6.23 Safeguarding Children from Abroad (including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children)
- The Status of Children Who Arrive from Abroad and Legal Duties Towards Them
- Identification and Initial Action
- Establishing the Child’s Identity and Needs
- Parental Responsibility
- How to Seek Information from Abroad
- Children in Need of Protection
Appendix 1: Legal Framework
Appendix 2: Private Fostering
Appendix 3: British Red Cross International Tracing and Message Service Guidelines for Restoring Family Links for Unaccompanied and Separated Children
Appendix 4: Sources of Information
Appendix 5: Age Assessment – Joint Protocol between Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office and Association of Directors of Social Services
Large numbers of children arrive into this country from overseas every day. Many of these children do so legally in the care of their parents. Recent evidence indicates that many children are arriving into the UK who are:
- In the care of adults who, whilst they may be their carers, have no Parental Responsibility for them;
- In the care of adults who have no documents to demonstrate a relationship with the child;
- In the control of traffickers/agents.
Whilst there are many legitimate reasons for children to be brought into the UK such as, education, re-unification with family or fleeing a war torn country, little is known about this group of children.
More is known about this group of children as most come to the attention of the authorities when they claim asylum although some ‘disappear’.
Unaccompanied children or those accompanied by someone who is not their parent are particularly vulnerable; a point that is clearly made in the Second Joint Chief Inspector’s Report Into Safeguarding Children. Many of these children and their carers will need assistance to ensure that the child receives adequate care and accesses health and education services.
A small number of these children may be exposed to the additional risk of commercial, sexual or domestic exploitation.
Immigration Legislation impacts significantly on work under the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from abroad. This guidance refers to the current legal framework but it is important to note that regulations and legislation in this area of work are complex and subject to constant change through legal challenge etc. All practitioners need to be aware of this context. Legal advice on individual cases will usually be required.
The two most common terms for the illegal movement of people – Trafficking and ‘smuggling’ are very different. In human smuggling immigrants and asylum seekers pay people to help them enter the country illegally; after which there is no longer a relationship. Trafficked victims are coerced or deceived by the person arranging their relocation. On arrival in the country of destination the trafficked child or person is denied their human rights and is forced into exploitation by the trafficker or person into whose control they are delivered.
The Palermo Protocol establishes children as a special case – any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim – whether or not they have been deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent.
Even when a child understands what has happened they may still appear to submit willingly to what they believe to be the will of their parents.
The purpose of this guidance is to assist staff in all agencies to:
- Understand the issues, which can make children from abroad particularly vulnerable;
- Identify children from abroad who may be In Need, including those who may be in need of protection;
- Know what action to take in accordance with their responsibilities.
As with any guidance, it is not intended to provide the answer to all situations. No practitioner or agency holds all of the knowledge; the groups of children and families change and our knowledge of specific issues is developing.
There are some key principles underpinning practice within all agencies in relation to unaccompanied children from abroad or those accompanied by someone who does not hold Parental Responsibility.
- Never lose sight of the fact that children from abroad are children first – this can often be forgotten in the face of legal and cultural complexities;
- Children arriving from abroad who are unaccompanied or accompanied by someone who is not their parent should be assumed to be Children In Need unless assessment indicates that this is not the case. The assessment of need should include a separate discussion with the child in a setting where, as far as possible, they feel able to talk freely;
- Assessing the needs of these children is only possible if their legal status, background experiences and culture are understood, including the culture shock of arrival in this country. The assessment should be conducted in the child’s first language, with an interpreter present;
- Be prepared to actively seek out information from other sources. Beware of interrogating the child.
The Status of Children Who Arrive from Abroad and Legal Duties Towards Them
Children who arrive in the UK alone or who are left at a port of entry by an agent invariably have no right of entry and are unlawfully present. See Statutory Guidance issued in November 2009 for the UK Border Agency for Main Arrangements to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children. They are likely to be in a position to claim asylum and this should be arranged as soon as possible if appropriate. They are the responsibility of Children’s Specialist Services to support until they are 18 years of age, under section 17 or section 20 of the Children Act 1989. If their asylum claim is not resolved before they reach 18 years old, support after the age of 18 years is provided jointly by the UK Visas Immigration and the local authority Children’s Specialist Services, dependant upon their immigration status.
Children who arrive in the UK with or to be with carers without Parental Responsibility may have leave to enter the country, may have a visa or may be in the UK unlawfully. Children’s Specialist Services may have responsibilities towards them under the Private Fostering regulations. If the child is assessed to be In Need, support can be provided by Children’s Specialist Services for the child, and for the family, unless this is excluded by Section 54 of the National Immigration Act 2002. If the child is cared for by close relatives, Private Fostering Regulations may not apply.
