Reading Challenge 2019

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge ‘Space Chase’ is a fun out-of-this-world adventure!

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It takes place in all Kent Libraries from 13th July until 14th September. Children aged 4 – 11 can join and help super space family ‘The Rockets’ on a special mission, with tons of fun along the way – and it’s all completely free!

You can sign up for the Challenge at any Kent library and receive a special mission folder to keep a record of your reading. Your Challenge is to read 6 library books, collecting stickers & rewards for every 2 books read. When you’ve read all 6 books and completed the challenge, you’ll get a special medal and certificate to keep!

Check out the website, which has even more activities: www.spacechase.org.uk or read more here.

Adventure Under Sail

Ocean Youth Trust South is a charity which gives young people aged between 12 and 25 the opportunity to go to sea.  This year, Virtual School Kent was lucky enough to be able to offer 11 Children in Care an amazing adventure on the ocean!

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For 4 days between 29th May and 2nd June, young people got the chance to sail, keep watch, help to navigate and cook aboard the 30-metre vessel Prolific.  The group joined the boat in Southampton on Wednesday and sailed to Cowes on the first night. The next day, they sailed to Studland Bay and anchored with time to enjoy fishing over the side. Friday was another sail to Weymouth for the beach and ice cream, and Saturday was a long passage back to the Solent where they moored up for the night outside Yarmouth. They even spotted dolphins along the way! The voyage finished in Southampton on Sunday after 151 nautical miles.

The Voyage was a success and eight of the eleven participants also earned Royal Yachting Association Start Yachting certificates - this award is a recognised qualification which young people can keep in their Record of Achievement. It shows that they mastered some basic sailing skills but also demonstrates they were able to listen and concentrate, persevere when things got tough, cope with living in an entirely unfamiliar situation, take responsibility when asked, and much much more.

                                 They should all be proud of themselves for doing so well.

Corporate Parenting Panel Takeover Day!

Kent County Council’s Takeover Day on Wednesday, May 29 saw children in care, care leavers, adopted young people and the sons and daughters of foster carers take charge of the Corporate Parenting Panel and have their voices heard.

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Around 25 young people aged between 10 and 25 took part, shadowing KCC directors, officers and senior councillors to learn how the council is run and how decisions are made at County Hall in Maidstone.

Tabatha, 11, said: “It was a really great day with young people having the chance to lead the meeting with their own agenda.

“We had the chance to discuss important and current issues with our corporate parents such as social media, our dreams for the future and other topics that are important to us.”

Brad, 17, shadowed Ann Allen, chairman of the Corporate Parenting Panel. He said: “It was a phenomenal experience to be able to take over the Corporate Parenting Meeting and to co-chair the meeting with Ann.

“I would love to see this happen again and would highly recommend it as it was an amazing event to be part of.”

The Corporate Parenting Panel is a group of Kent County Council senior staff, elected members and workers from organisations across Kent who are responsible for supporting children in care to grow, thrive and lead happy, fulfilled lives.  The panel’s role is to act as an advocate for children in care and care leavers, make services better and to give young people a voice in decision making.  The young people well and truly took over, choosing topics to talk about and livening up the Council Chambers with balloons, debate and even a vote about the pros and cons of social media. 

Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director Children, Young People and Education said: “It was a memorable, moving, empowering and enlightening occasion. I was left feeling so proud of our young people for their confidence, resilience and good humour, and deeply proud to be a corporate parent.“

If you would like to get involved in activities like this or join one of our Children in Care Councils, then why not email us at VSK_Participation@kent.gov.uk.

Mind of My Own - how it can help you!

Mind of My Own is an award-winning app which allows children in care and care leavers to express their thoughts and feelings easily with the professionals they work with. Children as young as eight can sign up to a young person’s account and access their account whenever and wherever they want.  You can download the app to your phone or tablet or use the website, www.mindofmyown.org.uk

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The sign-up process is simple. All you have to do is give your name, email address and date of birth. If you get stuck, you should ask your Social Worker, Independent Reviewing Officer, Foster Carer or anyone you trust to help you sign up.

