Stories from Lawrence House: Romina

Founded in 2005, Lawrence House is a registered Child and Youth Care Centre providing care and protection to unaccompanied foreign minors and refugee children. Romina Meneghetti is the senior child and youth care worker at Lawrence House.
What are the main challenges you face working in Lawrence House?
Different children face different challenges. For younger children, following instructions, keeping to a routine and respecting themselves can be a challenge. For teenagers, it is more about balancing the freedom they would like to have and the fact that they live in an institution. There are other challenges that we face regardless of the age, and those are related to the difficult backgrounds and the trauma some of the children have gone through. We need to build a trusting relationship, be honest and create a sense of identity. This takes time.
How do you support those children affected by trauma?
Firstly, we try to run Lawrence House as a home rather than an institution. We want to instill a sense of family. The child and youth care workers offer emotional support to the children, whilst trauma professionals and a clinical psychologist offer more specialized assistance. The team have a case discussion with the supervisor to understand where a child’s behavior comes from. We decide on an intervention, which can be done internally through our programmes or by referring the child to an external professional, such as psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.
What kind of activities does Lawrence House offer?
We have a jungle gym, a pool, and a basket-ball court outside. Inside, we have table tennis, board games and a TV. Our recreation programme includes also extra mural activities. Most of the children are involved in sports at school or with other clubs such as Capoeira or soccer. We also run guitar classes, art classes, and a reading tea club. During holidays we go for hikes, to the beach or go to the park, as part of the holiday programme.
How do you manage the youth’s transition from residential care to independent life?
The transition into adulthood can be an exciting time but it brings up fears and involves a shift in identity and routine. We encourage youth to take leadership their own life. First of all, youth are encouraged to help running the house. Some young people are role models the rest of the children and this allows them to be more in control of their own life.
We also work in partnership with an external service provider, Mamelani Projects, which runs the ProSeed Youth Development Programme. This provides support to young people in their transition from residential care, with workshops in development, identity, relationships and resilience. Lawrence House also has its own Transitional Support Programme which prepares them for when they leave the home.
How do you support children and young people to become well balanced, happy individuals integrated into their surrounding community?
All children go through normal transitions as they grow. For the children in our care, these transitions are even more difficult because they come from a difficult background, they are in a country that is not their own and they live in an institution. Since each individual has his/ her own character, skills, strengths, weaknesses, we develop an IDP (Individual Developmental Plan) for each one. To do that, we follow the Circle of Courage philosophy. The Circle of Courage is a model of positive youth development based on four universal growth needs of all children: belonging (significance), mastery (competence), independence (power), and generosity (virtues). If one of those areas is distorted or absent then the person is not balanced – so we work to try and ensure a balance. Regarding the child’s integration within the community, the school plays a major role. We make sure that all children attend school not only to have an education but also to create relationship with other children. This helps them to be exposed to the local culture and to integrate them into the community.
What do you love about working at Lawrence House?
Professionally, I feel that I contribute to make a difference in a young person’s life when I can see that a young person grows and becomes mature and independent and successful.
Recently a young lady came to visit me, who had been in Lawrence House. She said, “I like to come back here because I can be myself and I can talk loud!”. It is this kind of comment that makes me feel happy as a person.