SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter has been written for Children's Social Care professionals who are working with unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Derby. It contains guidance for workers on how to conduct Age Assessments and how to help unaccompanied asylum seeking children access relevant services.
Local Authority Circular (2003) Guidance and Hillingdon Judgement 2003
OTHER RELEVANT CHAPTERS
- Scope of this Chapter
- Eligibility for Service
- Arrangements for Young People presenting as under 16
- Arrangements for Young People presenting as over 16
- Social Care Single Assessment Process
- Age Assessment Process
- Age Assessment Practice Guidance
- Young People at 18
1. Scope of this Chapter
For the purposes of this chapter, a young unaccompanied asylum seeker is a child who is applying for asylum in their own right, is separated from both parents and is not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so.
This chapter describes the particular issues which can arise when a referral to Children's Social Care concerns a young unaccompanied asylum seeker. Any referral for the assessment of unaccompanied asylum seeking children should be made through First Contact Team: Children's Services Procedure.
Where a young unaccompanied asylum seeker becomes Looked After, the procedures in this manual relating to Looked After Children apply. Furthermore, Independent Reviewing Officers need to be aware of local authority duties to take regard of the child's needs as an unaccompanied or trafficked child when planning and providing for care. They must also have an awareness of the particular needs and issues children may face as a result of being an unaccompanied or trafficked child so that they can provide appropriate challenge at review. Foster or residential care providers need to be aware of appropriate steps to reduce the risk of trafficked children returning to their traffickers.
2. Eligibility for Service
To be eligible for a service, a young unaccompanied asylum-seeker must be seeking asylum in the UK and have no relative/supporting adult willing to take responsibility for him or her.
In order to determine the eligibility for service, the relevant team will carry out an Assessment in accordance with the Assessment Procedure. The purpose of this Assessment is to determine whether the presenting child is considered to be a Child in Need. If it is determined that he/she is a Child in Need by the virtue of being below 18 years of age and having no relative/ supporting adult willing to take responsibility for him/her, the local authority will have a duty to accommodate and provide support under s.20 of the Children Act 1989 until they reach the age of 18. Thereafter, support may continue to be provided under the Children (Leaving Care Act) 2000, until they are 21, or 25 if in full –time education, depending on their immigration status at that point and the number of weeks spent in local authority care (13 weeks or more) subsequent to their 14th birthday, or if they have been Looked After aged 16 or 17.
Where such young people are provided with services, they will continue to be eligible for a service from the authority where they are granted refugee status, humanitarian protection or unaccompanied asylum seeking children leave to remain, which may continue up to their 18th birthday. In relation to all new referrals, the duty worker in the relevant Team must complete a Referral Form, and check all Home Office documentation and evidence that the young person has resided in or has a local connection to the local authority area.
3. Arrangements for Young People presenting as under 16
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children who present as under the age of 16 at the point of referral should be referred to the First Contact team for the completion of a Social Care Single Assessment, and an Age Assessment (if required). They should then be transferred to the Children in Care Team in line with the Transfer of Cases Protocol. If the, as a result of the Assessment, the age of the young person comes into question, a Merton Compliant Age Assessment will need to be conducted. If the Age Assessment concludes that they are under the age of 16, then they should be transferred to the Children in Care Team in line with the Transfer of Cases Protocol.
4. Arrangements for Young People presenting as over 16
If, at the time of referral, an unaccompanied asylum seeking child is considered to be over the age of 16, the referral should be passed to the Leaving Care Team following a Social Care Single Assessment.
5. Social Care Single Assessment Process
In all cases where a referral is received concerning an unaccompanied young asylum seeker, the relevant Team will carry out an Assessment in accordance with the Assessment Procedure, to determine whether he or she is a Child in Need. The Assessment will take account of:
- The immigration status of the young person;
- The young person's accommodation arrangements and needs;
- The young person's local connection with the local authority area;
- The young person's financial and other support;
- The young person's ethnicity and religion;
- The age assessment of the young person (where relevant) and any available information on their agent, their access into this country, the length of time they have been in this country and possible other connections;
- Any particular psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child, and any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them; and
- Any issues that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked or is a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery.
