Awards celebrate carers who put young people first

After 17 years of working in residential care Lisa Cappola remains as passionate about the welfare of young people as the day she started.

“I’ve worked with 3000 to 4000 children and the passion I felt back then meeting a new young person still holds to this day,’’ says Lisa, the team leader of Alkira, a residential care home run by Anglicare Victoria.

“I’m meeting a new young person tomorrow and I can’t wait to meet and get to know her and work with the team closely around her to support her on her journey.’’

Lisa’s commitment and passion was honored at this year’s Protecting Vulnerable Children Awards, where she won the CREATE Award, nominated and voted on by young people who praised her ability to listen and put young people first.

She says it’s both humbling and a great honor to receive an award voted on by young people, who continue to inspire her to get up and go to work every day.

The award came on top of recognition for the team at Alkira, which earlier in the year was named the state’s top residential care team at the Resi Rocks forum hosted by the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.

A seasoned youth worker, Lisa was instrumental in the establishment of Alkira four years ago. Since then about 30 young people have lived in the home, which continues to retain many of its original staff and has built strong networks in the community, including with the local police who regularly drop in for coffee with staff.

Moving into residential care can be a daunting experience and Lisa says Alkira staff understand how important it is to build a rapport with young people as quickly as possible.

“It’s about building those connections, where we are respecting  young people, where they feel safe and supported and cared about, and where young people look forward to certain staff members coming back on shift,’’ she says.

Youth worker Jacinta originally planned on being a forensic scientist but now can’t imagine doing anything else.  She first arrived at Alkira on a student placement and is now a long term staff member.

She’s motivated by building a rapport with young people, and also with providing them with a consistency that’s been lacking in other parts of their lives.

Similarly, James qualified as a carpenter before making the switch to youth work and says he now can’t imagine doing anything else.

Jacinta, James and Lisa understands that residential care has a reputation for being challenging, but says for the Alkira team the rewards far outweigh any difficulties.

Lisa says an important part of this positive approach comes from celebrating the many small victories of the young people they work with.

“It’s the small little gains that young people achieve that are the big achievements – it’s seeing a young person smile, or go to school and be able to make it through the whole day … for me that’s the true meaning of resi,’’ she says.

Recently, when one of the young people got her L-plates, Lisa danced down Alkira’s hallway with pride. The young people at the home know ‘that’s what Lisa does’.

Alkira, an Aboriginal name which means bright and sunny, was given to the home represent a place where there could be brightness for young people even at the most difficult of times.

“We have a lot of young people who have lived here coming back and saying, ‘I wish I could still come home’ and that means a lot to the team,’’ says Lisa.

“Home is where your heart is and they believed in their teenage years that this was their home. That’s a real credit to the team.’’

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