Much of NYAS’ work centres on providing advocacy and legal representation to children and vulnerable adults when important decisions are being made about them.   It’s a serious endeavour as these young people might be in care, have a disability or special needs, be subject to child protection plans, have mental health difficulties or their parents might be separating.  While this diverse range of circumstances presents an equally diverse set of needs, there is one constant – that all children deserve to be children and as such having fun and enjoying positive life affirming experiences should be their right.

Outside of the work we do in the courtroom or behind the scenes supporting children and their families, we also work hard to make sure that children and young people in care get the opportunity to live life, build their confidence, develop friendships and have fun.  One of the key ways we do this is through our Independent Visitor (IV) programme.

The IV programme matches children and young people in care with a volunteer in their local area who commits to spending time with them on a regular basis. Often the only constant non-paid adult in their lives, IVs provide a tremendous source of friendship and guidance to the children and young people they are paired with.  These monthly meetings are centred around the wishes of the young person and typically involve days out or activities such as bowling, trips to the cinema, eating out, shopping or simply just taking a walk in the park.

The whole ethos of being an IV is centred on fun and giving the child or young person someone independent and impartial who they can build trust and rapport with.  The experiences of one 15-year-old called Katie, who lives in a children’s home after a number of foster care placements broke down, bears that out.  Her IV told us: “Katie has special educational needs and it was suggested an IV would be good for her as she lacks confidence and struggles to make friends.

“Thanks to a grant for positive activities for children and young people in care, I have been able to involve Katie in some new activities, and she has had lots of fun.  Katie was interested in obstacle courses and liked to watch others on them but had never had the confidence to take part, so I took her to a local adventure centre and with encouragement from me she went on the high ropes, zip wire and maze. She really enjoyed herself and had a big beam on her face for the whole day. She was really proud of herself and still tells people about what she did that day.”

IV John was matched with a teenage boy who had been fostered by an elderly lady that he was struggling to relate to. John gave his young person a friend, a much-needed male role model and someone to have fun with.  John said:   Most of our visits involved going to the cinema and for something to eat, because, at the end of the day it’s what he wanted to do.  Our monthly visits were a chance for him to relax and have fun, forget about his worries and be a normal teenager.”

It’s widely recognised that play, fun and relaxation have a hugely important role to play in healthy brain development and it’s often through fun new experiences that children have the opportunity to develop their emotional strength and resilience too.  For children in care, this is particularly important as they navigate their way through change, turmoil and complex emotions.

It’s because of this that grants to fund positive activities and our Independent Visitor programmes are so very necessary.  Whether it’s a grant of a few thousand pounds from a charitable trust or a donation of £100 from a local supporter, this money allows us to keep giving children and young people the normal, fun and exciting experiences they deserve.

One of our latest projects bridges the idea of giving children and young people fun experiences with learning new skills too.  NYAS has been involved in the Digital Life Stories project, joint funded by the Big Lottery, for some time and it involves children and young people sharing their experiences of life in care and telling their stories through film

As well as giving these children and young people an artistic outlet through which to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences, it’s also a chance to develop new digital skills that will stand them in good stead for the future.  One of the two new films uses poetry written by a young man in care and a guest appearance from retired British sprint and hurdling track and field athlete and care-leaver Kris Akabussi, while the other uses animation to tell the story of the positive life a little boy in care goes on to lead. These films are to be celebrated for the new experiences these young people enjoyed while they developed their ideas, collaborated together and worked alongside professionals, as well as for the power of their story-telling.

It’s clear to us that every child and young person in care matters and that they should have the most positive experience of childhood possible.  Giving them the opportunity to try new things, have fun with friends and develop new skills are what everyone’s formative years should be all about.

To view the latest Digital Life Stories films find us on Facebook by clicking here

To find out more about how you can donate your time and join our Volunteer Independent visitor programme click here

To find out how you can donate to NYAS or get involved with a fundraising challenge, visit here