In determining an unaccompanied young person's accommodation needs, the Assessment must have regard to his or her age and independent living skills, and consider the intensity of service required. This may range from independent accommodation, to semi-independent accommodation and foster placements.
An interpreter will be used to assist in all assessments.
The caseworker must complete an Assessment Record in all cases.
The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs of unaccompanied or trafficked children.
In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme. This is in line with local authority duties to return a looked after child to their family, if that is in the best interest of the child. In exploring these options with the unaccompanied child, safeguarding and child protection considerations will be paramount. Social Workers will need to be mindful of the likelihood that the children concerned may have experienced difficult and traumatic events in their home country and on their journey to the UK. Therefore, discussions regarding voluntary return need to be conducted in a sensitive manner.
The young person will usually be at the Police Station. The Duty Social Worker will attend at the Police Station and, if there is reasonable cause to believe that the young person is over 18, an Age Assessment must be completed by a qualified Social Worker. If the outcome of the assessment is that the young person is considered to be over 18, then they are not the responsibility of the Children and Young People Service.
It should not be assumed that the young person will have claimed asylum prior to their referral to the local authority. Normally, an asylum claim can only be made either at the port of entry (airport/seaport) or at a designated place such as the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon, or at the Home Office in Solihull. It may be possible to arrange a screening interview at Loughborough Reporting Centre, but this will need to be explored with the Home Office.
The unaccompanied child might have been issued with Temporary Admission (IS96 document) – but this does not constitute an evidence that they have made an asylum claim. If it is accepted that the presenting individual is a child and is therefore take into the care of the local authority, then a designated Social Worker will need to establish if an asylum claim has been recorded by the Home Office. If that is not the case then designated Social Worker will need to:
- Refer the child to an immigration solicitor, preferably with an experience of representing UASC (as the asylum process for UASC is different from the asylum process applicable to Adults). This should be done as soon as possible so that the child can obtain legal advice prior to claiming asylum;
- Accompany the child to the appointment with the solicitor or arrange that a child is accompanied by another suitable adult;
- Contact the Home Office to arrange a Screening Interview and ensure that the child is accompanied to their Screening Interview. At the Screening Interview, the child will be photographed and have their finger prints taken. They will be asked to provide basic information about their identity, nationality and how they arrived in the UK;
- Ensure that Statement of Evidence Form (which is provided to the young person at the Screening Interview) is passed onto the solicitor. The solicitor will complete the form and return it to the Home Office within 28 days. It may take 2-3 appointments for the Statement of Evidence Form to be completed, so it is important that the form is passed onto solicitor as soon as possible;
- Ensure that the child is accompanied to their Full Asylum Interview. The solicitor will also attend the Full asylum Interviews and some solicitors will also attend the Screening Interview (but this may depend on their capacity). There is a requirement that, if the young person wishes to claim asylum, this should be done as soon as reasonably practicable, following their entry in the UK, if they have not already made a claim at the port of entry;
- The child may be required to attend Loughborough Reporting Centre on regular basis and the Social Worker will need to ensure that the child is accompanied to these reporting events by either themselves or another appropriate adult.
Young people who are considered under the age of 18 will be provided with services under Section 20 of The Children Act 1989. Arrangements will be made for immediate needs to be met including health needs, provision of food and clothing and arrangements for a placement.
The Social Worker should confirm that the police have photographed and finger printed the young person and their data has been checked against police records.
Arrangements will need to be made by the Social Worker for an Initial Health Assessment to be undertaken within 20 working days of the young person becoming Looked After.