The app is very straight forward. There are so many different options to choose from!  You can choose from eight scenarios like ‘Prepare for a Meeting’, ‘Sort a Problem’ or even ‘Share Good News’. Within each scenario, you can answer different questions about what’s going well in your life, what might be more challenging and what you would like to change.  You can add as much information as you like.

Once the questions are completed, you can choose who you would like to send your statement to, whether this is your Social Worker, Independent Reviewing Officer, Virtual School Kent Worker or Personal Adviser.  Just remember to press send!

Mind of My Own is an amazing app and is an easy way for young people and care leavers to express how they are feeling at the time they want and not wait until they see their worker.  It’s particularly good if you sometimes find it difficult saying what you really feel face to face with your workers or need to get something off your chest then and there.  Your worker will receive your statement the next day they are in work and will let you know they have seen it.  

The Mind of My Own app is easily downloaded using the Apple App Store or the Google Play store on iPhone and Android. Any young person can also access the app through the internet by going to www.mindofmyown.org.uk.

So why not give Mind of My Own a go today?! Download the app and send a statement; make sure you have your voice heard!

Write, Speak, Share on IMO

We always love hearing your stories, poems and experiences of being in care and, with your permission, sharing these on this website. 

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You can contribute to Kent Cares Town by emailing VSK_Participation@kent.gov.uk or sending something to VSK, Kent County Council, Worrall House, 30 Kings Hill Avenue, Kings Hill, ME19 4AE.

However, you can also share your thoughts with young people around the country by sending your work to IMO – write, speak, share.

IMO is a voice for teenagers in care and for care leavers. It is somewhere you can share stories, experiences and achievements, get and give advice, and find loads of great free stuff!  They share blogs, vlogs, podcasts and more from teens in care, and they link Children in Care Councils in England together around common campaigns.  They also share opportunities for care leavers, like jobs and apprenticeships.

IMO was created by the Children’s Commissioner for England and a group of teens with care experience. If you would like to join this network and have a say in how IMO is run, get in touch with IMO!

What IMO says, “Whether you’re in care, leaving care, or a care leaver, IMO is here to represent you and your views. We need you to share your stories, experiences and advice with us, to help other teenagers and to make sure decision-makers know what you want. If you want to have your voice heard, send us stuff!”

So why not take a look at the website and see if there’s anything you can contribute to IMO (and Kent Cares Town!).

No Dream Is Too Big! Free Residential Workshop

The University of Greenwich is offering Young People, who are aged between 14 and 17 and have experience of care, the opportunity to take part in a free two-day residential workshop at a London Theatre. During the weekend, you will helped to think about your future using performance and fun drama techniques.

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The workshop will take place on the weekend of 8th and 9th June 2019 at the Bathway Theatre in Woolwich with your overnight stay at university accommodation in Avery Hill in Eltham.  The activities will be delivered by lecturers, drama practitioners and care leaver students. You will use performance not only to have fun but also think constructively about your next steps in life – whether this is applying to university or thinking about a career.  In the evening, you will get the chance to have food with the other young people attending and use the student facilities giving you a taste of university living!

Anyone with care experience aged between 14 and 17 can apply and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t had any experience of drama or performing before!  All of your travel expenses will be covered and your food and accommodation will be provided for free.

To find out more details take a look at the flyer and complete an application form.  The form should be returned to s.thompson@gre.ac.uk by 25th May.

We like to ride our bicycles!

On Tuesday 9th April, the Participation Team took two groups of young people to the Cyclopark in Gravesend.

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Despite the wet weather, we planned to have a great day, and that we did! We started the day by learning how to do ‘M’ checks (checking your bike is safe to ride), making sure we all knew how to ride safely and learning how to brake properly. Once we were all ready, we headed onto the road course.  We learnt how to ride as a ‘chain gang’ (groups of four taking it in turns to ride at the front of a line). After a few laps, we took a short break to have a drink (and a few cheeky biscuits).

After the break, we ventured on to the ‘off road’ trail. On the trail, there were lots of bumps and tight corners that both groups overcame fantastically. In the middle of the trail, we stopped to ride on a downhill mountain biking course. Within the course there were very tight corners with large berms and big mounds to ride over. Everyone had at least one go and thoroughly enjoyed the course. We soon headed back to base to get ready to go home.  We had a great day and really can’t wait to do something similar again!

