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UHI Inverness celebrates Care Experienced Week by hosting training and information events

By Gregor White

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Representatives from WhoCaresScotland, the Highland Promise Boardand local organisations attended training at UHI Inverness.
Representatives from WhoCaresScotland, the Highland Promise Boardand local organisations attended training at UHI Inverness.

UHI Inverness is marking Care Experienced Week by hosting events that help ensure people with care experience have improved access to support.

The annual national awareness week showcases and celebrates the care experienced community.

In the Highlands an event was planned for every day of the week to build connections, highlight the local support available and raise the profile of the work being done in line with a national commitment to improve care experience for everyone.

'Care experienced' is the term given to children, young people and adults who have lived experience of the care system.

The care includes being fostered, residential, looked after at home under a supervision order or living with close family friends or relatives.

The week began on Monday when the flag of support group Highland CHAMPS (Children Have Amazing Minds, Potential and Stories) was raised at the UHI Inverness campus and at Inverness Leisure.

UHI Inverness also hosted the Highland Promise Board for a corporate parent training session delivered by WhoCares? Scotland. The training was shaped by care experienced young people from the Highlands.

On Wednesday an awareness raising event was held on campus that allowed a number of local organisations to engage with students and staff.

During the event students got the chance to test a new free app, Has Answers by the Calman Trust, which provides a wide range of support covering all aspects of independent living as well as employment advice.

UHI Inverness currently has approximately 155 students with care experience across a variety of programmes of study.

The Access and Transitions Team offers far-reaching support to care experienced students that covers social, emotional, housing, finance and learning support needs.

The support is delivered in line with Corporate Parenting legislation and The Promise Scotland, which aims to ensure that all care experienced people grow up loved and safe.

UHI Inverness also offers a course designed specifically for care experienced young people, called the LEEP Ahead programme, (Life, Education, Employment and Personal Development) which provides the first step into preparing for further study or work.

LEEP Ahead aims to build self-esteem, increase personal and social skills, improve health and wellbeing, and introduce a wider curriculum experience through project-based activity.

The programme won the Widening Access category at the Herald Higher Education Awards 2023 in June and applications are open for the 2023/24 course which begins in January.

Vice Principal Lindsay Snodgrass said: “At UHI Inverness we offer support to all students who have experience of care no matter their age or how long ago they experienced that care.

"We recognise that their needs are varied and sometimes complex and what they have lived through could be a barrier to their learning.

"We place value on building trusting relationships and tailored support for our students to help them overcome any additional challenges they may face.

“We are pleased to be collaborating with a number of partners to recognise and celebrate Care Experienced Week.

"It is important that we raise the profile of the great work that is being done to make sure our care experienced community feel respected and empowered and well inform of the support they are entitled to and how to engage with it.”

Carrie McLaughlan, The Promise programme manager at Highland Council, said: “Highland’s Promise Board was delighted to be joining Who Cares? Scotland for training on our responsibilities as corporate parents.

"It is fantastic, and not a coincidence, that this training session fell on the start of Care Experienced Week, an important week in celebrating the care experienced community and building connections across the Highlands.

“Our board is committed to improving services and experiences for our care community, and to do so, we must also commit to a 50/50 co-design approach where we listen to voices of lived experience.

"Care Experience Week is a fantastic opportunity to draw alongside the communities and really listen.”

Nina Gatt, the depute curriculum leader of social care, health and childcare at UHI Inverness, was six when she was taken into residential social care after her mother suffered a mental health crisis.

She now delivers the acclaimed LEEP Ahead programme.

“I still remember what an emotional wreck I was as I settled into the new ‘norms’ of family life,” she said.

“There is always that one person who goes the extra mile to really understand the needs and challenges and successes of their learners. For me this was my form tutor. He had a strong intuition when days were a struggle for me and would keep me bolstered with positive comments and a ‘can do attitude’.

Nina Gatt.
Nina Gatt.

"His expectations of me were high and it was his belief in me that made me strive to be the best that I could be.

"We all need someone to believe in us!

“I am now fortunate to be working closely with care experienced individuals on the LEEP Ahead programme.

"For the last two years I have worked with our access and transitions team and wider stakeholders to develop and deliver a programme which recognises the key challenges facing our care experienced young people.

"This has ensured that our young care experienced learners are placed at the heart of all decision making.

"The results have been outstanding – with care experienced individuals who had simply ‘given up’, moving on to more positive destinations.

"I have loved being part of their journey!”

Nina explained that a relationship-based approach is a central focus of UHI Inverness's work with care experienced learners.

“From the moment they set foot at UHI Inverness they benefit from the support of a ‘named’ individual," she said.

"This not only provides individuals with emotional support from staff who can quickly respond to their needs, but it also ensures that learners feel valued, respected and listened to.

"Relationships continue to be key within our delivery, with a coffee and breakfast daily soft start approach and minimal staff changes.”

Tracy Kennedy, the depute curriculum leader of arts, drama and humanities at UHI Inverness, entered the care system when she was just two years old.

She said: “I spent my childhood in a succession of foster homes and children’s homes.

"I had many different social workers during this time although I can only really remember one of them.

"On my 18th birthday I was given £50 and sent out into the world to, in my social worker’s words, ‘repay my debt to society’.”

She said there was one secondary school teacher who believed in her and what she told him when others didn’t allowed her to have some space when his classroom was empty, made sure she got home OK if the buses weren’t running and simply listened to her.

Tracy Kennedy.
Tracy Kennedy.

She said: “Even now, in my 50s, I still remember him and the school as my rock and the one stable thing in my life at that time.

“I now often have care experienced students in my classroom, and I empathise with everything they are coping with.

"It’s hard enough being a teenager or young person, never mind dealing with being care experienced too, and I think UHI Inverness does an amazing job supporting students.

“We have had students whose lives outside of college have been really chaotic and they have not known how to handle what is going on, but the lecturers and support staff at UHI Inverness are all there to help and support.

“I am really proud to be involved in Care Experienced Week and I think it’s really important for as many educational centres as possible to get involved with initiatives like this as it will help support care experienced students.”

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