The Social Worker will also make arrangements to convene a Looked after Child Review to be held within 20 working days of the young person becoming a LAC and seek legal advice, from an immigration solicitor (preferably one with experience of working with UASC) as soon as possible prior to their Screening Interview. The young person should be accompanied to their appointments. The Social Worker should ensure all documents in relation to the young person's claim for asylum are forwarded on to their immigration solicitor. The Social Worker should liaise with the solicitor in regard to the progress of the young person's asylum claim.
The Social Worker is responsible for making arrangements for the young person to attend their Initial Screening Interview. The young people will be accompanied to this appointment usually by People's Directorate staff.
6. Age Assessment Process
Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (DfE, 2017) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, they are presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with Section 51 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child. Age assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority's assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children. Where age assessments are conducted, they must be Merton Compliant.
Age Assessments may still be required where, although the Social Worker is satisfied that the young person is a child, their exact age is unknown. For example, for the purposes of ensuring that appropriate services (including education) are provided. Where the Social Worker has decided to accept the age of the child, based on the information provided during the Single Assessment, a separate Age Assessment will not be necessary. The Social Worker will need to record that they have accepted the claimed age of the child and give reasons why.
The Age Assessment must be completed by two qualified Social Workers with experience of working with children and young people and undertaking assessment of children in need. The ADCS Age Assessment guidance also indicates that, wherever possible, one of the Social Workers should have an experience of conducting age assessments and working with unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
In advance of undertaking an age assessment for an unaccompanied asylum seeking child, local authorities must seek Home Office assistance with verifying the authenticity of identity documents e.g. travel documents or a birth certificate. See ADCS website for further information and contact details for local authorities
The Social Workers must ensure that the young person understands the purpose of the assessment and can understand the interpreter. They also needs to ensure that the young person understands the role of Social Workers and how that differs from the role of the Home Office. The assessment should be conducted in the presence of an appropriate adult, the young person may decline this support, but it is legal requirement that the young person is offered this support.
The information for the Age Assessment will be gathered from a variety of sources - speaking with the young person; observations of the young person and discussions with other professionals/carers who have had contact with the young person. The source of all information gathered must be shared with the young person.
The reasons for the conclusion of the assessment must be explained to the young person, their response recorded and any amendments to the conclusion recorded. The young person must be informed of the Derby City Council Customer Feedback Policy (2014) (see Complaints and Representations Procedure).
A copy of any Age Assessment must be sent to the Home Office.
If the conclusion is that the young person is considered to be over 18, he/she will no longer be considered as a Looked After Child and will be referred to UK Visas and Immigration for support. The Children and Young People Service will remain responsible for their support at Income Support level of maintenance and for accommodation until UK Visas and Immigration support commences.
Any young person assessed as being under the age of 18 will remain a Looked After Child and will be entitled to the same services as all other Looked after Children.
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children will be encouraged to be involved in Education, Training and Employment, and will be entitled to financial support in line with the Policy relating to financial assistance for Looked After Children aged 16 and over and for young people leaving care.
7. Age Assessment Practice GUIDANCE
This guidance below provides information about the different factors involved in any Age Assessment. The Social Worker must consider the best approach to take in each case, tailoring the process to the individual circumstances of each young person.
The ADCS Asylum Task Force has worked with the Home Office to develop practice guidance (see Age Assessment Guidance and Information Sharing Guidance for UASC) aimed at assisting frontline social workers in conducting age assessments of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK.
- Disputes about age may arise because:
- Not all countries and cultures attach the same importance to chronological age, and birth records are therefore afforded less importance. The birth of many children may not have registered, and there may be no proof of when they were born;
- Recording conventions and calendars are different in other countries and may not be easily reconciled with UK systems;
- Adults may wish to portray themselves as being younger in order to avail themselves of asylum processes and support arrangements made for children, as these are perceived to be more favourable;
- Traffickers may present individuals as older or younger than their true age in order to avoid immigration controls or social care services checks.