We have some great activities coming up during the May half term holidays. If you’re interested in attending any of these days, please email us at VSK_Participation@kent.gov.uk.

Share your biggest achievement for your chance to win 40 hours of driving lessons with the AA

IMO, the website where Children in Care and Care Leavers can share their stories and experiences, is running an amazing competition for teenagers over 16 in care and Care Leavers up to the age of 25. 

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IMO is asking you to send in a blog post, short story, article, poem, photograph, video, vlog or podcast about your biggest achievement for your chance to win a full set of driving lessons.  As long as it fits the theme, you can be as creative as your want!  You could write about how you coped with being in care or moving to a new placement, passing your exams, starting a new job or taking on a new challenge.  It’s entirely up to you!

The competition will be judged by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England.  The lucky winner will win 40 hours of driving lessons from the AA, whilst three runners up will each receive a pair of Curzon cinema tickets and a year long subscription to Tastecard. 

To find out where to send your entry, check out the T&Cs and find the competition entry form, go to https://imohub.org.uk/competition-win-driving-lessons-the-aa/

The deadline is midnight on Sunday 28 April 2019 so get creating!

The Care Leaver Covenant

The Care Leaver Covenant is a promise made by private, public or voluntary organisations to provide support for Care Leavers aged 16 – 25 to help them to live independently.

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In July 2016, the Government published ‘Keep On Caring’ to support young people from care to independence.

All young people who leave care are now provided with support in the form of a Local Offer.  This should include help with the transition to living independently; support with finding accommodation and with any costs of participation in education, training and employment.  Kent County Council’s Local Offer can be found here.

However, in order to help Care Leavers get the best possible start to adulthood, other organisations also need to play a part and that’s where the Care Leaver Covenant comes in!

Organisations that sign up to the Care Leaver Covenant are able to offer a support package to Care Leavers.  Some of the activities organisations might offer, include:

  • Providing care leavers with opportunities to enter the world of work, such as offering work experience placements, work shadowing placements, internships, traineeships and apprenticeships
  • Providing care leavers with additional support. For example, one-to-one mentoring or pastoral support and advice, such as financial guidance, career/employment guidance, educational prospects and opportunities
  • Providing care leavers with opportunities to try new things e.g. discounts for sport, leisure and cultural activities along with discounted retail offers
  • Providing or supporting Care Leavers in educational and training opportunities that will help open up future employment opportunities

To help you access this support, the Care Leaver Covenant App has been created to show you these useful offers provided by organisations, charities and businesses across the UK.  They are exclusive to Care Leavers, and are intended to help you start your career, stay healthy and make new friends.

Largely, this App is designed to work offline, so once it is installed you don’t need to rely on having WiFi or an internet connection to be able to use it. This also means it won’t be using any of your phone contract data. The App will be updated with new offers as they become available, and anything new will be automatically synced to your App when you have got a connection, such as in a library or a cafe.  Download it at Google Play or the Apple App Store!

Around the World in a Day

Over the February half term, there were two activity days held in Kings Hill and Canterbury.  Young People could come along and take part in different workshops - African Drumming, Chinese Dance and Asian Shadow Puppets - to learn about some arts from different countries. 

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The day started off with everyone arriving, saying hello and getting to know each other. Once everyone had arrived, we got into our groups which were team Panda, Lion and Asian elephant – named after the countries’ native animals. The group I was in was Lions and we started off the day with African Drumming.

We learnt that the African drum that we were playing was called a Djembe and it is normally found in West African Countries.  It is traditionally made from goat skin to provide the drum with high pitched tones. We also learnt there are three main sounds of the Djembe that can be played which are the bass, tone and slap. The bass sound is the low-pitched sound and it is made by hitting the drum in the middle with a heavy hand. The tone sound is the medium pitched sound and it is made by playing the drum on the edge with your fingers. Then the slap is the high-pitched sound (which is the hardest sound of the three to make) and is made by playing it near the edge but slightly further in than the tone sound using the palm of your hand. Once we had learnt the different sounds we could play, we started to learn rhythms on the Djembe which was so much fun. At first, it was difficult to remember the rhythms but with practice and help from the tutor and my group it became a lot easier to remember.