Some children who arrive in the UK with their parents belong to families of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals migrating into the UK. Such families cannot be supported by Children’s Specialist Services except for the provision of return travel (and associated accommodation). If such families decide to stay and seek further help, Children’s Specialist Services still have responsibilities towards any child who is In Need, including to provide accommodation for the child alone. The Department for Work and Pensions practice is to declare such families ordinarily resident after 3 months and to pay benefits. Children’s Specialist Services remains in the position that services may only be provided direct to the child alone.
No child under the age of 16 can make an independent housing or homelessness application. Certain categories of people from abroad are not eligible for housing services (including homelessness) if their immigration status prevents it. Each case is assessed individually and any child or family with dependent children who is found to be ineligible will be referred to Children’s Specialist Services for an assessment under the Children Act.
Identification and Initial Action
Whenever any professional comes across a child who they believe has recently moved into this country the following basic information should be sought:
- Confirmation of the child’s identity and immigration status;
- Confirmation of carer’s identity and immigration status;
- Confirmation of the child’s health and education arrangements in this country;
- Confirmation of the carer’s relationship with the child.
This should be done in a way, which is as unthreatening to the child and carer as possible.
If this information indicates that the child has come from overseas and is being cared for by an unrelated adult or one whose relationship is uncertain, Children’s Specialist Services should be notified in order that an assessment can be undertaken.
The immigration status of a child and his/her family has implications for the statutory responsibilities towards the family. It governs what help, if any, can be provided to the family and how help can be offered to the child.
Where families and children are subject to Immigration legislation which precludes support to them, many will disappear and remain in this country illegally. During this time children may suffer particular hardship – e.g. live in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions and with no access to health or educational services. They are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because of their circumstances.
Establishing the Child’s Identity and Needs
Age is central to the assessment and affects the child’s rights to all services and the response by agencies. In addition it is important to establish the child’s age so that services are age appropriate (and developmentally appropriate).
Citizens of EU countries will have passport or ID card (usually both). Unaccompanied children very rarely have possession of all documents to confirm their identity or even to substantiate that they are under 18. Their physical appearance may not necessarily reflect their age.
The assessment of age is a complex task, which often relies on professional judgment and discretion. Such assessment may be compounded by issues of disability. Moreover, many societies do not place a high level of importance upon age and it may also be calculated in different ways. Some young people may genuinely not know their age and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks may exceed or fall short of our expectations of a child of the same age in this country. The advice of a paediatrician with experience in considering age may be needed to assist in this.
Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children: Statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children (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 Article 10(3) of the European Convention on action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. 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.
It is Home Office policy that the benefit of the doubt must be given where age is disputed unless an asylum seeker’s physical appearance strongly suggests he or she is over 18 years. Where there is a dispute over age a referral must be made to the local authority for Children’s Specialist Services to carry out an age assessment. (see form). The Court will make a decision based on the evidence provided for the age assessment which should be at the required legal standard i.e. ‘Merton -compliant’ (see Immigration Law Practitioners briefing for more information).
There is a joint working protocol on age assessment between the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) and the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS), in Appendix 5: Age Assessment – Joint Protocol between Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office and Association of Directors of Social Services.
The Children Act 1989 is built around the concept of Parental Responsibility. This legal framework provides the starting point for considering who has established responsibility and duties towards a child.
In some cultures child rearing is a shared responsibility between relatives and members of the community. Adults may bring children to this country whom they have cared for most of their lives, but who may be unrelated or ‘distantly’ related.
An adult whose own immigration status is unresolved cannot apply for a Child Arrangements Order to secure a child for whom he/she is caring.
Children whose parents’ whereabouts are not known have no access to their parents for consent when making important choices about their life. Whilst their parents still have Parental Responsibility they have no way of exercising it.
Children who do not have someone with Parental Responsibility caring for them can still attend school, and schools are strongly encouraged to be pragmatic in allowing the carer to make most decisions normally made by the parent.
Such children are entitled to health care and have a right to be registered with a GP. If there are difficulties in accessing a GP, the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) should be contacted to assist.
Emergency life-saving treatment would be given if required. However, should the child need medical treatment such as surgery or invasive treatment in a non life-threatening situation, the need for consent would become an issue and legal advice would be required.
Children’s Specialist Services have statutory duties where the child is deemed Privately Fostered. (See Wirral Children’s Specialist Services Procedures Manual, Private Fostering Procedure).
Some carers/parents are eligible to claim benefits for their child but this is dependent upon immigration status.
How to Seek Information from Abroad
Seeking information from abroad should be a part of assessing the situation of an unaccompanied child where it is safe to do so. Professionals from all key agencies – e.g. Health, Education, Children’s Specialist Services and the Police – should all be prepared to request information from their equivalent agencies in the country(ies) in which a child has lived, in order to gain as full as possible a picture of the child’s preceding circumstances. Please see Appendix 4: Sources of Information for details of agencies that can assist.
All professionals should be cautious before requesting information from abroad and have considered if this could be harmful to the young person or their family members living abroad.
