Lewisham takes action against modern slavery: making a difference in the lives of young people

12 Apr 2023
Children and young people

Modern slavery is a terrible crime that can happen to anyone, and it is happening in our world today. However, the London Borough of Lewisham is taking action to fight against it and help young people who might be at risk.

As part of their Integrated Care System (ICS), Lewisham won a bid to help children who might be victims of modern slavery. They created a pilot to make decisions for the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) at the local level. This means they can help young people faster, more effectively, and ensure that decisions taken by different agencies are appropriate and specific to the concerns raised.

Lewisham is one of only 20 places in the UK doing this work, and they’re determined to get it right. They’ve set up an NRM Panel made up of people who care about young people’s welfare. The Panel includes social workers, healthcare professionals, police officers, and a designated doctor and nurse who work to protect children.

Every month, the Panel meets to discuss cases of young people who might be at risk of modern slavery. They look at all the information they have about the young person to make the right decision. Margaret Mansfield, ICS Designated Nurse Safeguarding Children, is working with doctors and other health workers to request information on a young person who has been referred to the NRM panel.

The NRM Panel removes the decision making for NRM from a single competent authority, which can take up to 500 days, and enables decisions locally within 45 days for children and young people who are at risk of modern-day slavery. Decision making on each case is critical and requires decisions from each partner.

The purpose of the Pilot is to test and improve working methods and approaches to embedding decision making on whether children are victims of modern slavery and exploitation within their existing multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.

Modern slavery is a serious issue, and Lewisham is taking it seriously. With the NRM Panel, they’re making a real difference in the lives of young people who might be at risk, by improving how the different agencies work together and looking for new ways to identify and support young people who might be victims of modern slavery.

Designated Nurse Safeguarding Children and Young People, Margaret Mansfield, said: “Modern slavery causes profound harm and suffering to its victims, but in Lewisham we’re tackling this problem and helping to eliminate its consequences. I’m confident that our initiative can be built upon and we can protect even more vulnerable people in Lewisham and strengthen our existing work.”

A positive NRM decision can be used as a defence in court for children who enter the criminal justice system because of offences such as Possession of Drugs with Intent to Supply (PWITS) where are or have been exploited.