Frontline workers from Brushstrokes, Nottingham Refugee Forum and Refugee Women Connect discussed how they provide empowering and enabling advice and support, one of the Asylum Early Action Principles. The examples they shared speak to equipping people with the knowledge they need, enabling people to take action for themselves, providing person-centred support, valuing peer and community support and training volunteers in this approach.
Equipping people with the knowledge they need
“We know people won’t be with us forever”
We aim to equip them with the knowledge about what services are out there that will be able to help them, especially if they’re housed in areas far from our base or if they’re living in a hotel and don’t have any idea of what’s outside the hotel.
Early stage support that we provide to newly granted refugees is good example - informative session to explain what rights and entitlements are, how we can help them, overview of the different systems and processes
Enabling people to take action for themselves
When clients get their Leave to Remain, they are often very afraid of things going wrong, making mistakes or going to the wrong place when they are trying to sort everything out. When they need to open bank accounts, we ask people if they would like a letter to take to the bank. The template letter explains what they need and gives them the confidence to go to the bank alone, taking this important step independently.
Providing person-centred support
Building relationships is key. We have to be aware of individual service user’s capabilities and vulnerabilities and how these change over time, and adapt our support and approach we take.
"No one is hard to reach but some opportunities and servives are hard to engage with"
For new refugees, we have a checklist of everything that needs to be done. We look at the list with each individual and talk to them about what they feel they can do and what they would like to have support with. We make it clear we are aiming for them to become independent and take an encouraging approach, asking ‘would you be okay doing this?’.
Some people might be able to attend appointments completely independently, while others might benefit from being provided with a map or accompanied to the first one. The challenge here is it’s such a time-pressured period, with no room for mistakes or people can end up homeless and in crisis. We don’t want to set people up to fail at this important stage of their journey.
Valuing peer support and role models
In the hotels we work in, we see residents empower each other informally - people who have been there longer or gained more experience of a particular system or process support new or less experienced residents. This also happens in the community, new arrivals see role models in people who have done well and moved forwards - this gives hope and encouragement to everyone.
Sometimes people are concerned about incorrect advice coming from community members, we do need to be mindful of this risk and the potential for exploitation, however, at the same time, there is real value to be gained from building the knowledge held and capacity of the community to support its members, as long as further support is also accessible.
Training volunteers in this approach
From the beginning of the recruitment process, we highlight the importance of users becoming independent. We make it clear to all volunteers that we are not there to ‘save people’. Our service model and the training we provide promotes clear boundaries so service users avoid becoming dependent on one volunteer.
We have trained more volunteers with lived experience to take on low-level support roles like befriending, pre-support and orientation which they do out in the community as opposed to within our drop-in. A big part of these roles is ‘being alongside’.
These volunteers explain things in terms that their peers understand, sometimes they share a common language. If any problems are identified or greater support is required, they refer back to staff for support. They are supported to maintain healthy boundaries and know the limit of the support their role can provide.