It is worth noting that agencies abroad tend to respond quicker to e-mail requests/ faxed requests than by letter. Similarly, the Internet may provide a quick source of information to locate appropriate services abroad.
Any unaccompanied child or child accompanied by someone who does not have Parental Responsibility should receive a Social Work Assessment of Needs and Strengths in order to determine whether they are a Child In Need of services, including the need for protection of Privately Fostered children.
Such children should be assessed as a matter of urgency as they may be very geographically mobile and their vulnerabilities may be greater. All agencies should enable the child to be quickly linked into universal services (e.g. through the National Register of Unaccompanied Children – see Appendix 4: Sources of Information), which will offer a tracking record service for children. It is important that wherever possible a child friendly environment should be used when assessing a child.
The assessment of children from abroad can be challenging. The Assessment Framework should be used, provided that it is recognised that the assessment has to address not only the barriers which arise from cultural, linguistic and religious differences, but also the particular sensitivities which come from the experiences of many such children and families.
The needs of the child have to be considered based on an account given by the child or family about a situation which professionals have neither witnessed nor experienced. In addition it is often presented in a language, and about a culture and way of life with which the professional is totally unfamiliar or has only basic knowledge about. Professionals should seek advice from appropriate community resources and other specialised agencies.
It is vital that the services of an independent interpreter are employed in the child’s first language and that care is taken to ensure that the interpreter knows the correct dialect. Consideration should also be given to the gender of the interpreter. If that interpreter shares more than a common language, and are professionally trained, they can sometimes be a rich source of information about traditions, politics and history of the area from which the child has arrived. They may (or may not) be in a position able to advise on issues like the interpretation of body language and emotional expression.
The first contact with the child and carers is crucial to the engagement with the family and the promotion of trust, which underpins the future support, advice and services. Particular sensitivities which may be present include:
Concerns around immigration status
- Fear of repatriation;
- Anxiety raised by yet another professional asking similar questions to ones previously asked;
- Lack of understanding of the separate role of different services or immigration;
- Lack of understanding of why an assessment needs to be carried out;
- Previous experience of being asked questions under threat (possibly by professional such as teachers/doctors) or torture, or seeing that happen to someone else.
- Past regime/ life experiences can impact upon the child’s mental and physical health. This experience can make concerns from the Authorities about minor injury or poor living conditions seem trivial and this mismatch may add to the fear and uncertainty;
- The journey itself as well as the previous living situation may be a source of trauma.
The shock of arrival
- The alien culture, system and language can cause shock and uncertainty, and can affect the mood, behaviour and presentation.
In such circumstances reluctance to divulge information, fear, confusion or memory loss can easily be mistaken for lack of co-operation, deliberate withholding of information or untruthfulness. The Assessment should take account of 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.
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 faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.
In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.
The first task of the initial contact is therefore engagement. Open questions are most helpful, with a clear emphasis on reassurance and simple explanations of the role and reasons for assessment. If the ‘engagement’ with the family is good there are more likely to be opportunities to expand on the initial contact, as trust is established.
Within the first contact with the child and carer(s) it is however also vital not to presume that the child’s views are the same as their carer, or that the views and needs of each child are the same. Seeing each child alone is crucial, particularly to check out the stated relationships with the person accompanying them. (Someone allegedly from the same place of origin should have a similar knowledge of the place, for example). Clearly the professional is going to be seen as in “power” and as such a child may believe that they must ‘get it right’ and may tell you what you think you want to hear.
If the engagement is good then there will be opportunities to expand on the initial contact. The ethnicity, culture, customs and identity of this child must be a focus whilst keeping this child central to the assessment. The pace of the interviewing of a child should aim to be at the pace appropriate to the child, although the need to ensure that the child is safe may become paramount in some circumstances.
Child’s developmental needs. Things to bear in mind include:
- Health, behaviour and social presentation can be affected by trauma and loss. Famine and poverty can have an impact upon physical and psychological development;
- Potential exposure to abuse. Children who have been trafficked will have been exposed to Emotional Abuse and frequently Sexual Abuse and Physical Abuse. Trafficked children frequently suffer beatings, rape, physical deprivations and encouraged to develop drug/alcohol dependency;
- Wider health needs may need to be considered, including HIV, Hepatitis B and C and TB and early pregnancy;
- It should be noted that medical and educational history of the child may be available from their country of origin;
- Self care skills. Do not judge competence by comparing with a child of the same age in this country. This child may have had to be very competent in looking after themselves on the journey but unable to do other basic tasks. In some countries some children will have been working or have been involved in armed conflict. Loss of a parent can enhance or deprive a child of certain skills. Having had to overcome extreme adversity can result in a child who is either deeply troubled or both resourceful and resilient;
- Identity. Who is this child? What is their sense of themselves, their family, community, tribe clan, race, and history?