Next, we had Chinese ribbon dance which is a traditional art form that originates from ancient China and is performed with a thick satin ribbon on a stick.  You use the ribbon to create patterns and designs in the air. At first, everyone felt a bit silly and shy to take part but once we went through the moves and had a giggle about how we all looked together, everyone enjoyed themselves. It took some practice to make certain patterns in the air because it was harder than it looked but it was so much fun. We performed our dance to traditional Chinese music. By the end, everyone had mastered the dance with one and two ribbons without getting them tangled, twisted or knotted.

Then we had lunch and played some games all together such as stuck in the mud and duck duck goose before we went to our last workshop.

Last but not least, we had Asian Shadow puppets. The puppeteer went through the different kinds of puppets there are such as finger puppet, hand puppet, marionette, and shadow puppets. We learnt that shadow puppets are a part of ancient Indian culture and deliver a good moral or message within the story. The shadow puppetry is performed behind a white sheet with a light beaming through so the figures of the shadow puppets are easier to see. We made our own shadow puppets with black card and a stick and used them to produce a story about an elephant and a dog which is an Indian folktale.

At the end of the day, we showed each other the arts we had learnt by performing them in our groups.  This was so much fun because we were working as a team and showed everyone what we had accomplished as a team.

Want to find out more about attending a VSK Activity Day or have an idea for our next day? Then why not contact us!

Chelsea Goodwin

Struggling to get your voice heard?

If you are worried about something related to your care, education or the adults who work with you, it is important that you feel able to talk to someone about it.  Often this could be someone you see regularly like your Social Worker or your Foster Carer but if you don’t want to talk to one of the people who works with you, you can talk to an advocate.

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An advocate is independent as they do not work for Kent County Council.  In Kent, they work for the Young Lives Foundation.  Their role is to listen to your concerns and support you to find solutions which are in your best interest. They make sure you understand your rights and what you are entitled to as a Child in Care or Care Leaver in Kent. Advocates can help you get your views across and help you have a say in the decisions made about your life. 

With your agreement, an advocate can support you at meetings and contact people who work with you on your behalf.  They can help you write letter and emails or even make a complaint if you’re unhappy about something.  They try to help you resolve your problems.  They will also keep any information you tell them confidential unless you tell them that it is ok to share (unless they are worried that you or someone else may not be safe).

You can contact the Young Lives Foundation directly or ask someone to telephone them for you. Their free phone number is 0808 164 0096 or you can email advocacy@ylf.org.uk.

Their website is https://ylf.org.uk/young-peoples-zone/ur-voice/

Win a Kindle Fire with Sam Learning!

At Virtual School Kent, we are always looking for ways to extend our students’ learning. We have subscribed to SAM Learning, a unique online service which offers educational support on multiple subjects.

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Studies show that students can achieve 2 GCSE grades on average better than expected with as little as 10 hours or more use of SAM Learning.

The Competition!

VSK will be awarding a Kindle Fire 7 to the Year 11 student who has demonstrated the most effective use of Sam Learning on their core GCSE subjects.

BUT any secondary school age student, who is in care, can obtain an account for Sam Learning to help their studying so please ask even if you are Year 7-10!

To arrange access to Sam Learning, please email eklipss@kent.gov.uk and we will send you your username, password and login instructions.

Taking Over Whitehall!

In November, Virtual School Kent was very excited to support two young people, Bradley and Chelsea, take part in the Whitehall Takeover, a month-long event organised by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. 

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Before the Takeover began, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England said, “Children in care are this month taking over the Government and experiencing Whitehall’s corridors of power first-hand.”  Young people from around the country got to spend a day in London with Government Ministers or officials finding out what it’s like to make decisions at the highest level.

Bradley shadowed Kent MP Kelly Tolhurst, the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whilst Virtual School Kent Apprentice, Chelsea got to experience decision making at the Department for Education with Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System. 

