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Semi-independent living

Video featuring a refugee who arrived in Mexico when he was a child accompanied only by a sibling.
Hello, I’m Giovanni, I’m 18 years old, I come from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I want to show you what I do, my home and how I live. Come on in!
Today we are in a place which is very special for us because it’s the apartment of a young man who has been part of Casa Alianza’s programme for more than seven years. We are visiting him and we are happy to have you here. Casa Alianza has been working in Mexico for 30 years. It’s part of an international organisation whose mission is to deal with abandonment. Unfortunately, some of the migration, for the different causes it occurs, is part of this abandonment in which adolescents find themselves The care model tends to deal with all these needs from the moment we find them.
In the case of unaccompanied children from other countries, it is very important to apply this model with its last phase, to really give them a tool with which they can remain in this country, and which makes them really feel part of this country, so they know they can work for this country and never again feel like strangers in a place. So this model gives them the tools to really start an independent life of their own. Well, this is my dining room. Here is where I eat when I get out of work. And this is my fridge, here I have my stuff, my food, I have my stuff.
I am learning how to cook but I am not very good at it yet.
This is my bike. I don’t like to take public transportation. So I decided to buy a bike. And to go to work, I go by bike. Besides, it’s much healthier. So it’s great. And this is my tiny kitchen. Here is where I cook. Here is my stove, here I wash my dishes, here I have my towels and my mops. I have everything. And let’s go to the fun part of my house which is my room. This is– this is my bed, I sleep here, it’s quite comfortable. Here is where my clothes are. Here are my coats, sweaters and everything.
More than just covering the basic needs of these young people with clothes, food and a place to live it is necessary to establish contact with the person and their needs. It’s like going deeper and finding what it is that is needed, because obviously covering those basic needs is the fastest and easiest, but coming to an understanding of the person, finding what it is that will make this person feel significant in this country, what it is that will make them feel safe and welcome, I think that needs a longer process and it is where I think the challenge lies, and where we have to invest most efforts.
Because the success this young person or the institution who wants to support them, will manage to achieve in anything else depends on this process. The foundation, with the purpose to insert them in a society in which they can be self-sufficient, financially and most of all emotionally, gives them the opportunity to rent a place at their own expense. Today we are visiting the house of one of the young people who prepared himself to get to this phase. Within the foundation, I coordinate the programme of independent life, and I am in charge of the children’s process to enable their successful social inclusion, promoting their social abilities and preparing them for independent life.
Together with a team of two other people, we work with the children through workshops that prepare them for their job search. We also prepare them to insert them in some training, so they can start saving money to cover all these costs. It is very important. It is an important step toward adult life because now they can take responsibility for themselves. So all the accompaniment the foundation gives them, as well as the monitoring it does, makes the young people feel safer about their undertaking. Living alone is not easy for them.
In the residential phases, they have been living together with a group of friends and with staff that look after them, and in this moment, in this phase, they are now practically alone. “Alone” meaning that they are the ones in charge of their daily activities. They will cook for themselves, even if it’s getting late, they’ll see they have to eat, if they don’t have food left, and so on. It’s very important because we are in constant communication with them, to see how they are doing. See how they are doing, what is difficult for them, so we can orient them and listen to them so they don’t feel alone in this life change that they are experiencing.
Well, I am going to explain to you more or less the process that you have to go through to become independent from the foundation. For starters, the foundation supports you until you are 18 years of age. Right now, I am 18 years old. But for you to get this privilege, because I really see it is a great privilege, to get here and become independent while still receiving the support of the foundation, one; you have to have a formal job, that they give to you they look for a job for you.
And you have to gather some kind of savings that they request that they request you to have, to be able to buy your dining room, your TV, all of that, and with those savings, well, you’ll be able to buy all of that. And then you come here. Really, I have felt rather comfortable. Arriving here has been impressive because when you get here they still offer support because they offer, they still give you medical support, they still give you medical support, they give you pills, they give you medication if you need it. And something I think is very important is the psychological area, because this is a drastic change and because you have eventually become used to…
For example, in my case, I was in the foundation for many years, I was there about six years. That drastic change, to start from nowhere and be able to suddenly become independent. It is very difficult. And it hits you psychologically very hard. Because it’s not the same to get here and, well, you don’t see anyone. Because I was used to coming home and seeing everyone, playing, dancing, and all of that. And now I get home and no, I get home and there is no one. I have to cook for myself, and all of that.
And that’s exactly what this area is for, so you can get used to all of this gradually, because it’s a change that, man, it changes a lot. And also, every 15 days they come to check on me, to see if I’m alright, if I have food, if I have water, if I have electricity, if I’m living well, and if my home is clean. What else? Well, really, I think that’s all they do, but I think it’s a lot. I can’t ask for more, so, well… that is all! Thank you.

In this video we hear from Giovanni, a refugee who arrived in Mexico when he was a child accompanied only by a sibling. Giovanni has moved into a semi-independent living programme. He explains how his current accommodation has been provided by the NGO Fundación Casa Alianza after he left their small group home in Mexico City. You may remember we were able to take a closer look at this small group home in Week 4 of your course. We then hear from Dolores López – an Independent Living Supervisor working for Fundación Casa Alianza. Dolores explains her role as a support worker for Giovanni. We will also hear from Sofía Alzazán, the National Director of Casa Alianza México who will tell us a little more about the importance of supporting young people like Giovanni.

Semi-independent living is a way that allows young people to take steps towards independent living after leaving an alternative care setting, while still receiving some support. Projects like the one you will hear about in this video provide young people with rent free or low rent accommodation – sometimes a place of their own or sometimes sharing with one or more other young people. A further component of these projects include regular contact with a project worker whose role includes providing practical and emotional support, as well as helping to access services.

Children should be involved in deciding the right time for them to transition from care – maybe first to semi-independent – and then on to independent living. It is a time when they need to feel protected and nurtured until they feel ready to live without supervision or support. As part of the process to consider whether semi-independent living is the best option for a child or young person, the case worker should carefully assess the child’s practical life skills and any support they will need. This includes paying careful attention to social and emotional needs and making sure they are ready and capable to support and protect themselves.

When we were developing this course, we asked a group of young people, who had been unaccompanied and separated children on the move and now are part of a semi-independent living programme, what they most needed support with. They provided us with the following answers:

  • Learning how to cook and clean and all the practical things they need to do to take care of themselves
  • Provision of practical items like clothes and food
  • Access to legal services
  • Learning the local language – this is very important for integration and everything else that follows
  • Financial support
  • Having a phone – this helps them to keep in contact with friends and family back home or in other places
  • Access to education
  • Access to social and recreational activities – this provides a sense of wellbeing, a means to interact with other young people and make friends, and ways to integrate with other children and young people in the local community
  • Being provided information about the country they are staying in – how things work in this different environment and culture, how to access services and what activities are available
  • Information to help them adapt to new environments because they come from different cultures and backgrounds
  • Help with social integration and making friends

Because semi-independent living provides a high level of freedom and relies on a child or young person’s self protective skills, it is also a time when we should pay close attention to their safeguarding from possible risks. Such risks include, for example, finding hazardous ways to earn money to continue their migration journey or help their families back home, becoming victims of traffickers or others who will exploit them.

We will consider how these topics and other concerns and risks should be carefully considered as part of planning for leaving care later this week.

We realise that the example from Mexico depicts a young man moving into independent living in a relatively stable context. However, the principles of how to support and respond to a young person leaving care should still be applicable in different situations.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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