- Physical appearance. Life experience and trauma can affect this. Lack of nourishment may make the child present as younger or older;
- Perceptions of what constitutes disability are relative and attitudes towards disabled children may be very different;
- The impact of racism on the child’s self image and the particular issues currently faced by asylum seeking children and their families in the UK.
- May not speak any English but one or more other languages, and may or may not be illiterate in their home language. Vocabulary in another language may be very limited;
- May not have received any or have limited formal education due to war, due to prohibitions in home countries because of ethnicity or gender, or due to massive changes and movement between countries;
- Being confused and unsettled having been through a few and very different educational systems and establishments in different countries;
- Confused identities and sense of belonging because of diverse cultural and educational differences, and unable to cope with changes and the experiences they have been through;
- Unable to catch up with their peers because of the enormous gaps due to personal situation and educational backgrounds resulting in lack of confidence and sense of insecurity, e.g. learning difficulties, disabilities, depression;
- Having been through abusive educational system in the past, which makes the child and young person in need of time and help to trust, to be regular at school and to enjoy learning;
- Emotional and psychological stresses, past and present that causes memory impairment;
- Change of status and previous economic stability in the past can be particularly frustrating and difficult for children to accept.
- War, famine and persecution can make a family mobile. The family may have moved frequently in order to keep safe. The stability of the family unit might be more important to the child than stability of place. Judgments that mobility may equate with inability to provide secure parenting may be entirely wrong. In some countries regular migration to deal with exhaustion of the land is part of the culture;
- The fact that a child seems to have been given up by a parent may not imply rejection within their culture, as the motive may have been to keep the child safe or seek better life chances for him/her;
- Talking about parents/ family can be stressful and painful – as can not being given the chance to do so regularly;
- Importance of the extended family/community/clan rather than a Eurocentric view of family;
- Not to presume that they cannot contact their parent who is living abroad unless you have established that this is the case;
- Lack of toys for a child may indicate poverty or different cultural norms rather than poor parenting capacity to provide stimulation;
- The additional issues of parenting a child conceived through rape – either dealing with the negative response of the partner or with the stress of keeping it secret from him;
- Parents who are depressed, who suffer from mental ill health and who are not coping with their circumstances may not be able to support their children adequately to make the necessary transitions;
- Carers pretending to be parents and inadequate in their roles;
- Harsh disciplines and extremely strict cultural practices which causes conflict between children and carers (and school).
Family and Environmental Factors
The importance of economic and social hardship is apparent. In addition there may be issues such as:
- Family history and functioning may include the loss of previous high status as well as periods of destitution;
- Different concepts of who are/have been important family members and what responsibility is normally assumed by the whole community, e.g. who a child should reasonably be left with;
- Isolation, the lack of friends and supportive networks;
- Family being unable to integrate into the community.
Children in Need of Protection
Where the Social Work Assessment of Needs and Strengths indicates that a child may be at risk of Significant Harm, the child’s welfare must be promoted and these procedures apply. Additional factors need to be taken into account. These factors include:
- Children and families perceptions of authority, the role of the Police/immigration in particular and the level of fear this may generate;
- The additional implications of deciding to prosecute a family where deportation is a real possibility;
- A child’s previous experience of separation and loss;
- Judgments about child care practices in the context of such different cultural backgrounds and experiences.
Appendix 1: Legal Framework
Support and Funding
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children
An unaccompanied child (under 18 years) with an asylum claim will be supported under the provisions of the Children Act 1989. The DOH LAC (2003) 13 (May2003) states “ For example, where a child has no parent or guardian in the country, perhaps because he has arrived alone seeking asylum, the presumption should be that he would fall within the scope of section 20 and become looked after, unless the needs assessment reveals particular factors which would suggest that an alternative response would be more appropriate”.
There is funding from central government for UASC, through a Home Office grant reclaim. A higher rate is paid for under 16 year old than for those young people aged 16 and 17 years.
At age 18 the young person’s funding is dependent on their immigration status.
- If they are entitled to ‘leaving care services’ and eligible for UK Visas Immigration support then the LA will arrange accommodation and support and claim the relevant current amount back from – UK Visas Immigration, (If they do not qualify for ‘leaving care services’ i.e. they have been supported by the LA for less than 13 weeks they will be referred directly to UK Visas Immigration for support);
- they may be entitled to state benefits;
- or they may only have access to support from the LA via their ‘leaving care status’ as ‘a former relevant child’.
See UK Visas Immigration for more information.
Further specialist legal advice may need to be obtained.
Appendix 2: Private Fostering
Appendix 3: British Red Cross International Tracing and Message Service Guidelines for Restoring Family Links for Unaccompanied and Separated Children
See Red Cross website.
The International Tracing and Message Service (ITMS) of the British Red Cross (BRCS) has been involved with tracing of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) for decades – minors came to the UK before WWII (Kinder Transport) – so it is not a new phenomenon. However, UASC currently arriving in the UK from conflict areas come from varying backgrounds and cultures and bring new complexities to the service.