Both of the young people were able to share their experiences and fresh ideas with key decision makers and see how central government works. 

Bradley enjoyed the opportunity to receive a personal tour of Parliament (including the roof garden!), watch a key Brexit debate from the public gallery in the House of Commons and accompany the Minister to debates and speeches. 

Chelsea loved listening to (and taking part in!) meetings about adoption and faith schools.  She also had the chance, alongside other young people in care, to share her views and experiences about not just education, but a range of issues that face Children in Care and Care Leavers with Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families and Anne Longfield herself.

The Takeover Challenge was a great way to get young people’s voices heard at the highest levels and give them experiences they otherwise wouldn’t receive.  

Want to get involved in opportunities like this? Contact us via the website!

Finding Accommodation as a Care Leaver

Moving on from Social Services accommodation is a big step, and you might have concerns about finding somewhere to live. Your Personal Advisor (PA) will be able to go through your options with you.

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Accommodation Types

You might have registered with Kent Homechoice and be hoping for an offer of Council or Housing Association accommodation. Unfortunately, there are many more people on the waiting list than there are homes, so you might not be offered anything. However, there are other options.

Private renting is a popular choice. Many landlords and letting agencies advertise their properties online. It might be more affordable to rent a room in a shared house, rather than renting a flat or house by yourself.    

Spareroom.co.uk is a popular website, which also gives advice and information for people who are looking for a flatshare. Many letting agencies also have shared houses to let. In shared accommodation, the cost of gas, electricity, water, TV Licence, Council Tax, maybe even Wifi is shared with the other tenants, and you pay less rent because you share.

What to think about

When looking for accommodation, think about what you would like to live near to: your workplace or college/university? Do you need to attend regular medical appointments? Perhaps you have friends and family who you would like to live near to? It is important to find out how much you should expect to pay for rent in the area you plan to live in. Rents can be high in Kent (although not as high as in most areas of London).

If the rent is too high, is there somewhere nearby that is cheaper? Maybe even a short bus journey or drive away? Whether you will be paying your rent out of your wages, or by claiming Housing Benefit/Universal Credit, you need to be sure that you can afford it before you sign the tenancy agreement.

Kent

In Kent, the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) doesn’t cover the full monthly rent for most rental properties. This means that you will need to have some way of paying whatever is owed to your landlord after you have paid your Housing Benefit to them (“the shortfall”). As a care leaver, you are entitled to a higher rate of Housing Benefit up to the age of 22. This is helpful when you are looking for somewhere to live, but you will need to think about how you will pay your rent after the age of 22, when your benefit is reduced to Single Room Rate. There is a lot to think about, but your PA can advise you on issues around rent benefits and tenancy agreements, to help you decide what is best for you.

Guarantor

Many lettings agents ask for a guarantor. A guarantor is a person you know – usually a family member - who will be responsible for paying your rent, if you can’t (or don’t). A guarantor is usually a home owner, in employment, earning over a certain amount of money. Not everybody knows someone who they can ask to be their guarantor. Kent County Council has recognised this difficulty and has introduced a rent guarantor scheme. In certain circumstances, Kent County Council can act as a rent guarantor on behalf of a young person aged over 18, where there is no family member willing/able to do so. Your PA can give you information on the guarantor scheme.

Setting Up Home

Setting up a home is expensive, but Kent County Council can offer a Setting Up Home Allowance up to the value of £2,000.00, to buy essential items when you move into your own home. From 1st October 2018, additional financial support can be provided to you, to cover your first month’s rent, deposit, and letting agent fees, when moving into private rented accommodation. This is in addition to the £2,000.00 Setting Up Home Allowance. The Council also provides an option to put some or all the Setting Up Home Allowance into an adult ISA or Help to Buy scheme, to help promote your financial security, financial independence, and savings for future accommodation. This is something else that your PA can speak to you about.

Want to find out more about accommodation as a Care Leaver? Click here.

 

Why go to a University or College Open Day?

Making decisions about your future can be confusing whether you are in Year 11, Year 13 or considering a return to education or training after a break.  Sixth form, college, university, apprenticeships, the world of work…the possibilities can sometimes seem endless!  But help is at hand!

