Flourish NI- A Brighter Future
In the last of our series of interviews marking 3 years since the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act was passed into legislation in Northern Ireland, we spoke to Jill Robinson from Flourish NI.
Flourish supports survivors of trafficking and their families to move on from the trauma of their past towards a brighter future.
We encourage you to read the interview with Jill below:
How did you get involved with anti-trafficking work?
Jill: Initially through a church in Belfast we were involved with outreach work to girls who worked on the streets of Belfast. Then following a trip to Thailand in 2009 Elizabeth and I learnt of the work of Stop the Traffik and decided to form a group in North Down to raise awareness of human trafficking. It was during our time in North Down ACT, through an immigration lawyer, that we encountered a survivor of human trafficking. It subsequently became obvious that there was a gap in service provision and a need for long term support. Hence the birth of Flourish in March 2014.
How does Flourish NI help victims of trafficking and modern slavery?
Jill: The aim of Flourish is to support survivors of trafficking and their families to move on from the trauma of their past towards a brighter future.
Our services are very much client led but can include anything from providing housing accommodation and furnishing same, sourcing employment and educational opportunities, liaising with health professionals, solicitors and statutory bodies to helping access the benefit system. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Each client is appointed a caseworker and a be-friender as appropriate. This is to help build confidence, reduce vulnerability and empower individuals to integrate into society.
With a lot of intense day to day work we try to mix in some fun activities too- we have a summer BBQ and Christmas Party each year where all of our clients come together. One client actually called it the ‘Flourish Family.’
What role does your faith play in this work?
Jill: Although Flourish is not a faith based charity, both Elizabeth and I believe God is a God of justice and mercy.
Our clients would be of multi faith origin and as Flourish we respect this.
Over the last 4 years we have presented in many churches and have very much appreciated the prayer support we receive.
Could you tell us about some of your clients?
Jill: Flourish works with both adult male and female clients.
We have supported clients from approximately 16 different countries.
When someone is referred to us, we don’t ask people’s stories. Although invariably it will come up, we don’t make it a policy to ask. Our tagline is ‘a brighter future for men and women affected by trafficking.’ We’re always focused on what can be, rather than what has been. Their past doesn’t have to define their future.
An example of a family we have supported is a Romanian husband and wife trafficked for their labour. They were part of a large group of people who had been kept in a house in Portadown.
They had come to Northern Ireland in the hope of a well paid job which would allow them to send money home to their families in Romania. The judge in the court case said, ‘The living conditions were characterised by one of the victims as living like rats.’ They were forced to work in local factories up to 70 hours per week and lived in extremely poor conditions in a 3 bedroom house, sharing one bathroom with no toilet paper. The trafficker in this case was convicted but received a low sentence of about 2 years.
We facilitated reuniting this family with their 5 children. We provided intense casework over a long period to this family supporting them towards a brighter future.
How long do you offer support to your clients?
Jill: When someone first comes into our service we could be with them 4 or 5 times a week. As they make progress we slowly step back. Once someone is able to speak the language, are financially independent and to some degree are integrated into the community and are feeling settled, we begin to consider withdrawing support. That said, our clients know that if they ever hit a crisis point, that our door is always open. They will still be included in our parties too, even after they have ‘exited’ the service.
Our aim is to support someone for up to 18 months and at that point they will be re-assessed. However “life” happens and if necessary this term is extended.
What would you say is the biggest challenge you face in this work?
Jill: We are dealing with vulnerable adults who have been through a significant level of trauma. On top of that, the English language barrier can pose some major challenges.
We recognise the need is great and there is so much that could be done but resources are limited. As a charity with no statutory funding we rely solely on donations and fundraising.
In the coming months what would you hope to see?
Jill: In the coming months we will be piloting new creative arts, cooking and sewing classes to provide therapy in a safe place. We would like to see some of our clients use the skills they learn to gain employment/self employment.
We would also like to be in a position to recruit another caseworker and we are always keen to recruit new volunteers!