There are currently approximately 8,500 UASC in the UK (Save the Children Fund, ‘Young Refugees’, May 2003). Nonetheless, ITMS has a record of only 182 tracing requests in 2002 and 95 in 2003. These enquiries come directly from young persons, our Red Cross Branches, Local Authorities and Solicitors requesting the Red Cross to search overseas. Additionally, we receive tracing requests from our Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) requesting us to trace unaccompanied minors in the UK.
It is evident that we only receive a small proportion of tracing requests. This, we believe, could be due to the unwillingness or fear of the young person to initiate a tracing enquiry as they are concerned what impact it may have on their asylum application or possible security implications for their families overseas. However, of the tracing requests that we do receive a large proportion of them are unsuccessful due to, we believe, inaccurate or incomplete information. The reasons for this are complex and varied but we are aware that they do not always trust nor do they understand the role of the Red Cross. Given that we are a charitable organisation and our tracing services are free of charge it is both expensive and time consuming for both BRCS and ICRC. In light of the above situation consideration needs to be given and guidelines set on how to minimise such enquiries.
Following consultations with other organisations and Red Cross National Societies the following guidelines have been drawn up:
The Red Cross is unable to undertake tracing enquiries from a third party and will only accept requests from an unaccompanied minor who wishes to find his/her family overseas. All tracing requests will be handled by local Red Cross Branches. It will still be possible to make enquiries through the Tracing caseworkers at our UK Office (HQ) who will advise on the feasibility of the request but will refer the caller to the appropriate local Branch with the name of a contact person.
At Branch/Area office, the Tracing & Message co-ordinator will arrange for the UASC to come for an initial interview in order to explain the Tracing and Message service. They can bring someone with them, if they wish (e.g. an interpreter). The interviewer will either have Child Protection Training or will be accompanied by someone with Child Protection Training. Please note the Red Cross does not have funds available for interpreting services, therefore, the onus is on the service user/statutory authorities to provide one.
The first interview will include the following:
- The role of the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross within the International Tracing and Message Service;
- The role of British Red Cross and ICRC;
- Details required in order to carry out a tracing request – explanation of the Red Cross tracing / message form;
- That the interview will be confidential – however, the UASC should be told that the information contained in the form will be passed to ITMS at UK Office and then to the ICRC or Red Cross/Red Crescent National Society as appropriate. Any special requests made by the UASC, will be noted and passed on to the ITMS for example, if the young person does not wish the Red Cross to use the media or if they have security fears;
- The information from the tracing / message form will be entered onto a database and then passed on to the ICRC;
- That the ICRC personnel (expatriate and local staff) may visit the last known address given and the address of other contacts given in the tracing form;
- That the result of the enquiry will be given to the young person only;
- There is no time limit on an enquiry and that the outcome is always unknown.It may be that the UASC will not be able to give sufficient information during the second interview and needs time to reflect. The offer of subsequent interviews will be given until the interviewer is satisfied that there is enough information to proceed with the case.All personnel conducting these interviews will have undergone our International Tracing and Message course, Police checks DBS and Child Protection Training. Additionally, other appropriate training will be available to staff and volunteers.The Result of a Tracing Request is Given Only to the UASC Personally However, if the Red Cross is unable to find a relative it will still be possible for the UASC to continue to search should they have additional information which may lead to finding another family member.
- For any further information please contact Pamela Hussain, Senior Caseworker, International Tracing and Message Service, UK Office on 0207 235 5454.
- We will not give out information about the UASC’s case to third parties (Social Workers, Solicitors, Government Authorities). If a relative(s) is found, then they will probably receive a Red Cross Message from their relative. Depending on the circumstances in the country concerned, the UASC can either continue to maintain contact through the Red Cross Message Service or by telephone/letter if appropriate.
- In order to protect the UASC’s confidentiality, at the end of the interview the young person will be given the opportunity to attend a second interview (with interpreter, if necessary) should he/she wish to do so in order to complete the tracing/message forms. The UASC will sign the form agreeing to the Red Cross carrying out the enquiry on their behalf.
Appendix 4: Sources of Information
Documentation held by the child/family The child/family may have documentation from their previous country such as benefit letter, ID cards, GP or hospital letters, letters from other Social Services departments.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 020-7008 1500
The appropriate Embassy or Consulate The London Diplomatic List, ISBN 0 11 591772 1 can be obtained from the Stationary Office on 0870 – 600 – 5522 or from FCO website It contains information about all the Embassies based in London.
AFRUCA – Africans Unite Against Child Abuse Tel. 0844 660 8607
- Purpose of the Document
The Protocol sets out arrangements to support a co-operative approach to age assessment between:
- The Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office (IND); and
- UK Local Authorities and Statutory Child Care Agencies (referred to as LAs).