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Organised Open Days are one way to find out about college or university life and get a sense of what studying at different institutions is really like.  You can discover more about your chosen courses and explore the college or university site at your own pace.  They are a unique opportunity to find out exactly what you will study and how, explore the facilities and gain further information directly from the teachers, tutors and students already there!

Top Tips for attending Open Days

  • Check if you can just turn up or whether you need to register or book on to a site/campus tour by visiting the college or university website before the Open Day.
  • Go with a list of questions and things you want to find out.  Open Days are a fantastic opportunity to actually speak to real people including students studying courses you are interested in!
  • Try to picture yourself studying there – different colleges/universities suit different people.  You need to find the right one for you.
  • Don’t forget to check out the other facilities.  What’s the café or restaurant like? Is there a gym or clubs you can join?
  • Open days are also a good way to get to know the local area, find where the college is and work out how easy it is to get to it from home.

College and university Open Days are taking place throughout November and December.  You can find College Open Day dates here and information about visiting Kent Universities here.  Don’t worry if you miss an Open Day.  You can often arrange to visit informally – just give the college or university a ring or visit their website to find out more.

Don’t forget there are also advisers in Virtual School Kent and the Care Leavers 18+ Service who can help you too.  Talk to your Social Worker or PA who can put you in touch with the right person.

16+ Awards Ceremony

Virtual School Kent held their fifth annual Post 16 Awards Ceremony.  This event recognises and celebrates the achievements of looked after post 16 young people and there were some amazing success stories.

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As in previous years, lots of nominations were received and 88 awards were presented to young people, many of whom attended the awards ceremony.  It was a truly fantastic evening with over 50 young people attending, supported by their friends, carers, social workers and personal advisers.  The event had a red, black and gold theme with red carpet, balloons, photo screen, sports activities and a delicious buffet.   Everyone was blown away by the young people’s achievements.  The event also included an entertaining quiz about the Young Adult Council led by the VSK Apprentices (some tables were very competitive!) and a talk about the National Citizen Service by Ben Powell.

Awards presented at the ceremony included:

  • Young people achieving excellent GCSE results
  • Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards for our post 16 students
  • Young Adult Council members received recognition for their commitment to the Council
  • National Citizen Service Award

There were some really inspiring stories from these young people and they rightly deserved the recognition of their achievements!

Well done again to all the winners!

Say Hello to Tia and Rob and well done Chelsea!

This summer, we have been incredibly happy to welcome two new apprentices to the Participation Team. You may have met Tia Pires Higgins and Rob Barton if you came to our activity days during the summer holidays but if not, let’s meet them…

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Rob

Hi, my name is Rob. I am now an Apprentice for the Virtual School Kent. An actor at heart, I love being able to express my feelings through shows and songs, so beware. I have become an apprentice for lots of reasons. The first reason would be because of my background - I grew up in foster care and I have a good my knowledge of the care system and how it affects young people. The second reason would be that I love seeing the enjoyment on a young person’s face when they know that things have been done for them and that rewards are coming to them as well. I’m really looking forward to my new role.

Tia

Hi, my name is Tia and I’m a new addition to the VSK Participation Team. My hobbies and interests are ice skating and horse riding. I really enjoyed doing some work experience in the summer with VSK which is when I decided I wanted to be part of the team. I am really looking forward to my role as an Apprentice Participation Worker as I can engage with and help lots of young people.

Chelsea

We are also happy to announce that Chelsea Goodwin will be continuing with the Virtual School Kent after successfully completing her level 2 Apprenticeship. She is now working towards a level 3 qualification, well done Chelsea!

All our Apprentice Participation Workers are undertaking an apprenticeship with Virtual School Kent and are here to help bridge the gap between you and the Kent County Council elected Members and Senior Directors. They have been in care at some point themselves or have had similar experiences. The role of an apprentice with VSK involves supporting young people, encouraging them to speak up about their views and experiences, and discussing what they would like to change about the care system. Their main responsibilities are to support the Children in Care Councils and organise the activity days that run during the school holidays.