- Age assessment is a complex task, and is not an exact science:
- Managers need to allocate two qualified and registered Social Workers to undertake the assessment. Both must have experience of working with children and young people, and of undertaking assessments of children in need. Best practice would be that at least one has experience of working with young asylum seekers and undertaking age assessments. Where this proves practically difficult, local authorities may wish to consider use of an independent Social Worker with relevant experience or making arrangements with other local authorities;
- In undertaking an assessment the Social Worker should be aware of the possibility that the individual may have been "coached" prior to arrival in the UK, regarding how to behave and what to say;
- A holistic approach needs to be taken when conducting an age assessment. The Social Worker must make an informed judgement, taking account of all available information, as to whether the individual is probably within a certain age parameter.
- An Age Assessment should form part of the wider assessment of a young person's needs and will inform the Single Assessment which must be carried out to ensure that appropriate services are provided to the young person:
- The Social Worker should ensure that the young person understands the process of assessment, the reasons it is necessary to undertake the assessment, and the possible outcomes;
- The assessment must be conducted with full regard given to the ethnicity, culture and customs of the individual being assessed, and care taken to ensure that the young person has adequate support to enable him/her to communicate effectively with the assessing Social Worker;
- Attention should also be paid to the recent and past circumstances and experiences of the young person. The young person is likely to be bewildered anxious, and traumatised to some degree; and initially levels of tiredness may be high;
- The highly personal and detailed nature of the questions which will be asked of the young person during the assessment should be acknowledged, and that this may be difficult and distressing for him/her;
- The outcome of the assessment must be fed back to the young person. In circumstances where the individual is not in agreement with the outcome of the assessment, he/she will have the right to legally challenge it;
- The summary sheet at the end of the assessment form will be forwarded to the Home Office as evidence of the local authority assessment of age in disputed cases. This should be explained to the young person and a copy of the summary given to him/her.
Physical Appearance, Demeanour
- An initial impression of age range is formed based on height, facial features (facial hair, skin lines / folds etc) voice tone and general impression;
- Racial differences e.g. it is normal in some cultures for boys to have facial hair at an early age and for girls to develop at different ages;
- Life experiences and trauma may impact on the ageing process;
- Demeanour and personal presentation including style, attitude and authority in relation to the culture of the country of origin and events preceding the interview and experiences during the journey to this country;
- The length of time that the person has taken to arrive in the UK from the time they left their country of origin should be factored in to the age calculation.
Interaction of Person during Assessment
- Note verbal and non-verbal behaviour of the person;
- How the person copes with the assessment - does he or she appear confident or overwhelmed?
- Take account of differing cultural terms e.g. some people may believe it impolite to make direct eye contact;
- There can be cultural variations in attitudes to elders. Does the person appear to be uncomfortable speaking to an adult?
- Your position is likely to be seen as one of power, which may influence the way the person interacts with you;
- Your role needs to be clarified, particularly the differences in the roles of Social Care Services and the Home Office.
Social History and Family Composition
- Talking about their family may be very painful and difficult for the individual. It may be too painful to open up at this time. This must be understood, acknowledged and respected;
- It is important to clarify the nature of their parent and siblings relationships as some cultures e.g. call a half-brother a brother, or stepmother, mother. Additionally, clarify whether either parent had more than one wife/husband.
- Use open-ended questions to encourage the disclosure of information without prompting - e.g. "tell me what you did in your spare time" may elicit information which indicates the young person has age appropriate interests and activities;
- However cultural factors should be taken into account e.g. young people may normally enter the workforce at a younger age than in UK; attitudes to alcohol consumption. Consider responses in relation to what would be appropriate within the young person's culture and country of origin;
- Ask about peer relationships at school/work/neighbourhood;
- Ask about age-related rituals such as forced marriage;
- Some young people may have been involved in armed conflict; have been child soldiers; or been involved in sexual exploitation or other traumatic situations. However, answering questions about these matters may be too painful until a relationship of trust has been established;
- Observing the individual's interaction in social situations with other young people of the age being claimed may be illuminating.