The protocol has been agreed between IND and the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS). ADSS is the senior professional body in social work that represents senior child care managers in all English LAs and has affiliations with organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. One of the functions of ADSS is to set out policies and processes for children’s social workers and children’s services. Reconciliation of LA assessments with IND Age Determinations, is primarily a professional issue. For this reason ADSS is acting for all LA and has ensured appropriate consultations across LA and local government associations.
Children and young people from abroad may need to have their age assessed for various reasons. In particular, young people who claim asylum may require an age assessment as:
- IND needs to be clear about whether an applicant is over or under 18 as this will determine which asylum process and asylum support arrangements are appropriate; and
- LA have a statutory duty to assess the situation of Children In Need. In order to do so they may need to decide on an applicant’s age. This applies not only to whether someone aged 18 or over but also for children whether they have reached the age of 16 as this affects rights to statutory education, as well as working and benefit entitlement.
It is clearly desirable that both agencies have a process for sharing information and for resolving disputes and disagreements between the agencies about individual applicants.
- Situations Where Age Assessment may be Required
Age assessment is increasingly required by agencies working with asylum seekers and unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC). The age of other children from abroad in need of care or support may also need to be determined even though they are not asylum seekers or unaccompanied. Disputes over age arise for various reasons.
- Not all countries and cultures attach the same importance to chronological age, and birth records are therefore afforded less importance;
- Recording conventions and calendars are different in other countries and may not be easily reconciled with UK systems;
- Adults may wish to avail themselves of asylum processes and support arrangements made for children, as these are perceived to be more favourable;
- With other children there may be a need to assess their age for protection or care reasons e.g. traffickers may present young people as older or younger in order to avoid immigration controls or social services checks.
- Partners to the Protocol
This protocol has been developed by IND and LA, represented by the ADSS Task Force on Asylum Seekers. It is intended to enable relevant agencies to carry out their separate statutory duties to assess asylum claims from, or provide support services to, both UASC and former UASC.
It is important to recognise that while IND has specific legal powers to look into and determine age, LAs do not. Their duty is to discover and assess children in need in their area. It is only as part of that assessment process that the question of age may be considered by a social worker.
There should be:
- Minimal delays in making decisions;
- Clear procedures for agencies making decisions and for young people to challenge decisions;
- Consideration of all available evidence; and
- That the information shared between the partner agencies should be within the framework and for the purposes set out in this Protocol.
To establish jointly agreed working procedures, communication channels and recording conventions that will:
- Identify whether or not a person claiming to be a UASC is in fact a UASC correctly and promptly;
- Establish contact with the most appropriate agency urgently, where support is required;
- Ensure that appropriate asylum processes are followed for children or adults respectively;
- Ensure that decisions about and/or transfers of responsibility based on dates of birth (DOB) follow an agreed and understood process for identifying and recording any differences between the claimed DOB and the assessed DOB in disputed cases;
- Reconcile the basic data on the applicant contained in the documents and records of the partner agencies and which may be required by other statutory agencies providing services;
- Better identify the age of other migrant children at risk who are applying for entry to the UK.
- Clear and agreed determinations on whether asylum applicants and other migrant children are over or under 18 years of age, where their age is not known or is disputed by a partner agency;
- To agree appropriate adjustments of the age of UASC or other children from abroad accepted as being under 18, where the DOB is not known or is found to be incorrect at assessment.
- Information Sharing
IND will share information on the reasons for age disputing any individual case with the LA on the basis of the need to protect and promote the welfare of children or to prevent fraud by adults claiming to be children. Information should be requested through the Central Point of Contact (CPC).
LA assess age as part of the overall assessment of children in need rather than as a discreet process. In keeping with the guidance on information sharing in the ADSS guidance a proforma has been devised to summarise the findings of the assessment without being over inclusive of information obtained in the assessment process, and collected for other purposes.
IND can contact the named social worker, who carried out the assessment to discuss any concerns about the assessment and its outcome. In particular cases, for example where a change of age may cause a review of immigration decisions already taken, there may be a clear need to share the full LA assessment with IND. Where asylum or grant of leave decisions have been made, the re-assessment may mean that the basis for the decision or “grant of leave” is no longer valid. A full written assessment from the LA will be necessary to review the applicant’s leave to remain in the UK.