If you are interested in becoming an apprentice within the Participation Team and would like to learn more, why not get in touch? Email VSK_Participation@kent.gov.uk to see if we are recruiting new apprentices!

The Annual Children in Care Countywide Event

Every year, Virtual School Kent’s Participation Team holds a celebration for the three Children in Care Councils. The council groups are The Super Council which is for 7-11 year olds, Our Children and Young People’s Council for 11-16 year olds and the Young Adult Council for age 16+.

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As well as celebrating the groups’ achievements, it’s a great chance for the Corporate Parents to meet young people and hear first-hand their views, opinions, and fresh ideas about the care they receive from Kent County Council. This year, the event took place on the 1st August in Maidstone.

What is a Corporate Parent?

The aim of the day was to explore what young people understand by the term ‘Corporate Parents’ and how Kent County Council can be the best corporate parent possible to all children in care and care leavers in Kent.

The young people had a chance to create their Corporate Parenting ‘top 10’, some of these included stability, to be given choices and to be listened to.

The young people also added their own feedback about what they would like Kent County Council and their Corporate Parents to do better, some of the things they said were:

  • Corporate Parents to attend more days/events with Children in Care
  • To be treated as a part of a family
  • Greater consistency
  • To widen opportunities for Children in Care and Care Leavers

The Participation Team will use the young people’s ideas and feedback to create a Young Person’s Guide to Corporate Parenting.

Then it was time for the fun part - the outdoor team game activities which included KCC staff and young people taking part in giant inflatable darts, limbo and a large inflatable climbing wall. Thank you to everyone who attended – your view and ideas are shaping the services that you and other children in care and care leavers receive!

If you are interested in joining one of the Children in Care Councils or just having your say, get in touch at VSK_Participation@kent.gov.uk.

MOMO Gets A New Look!

Mind of My Own (MOMO) is an app or website that allows you to share your thoughts and feelings with your social worker, independent reviewing officer, personal adviser and other professionals

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Once you have turned 8, you can sign up for your own account at http://mindofmyown.org.uk/ or by downloading the app on to a smart phone or tablet.

Choose the scenario you would like to talk about and off you go.

If you use the app regularly, you might have noticed a few changes recently:

  • A quicker sign up for young people – you can now create your new account in 3 easy steps!
  • The mood slider – drag the mood slider to show how you’re feeling.
  • Fun emojis – communicate more quickly and easily!
  • Improved link to Childline – MOMO One isn’t an emergency app so if you need to talk to someone urgently, you can contact Childline. If you use MOMO on a mobile phone and click the Childline logo, you have the option to make a free phone call to Childline immediately.
  • ‘My Profile’ page – You will be able to customise your ‘profile’ to include information about yourself. MOMO will be doing more work on the profile section in the coming months so look out for more features to come!

Want to find out more about MOMO One? Contact the Participation Team at VSK_Participation@kent.gov.uk or click on the MOMO section in the Primary or Secondary areas of Kent Cares Town.

A fantastic summer of activity days!

What a brilliant summer we have had! Hot, sunny and jam packed with fun!

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We started the summer trying some new sports – gliding in Ashford and water sports in Dover.

Next, a trip to Betteshanger Park near Deal gave us the chance to conquer an obstacle course, build shelters and try geocaching.

Animal lovers enjoyed trips to Howletts Zoo to see the gorillas, lions, elephants and more whilst at Huckleberry Woods in Faversham, we fed cute farm animals and even tried pig fishing! We finished the summer mountain biking and canoeing at Bewl Water and den building at Shorne County Park where even the rain couldn’t spoil our enjoyment of the day.

You told us that the activity days were a great way to try something new, have fun and meet new friends. We loved seeing so many new and familiar faces and look forward to seeing you all at another activity day in the future! If you haven’t been to one our activity days before, we’d love to meet you, give it a try! We will be running activity days during the October school holidays.

Our Activity Days are open to all children in the care of Kent County Council. We also run days for older young people in care and care leavers. If you want to find out about our next activity days or have a suggestion for something we could do, get in touch at VSK_Participation@kent.gov.uk.