*names and select details have been changed for protection.
No time for breakfast today. I just got a text that we have a new referral who was picked up in a police raid the night before. Pull coat on and text back and forth with the UK Director of Care, Lynne, about this new young person as I head to the tube.
Name: Bian Site of exploitation: Cannabis factory. Country of origin: Vietnam. Age: 17 maybe?? Unsure. Date of first arrival in the UK: ? We don’t know, and this is typical. Risk of being re-trafficked: High.
Off the tube, coffee in hand, onto the train. Love146 isn’t a first responder; we only arrive on the scene once the Local Authority have determined that we can help this young person; we are only able to step in to do our part because they have done their job well. It’s a partnership that we’re grateful for. Lynne has since picked up the young person and taken her into Love146 care. She and our interpreter will explain to Bian that she’s in a safe place – telling her who we are and that we are going to help her. We all know that the first hours after rescue are the riskiest. Hopefully she’ll still be there when I arrive. I’m confident that she will. We haven’t lost a young person yet, and I know why: The Safety Plan. It’s already being implemented before I get there.
I arrive at the Love146 placement. Lynne is there, as is our interpreter and the Love146 carer, Ann. We say quick hellos and then I’m introduced to Bian. She’s small. She keeps biting her lip. I’d be nervous too. I learned that she was rescued last night and arrived here around the same time I was finally shutting down my laptop and heading to sleep. She will have met so many people last night and this morning I make sure to keep things low-key as we chat. Her English is pretty good. I introduce myself, and right away she asks to make a phone call. I smile sympathetically, but say no. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the first weeks. She will have been given instructions on what to do if she ever gets picked up in a police raid. Her first priority? Contact her trafficker. Perhaps she or her family has been threatened with reprisal if she doesn’t find a way to tell the trafficker how to locate her.
I suggest we walk around the back garden. It’s fenced and secure. Our interpreter has made sure that Bian understands the Safety Plan. No phone. No internet. We intentionally don’t tell her her the location. These are some of the essential components of Bian’s Safety Plan. They help her break her connection with her trafficker, and establish a relationship with her carer. And for the first few weeks, she is with one of the team at all times. It’s a gorgeous day, and the carer’s garden is lovely. Bian lingers by the rows of snap peas that are just sprouting. We chat a bit with broken English, but she’s quiet, and that’s OK.
I say my goodbyes and leave Bian in the capable hands and loving home of Ann. On the train I begin to write-up an evaluation of my first meeting with Bian. Back in London, I send it to Bian’s social worker and Lynne. We’re a team, and we’re all working with the same goal: to keep her safe. With the Safety Plan in place, we just might pull it off.
Grab a salad from Pret and try to get my head wrapped around my next meeting: Agon* is 17 and has been in our care for 4 months. We meet at a cafe where small children are running around, screaming and laughing. About 8 months ago he was the victim of a traumatic assault. His eyes are tired, but he smiles and speaks hopefully about the future. He’s worried about his request for asylum. And I tell him that no matter the outcome, we will be there for him and that even if his decision is negative, we can appeal. He knows all this, but it’s something that constantly worries every trafficked young person I’ve worked with. Fear of a negative response can make young people run.
I watch him carefully as we talk; he shares that he has been having nightmares, and I do my best not to cry. I see that he’s fragile, but also peaceful. We both smile when two children bump into us as they wrestle happily.
It’s moments like these that embody the beauty and the challenge in the work I do. It’s a privilege to journey with these brave young people. I’m grateful that I do it with such a supportive team around me. All of us here at Love146 – from the person who sits down to answer all the email questions we get, to Natalie, our accountant – this is why we’re all here. To support young people like Bian and Agon. They are both vulnerable – but with the right support we know they can have wonderful lives, even after such tragedy.
If you’re interested in the work we do, then we’d love to keep in touch. Whether you sign up to hear stories of hope and urgency or want support this work with a donation – from all of us, and from Bian and Agon – thank you for your support.