Where IND is first agency contacted by an applicant claiming to be a UASC
- IND apply their age determination policy and process in all cases;
- Where IND determine that the applicant is to be treated as a child the applicant should be referred to the appropriate LA if IND can find no suitable adult prepared to care for and protect them. (Referral process below);
- Where IND determine that the applicant, claiming to be a UASC, is an adult they will be informed of this decision (and the reasons for it) and the right to apply to NASS for support. They will also be given a Notice of Age Dispute stock letter (ACD.1162 or IS97m) which will inform them of their right to approach a LA social services department (SSD) for an assessment as a possible child in need. (The letter states that the issue of their age will be separately assessed by the SSD);
- If the applicant contests an IND determination of adult status, the IND officer will inform them verbally of their right to approach a LA for an assessment as a possible child in need. As stated above, the IND Notice of Age Dispute will also contain this information (referral process below);
- If an applicant, determined to be an adult, submits further evidence to IND or otherwise continues to dispute the age determination, IND will seek to involve the relevant LA as part of any review of their decision;
- IND will refer all age disputed cases to the Refugee Council Panel of Advisers;
- Where IND determine that an applicant is to be treated as a child and refer them to the appropriate LA, that LA will conduct a child in need assessment of the applicant. If the LA accepts that the applicant is a child In Need of their services they will notify IND via the CPC on the same day. If on the other hand the LA assesses the applicant to be an adult they will inform IND as soon as possible. On notification IND will review their decision in the light of the findings of the assessment and amend their records appropriately. In the event that they do not accept the LA assessment, any differences will be dealt with according to the procedures set out in this protocol;
- Notification will be on an agreed proforma and via agreed channels only to reduce the opportunities for miscommunication or fraud;
- Where IND determine that an applicant is an adult and the LA supports the IND age determination of adult status, the LA will ensure that the applicant is aware of the need to make an immediate approach to NASS who will decide whether they are eligible for support. Where the LA is first agency contacted by an applicant who claims to be a child and indicates that they wish to seek asylum.
- N.B. It is vital that both agencies communicate disputes and decisions at the earliest possible opportunity. Delay in notifying changes of status can be extremely prejudicial to the welfare of the applicant and could lead to incorrect decisions and/or loss of support.
- The LA will conduct an age assessment to assess whether the applicant appears to be a child in need (in the first instance) on the same day;
- If the LA confirms through an age assessment that the applicant is a child they will arrange for the child to contact IND to make an asylum claim at the earliest possible opportunity (on the first working day). They will provide supporting documentation i.e. the age assessment proforma to IND, and also inform IND through the central point of contact that they are treating the applicant as a child;
- If the LA considers the applicant to be an adult they will inform IND about the approach through the central point of contact. The LA will also notify/advise the applicant of the need to make an immediate approach to IND to record their asylum claim as soon as possible and to NASS who will decide whether they are eligible for support. It is necessary to track these assessments to limit any requests for fresh assessments of age;
- In the event that IND receive an LA assessment that an applicant is an adult they will treat them accordingly but routinely refer them to the Refugee Council Panel of Advisers, as part of the agreement on age disputed cases.
- Where a LA accepts an applicant as a child under 18 years but immediately doubts the accuracy of the age given. In these cases only the LA is likely to adjust the age of an applicant accepted to be a child.
- The LA will assess the age of the applicant and immediately inform IND of the outcome via the central point of contact and on the agreed proforma. The procedures for informing the applicant are a matter for LA guidance);
- Information on the LA age assessment proforma will be passed to IND as soon as possible to allow its inclusion in the caseworker’s considerations;
- In a very few cases where the LA is waiting for outstanding information or specialist assessments they will notify IND of the reasons for the delay via the CPC as early as possible. Where information with a bearing on age assessment emerges later in the asylum process.
- There are occasions when IND or the responsible LA only receives information bearing on the age or credibility of an applicant much later in the process. Where such new information merits a reassessment of age of an asylum seeker, it is important that the agencies follow processes consistent with those above to avoid applicants being left without appropriate support.
- NB. It is important for the LA to bear in mind IND targets to make decisions on asylum claims within two months. If IND are informed of outstanding issues early they may be able to delay decisions pending the outcome, provided it does not exceed the two months target.
- The agency wishing to effect a change will notify partner agencies through the CPC;
- If the asylum seeker is currently classified as a child the LA will conduct a re-assessment and send a full written assessment to inform IND within 7 days. In some case the LA will find out through the CPC that legally binding decisions and grants of leave have been made by IND. In these circumstances a full written assessment of the reasons for changing the age is required;
- If the asylum seeker is currently classified as an adult they might submit evidence to NASS or IND which IND accepts as proof that they are a child. In such a case IND will refer the applicant to the relevant LA and continue to provide interim support pending the outcome of the LA assessment provided it is completed within 7 days. If the LA assesses the asylum seeker, to be a child, then a prompt date for the applicant to transfer to LA support, not more than 7 days from the outcome of the assessment must be agreed.
10. Conflicting Assessments
Where a LA assumes responsibility for someone they assess to be a child, but whose asylum application has been processed as an adult, it is vital that they liaise immediately with IND via the CPC. Immediate notification to IND may prevent an unnecessary appeal regarding age or removal based on adult status.
