Modern Slavery and Child Trafficking

Please read this page in conjunction with the information page on Child Criminal Exploitation

Modern slavery is a serious and brutal crime in which people are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal gain. The true extent of modern slavery in the UK, and indeed globally, is unknown. Modern slavery, in particular human trafficking, is an international problem and victims/survivors may have entered the UK legally, or on forged documentation or clandestinely, or they may be British citizens living in the UK. (Home Office, 2019)


Modern slavery includes human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Exploitation takes a number of forms, including sexual exploitation, forced manual labour and domestic servitude, and coercing and exploiting children to carry, deliver and sell drugs around the country, through county lines. 

What is the National Referral Mechanism? 

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a process set up by the UK Government to identify and support victims of trafficking in the UK. The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate protection and support. 

Duty to notify

When an agency comes into contact with a child who may have been exploited or trafficked, Children’s Social Care and the police should be notified immediately. The Police and Local authority have a duty to notify the Home Office about all potential victims of trafficking and slavery. Child victims do not have to consent to be referred into the NRM and must first be safeguarded and then referred into the NRM process. A referral into the NRM does not replace or supersede established child protection processes, which should continue in tandem, such as a Section 47 investigation. 

How does the NRM work? 

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Made by the first responder

The designated 'first responder' completes the online referral form at: Include as much detail and supporting evidence as possible. 

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Reasonable Grounds Decision

Within 5 Days

Once the Single Competent Authority receives a referral, it must first decide whether, on the information available, “it is reasonable to believe that a person is a victim of human trafficking or slavery”. The test is, “I suspect but cannot prove this person is a potential victim of human trafficking”.

Conclusive Grounds Decision

As soon as possible after 45-calendar day Recovery Period has ended

To make a conclusive grounds decision, the Single Competent Authority examines the evidence to decide whether, “on the balance of probabilities, there is sufficient information to decide if the individual is a victim of modern slavery”.

Next Steps

Update safety plans and support

A positive 'Conclusive Grounds' decision does not, in itself, provide extra resources or tools to safeguard a young person from exploitation. The Professional network supporting a child/young person should be made aware of the decision made by the Single Competent Authority and update their support and safety plans accordingly. 

What are the Signs of Modern Slavery?

Signs specific to child victims: 

  • Absent parent or legal guardian: Is the child being cared for by an adult that is not their parent or legal guardian and is the quality of the relationship between the child and their adult carer poor and a reason for concern? Some children may not be attending school or registered with a GP.

  • Multiple children: Are there a number of unrelated children found at one address? Does the child move location frequently?

  • Identity documents: Missing, altered or false documentation is common.


  • Missing children: Children who come into contact with authorities often disappear and are re-trafficked.


  • Grooming Children may not always demonstrate outward signs of distress and may have a ‘bond’ with those exploiting them and have been groomed to not disclose their abuse – however, they are likely to be very scared and traumatised.

Signs that a property might be hiding a victim of modern slavery: 

Outside the property

  • Are there bars covering the windows of the property or are they permanently covered on the inside?

  • Are the curtains always drawn?

  • Do the windows have reflective film or coatings applied to them?

  • Does the entrance to the property have CCTV cameras installed?

  • Is the letterbox sealed to prevent use?

  • Is there any sign that electricity may have been tacked on from neighbouring properties or directly from power lines?


Inside the property

  • Is access to the back rooms of the property restricted or are doors locked? 

  • Is the property overcrowded and badly cared for?

From the UK Government's Modern Slavery Briefing (2019)

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Support and Resources


If a child is at immediate risk of significant harm, please dial 999.


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Use Home Office guidance find out how you can report cases of modern slavery in the UK if you’re a First Responder.

Report Modern Slavery

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Please call or email and follow up with a Multi-agency Referral Form.

Make a referral

Local Support

The Gaia Centre offers a range of services to those in Lambeth experiencing gender-based violence, including victims of modern slavery and trafficking.

Advice and support for professionals worried that a young person may be a victim of trafficking.

Child Trafficking Advice

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Refer to the London Child Protection procedures to safeguard children who are victims of trafficking or exploitation. 

Safeguarding Procedures