- Clarify the age at which school was started, and the number of completed years spent in any school;
- Establish if there are any gaps in education and if so, how long was the gap/s and why;
- The number of years of school attendance, including periods of possible disruptions in schooling added to the age school was started should equate to the stated age;
- Obtain names and addresses of schools attended. It may be possible to contact schools in some countries of origin;
- Gaining knowledge of education in different countries is useful to validate the authenticity of the information provided - e.g. it may be useful to know that it is the norm to have 6 years of junior and 6 years of senior school in some countries.
Independent / Self Care Skills
- Has the person lived at home or have they lived on their own/in an independent setting;
- Is there a clear impression that the person has never lived away from home and has been cared for by adults?
- Does the person have experience in managing money, paying bills, arranging appointments, buying food etc?
- Is the person able to cook more than just a basic meal?
- It is essential to take into consideration the local situation from which the person has come from e.g. war, famine and cultural. Norms: e.g. it may not be expected that men should have any domestic skills in some countries;
- Has the person stated a preference during the assessment of how they wish to live in the UK?
- The Social Worker may wish to pose a scenario to the person at this point or at the end of the assessment; that if the person is believed to be under 16 s/he will be placed in foster care where certain house rules will have to be followed e.g. will have to be at home at a certain time etc. The reaction may provide valuable information;
- The Social Worker may wish to ask the person directly how they feel about living in an independent setting and observe their reaction.
Health and Medical Assessments
- Questions about the person's health history can be informative in assessing age both from the information given and reactions to specific questions;
- Invasive methods and medically unnecessary examinations should never be used.
However opinions and views of age from a paediatrician, GP, dentist and optician can be very useful in assisting in the process.
Information from Documentation and other Sources
- Documentation when available should be carefully checked, although authenticating documents is a specialist task. As a general rule, an embassy should never be contacted regarding authentication of the documents whilst their asylum claim is being considered. Also contacting other agencies in the UK or in the country of origin may present a serious risk to the child or their family members in their home country;
- It is important to obtain the views of other significant figures involved with the young person, including foster carers, residential workers, schoolteachers, doctors, solicitors;
- Observations of how the person interacts in different social situations can provide useful age indicators.
8. Young People at 18
The young person will continue to be supported to obtain legal advice and to pursue their claim for asylum. At 18, unaccompanied asylum seeking children cease to be Looked After Children and become Former Relevant and eligible for Leaving Care Services (see Leaving Care and Transition Procedure).
If at 18, the young person has been granted leave to remain, or has an outstanding appeal, they are usually entitled to claim benefits and will be expected to do so. Young people who cannot claim benefits can continue to be financially supported by Children and Young People Service.
Young people who have exhausted all rights of appeal may be able to claim support from UK Visas and Immigration if there are barriers to their return. They will be supported by the People's Service until this support is provided.
The position in relation to Care Leavers who are refused asylum is complex, as there will be different circumstances for each young person. If in doubt, legal advice should be taken in relation to individual cases.
Pathway planning should address any additional needs arising from the young person's immigration issues.
Planning may have to be based around short-term achievable goals whilst entitlement to remain in the UK is being determined. For the majority of unaccompanied children who do not have permanent immigration status, transition planning should initially take a dual or triple planning perspective, which, over time should be refined as the young person's immigration status is resolved. Planning cannot pre-empt the outcome of any immigration decision and may be based on:
- A transitional plan during the period of uncertainty when the care leaver is in the UK without permanent immigration status;
- A longer-term perspective plan should the care leaver be granted long-term permission to stay in the UK (for example through the grant of Refugee Status); and
- A return to their country of origin at any appropriate point or at the end of the immigration consideration process, should that be necessary because the care leaver decides to leave the UK or is required to do so.