- Between IND and a LA In many cases it is likely that IND’s assessment will be consistent with that of the LA. In some cases IND’s assessment will differ from that of the LA; for example if IND believe that specific evidence, e.g. a document, has not been sufficiently taken into account or there are concerns that the person presenting to IND is not the same person as seen by the LA. In such a case IND frontline staff should discuss the case with the named contact at the LA in the first instance. For example they should point out contrary evidence that they believe may not have been properly considered by the LA. In the event that neither party can persuade the other as to the correctness of their determination the case will be referred to the Asylum Policy Unit and a formal reconciliation attempted with the LA within 7 working days. In the interim pending a reconciliation the applicant should be supported in accordance with the LA assessment. If no agreement is reached through this process the matter will be referred for binding adjudication to a nominated third party.
- Conflicting LA Assessments LA responsibility is tied to geographical boundaries and it is therefore possible that an asylum seeker moving across these boundaries may seek age assessment from more than one LA. In some cases the assessments may not agree. It is the intention of the ADSS to reduce unnecessary repetition of the assessment process and therefore the following guidance should be followed. A LA approached for an age assessment should check whether any previous assessment has been carried out by another LA. The host LA should request a copy of the age assessment from the original LA and base further action on the content. In the event that no new evidence is being brought forward that was not considered at the original assessment, the issue should be treated as a complaint about the original assessment and referred to the LA responsible for it. In the event that new evidence has been brought forward the host LA should continue to reassess the age of the applicant taking full account of all sources of information. In the event that IND is aware of conflicting assessment of age from different LAs it will continue to follow the first decision notified to it unless and until new evidence is submitted as part of a properly conducted new assessment. It is necessary to establish clear channels of communication to ensure that prompt and confidential communications about vulnerable children reach the right people within the partner agencies. It is necessary to use agreed, recognisable and mutually understood forms to guarantee the quality and consistency of decisions and assessment to the partner agency. In non-emergency situations contact from IND to LAs will only take place in the first instance through nominated LA contact officers logged with the CPC. Once proper and accredited contact has been established, named workers will be responsible for the continuation of communications about that case.
11. Recording Reconciliation of Records In the event that a LA decides to treat an age disputed case as a child and proper notification is not provided the discrepancy may not be discovered until IND check the LA datamatching returns through NRUC. In these circumstances the LA will not be able to claim UASC grant for the individual until IND has been properly notified of the assessment appropriately. IND will issue amended documentation within 7 days of accepting a change, with a copy/notification to the responsible LA. UASC grant can be claimed from the date that IND acceptance of change is received by the LA.Where an asylum seeker who may require LA services gives an established address in a LA area IND will refer to the LA responsible for the relevant area. However if there is thought to be immediate risk to a child, either at the address or from an adult who is in charge of the child, IND will seek the assistance from the LA covering the area where the child is. Where an asylum seeker has no address and appears either very young (under 16) or otherwise in urgent need IND will refer to the nearest LA. Currently the Refugee Council organises a voluntary rota on behalf of London Boroughs. It operates for children in the following circumstances,
- Other voluntary arrangements made between LAs on referral mechanisms.
- If the asylum seeker has no established address but attends with a legal representative then IND will refer to the LA covering the legal representative’s premises.
13. Additional Guidance on LA Referral Processes
- LAs have the responsibility to ensure that IND are informed of changes of assessed age promptly. In the event that the LA assesses the applicant to be an adult they will not be able to access NASS financial support without proper notification. Reconciliations with IND records will not be recognised for payment of grant until they are recorded on NRUC the joint Local Authority/Home Office and DfE database as being in agreement with A_CID, the Home Office record.
- Agencies will record the given DOB but indicate it is disputed. In the case of asylum seekers assessed and determined to be adults the DOB shown on their records may not be material proof of their age provided that IND documentation shows them as age disputed. However in the case of UASC whose age is adjusted by assessment, both agencies will need to agree an effective date at which age qualification for other services will take place, e.g. accessing benefits or transfer to NASS at 18 (if the assessed age is different from the claimed DOB).
- All age assessments by LAs must be communicated to IND on the agreed Proforma. This is intended to minimise misunderstandings and disagreements between frontline staff in respective agencies. IND reserve the right to reject an age assessment where there is clear reason to doubt it; for example where an applicant is found to be using the age assessment prepared for someone else.
- Remote contact from LAs to IND about individual cases will only take place in the first instance through the Dedicated Helpline for UASC in the CPC. Once contact has been established named officers or caseworkers from each agency will be responsible for settling outstanding issues and resolving disputes.
- It is necessary to control the means of communication to minimise the opportunities for fraud e.g. the production of counterfeit documents. It is planned that the new national register of unaccompanied children (NRUC) will assist fraud reduction measures by providing electronic access to data including photographs of applicants.
11. Reasons for Establishing Formal Contact Arrangements
- The child is aged 16 or 17;
- S/he has no discernible urgent needs;
- S/he has no known address;
- S/he is not accompanied by a legal representative.
IND will refer children in these circumstances and only in these circumstances to the Refugee Council who ensure that a LA takes responsibility according to this voluntary rota.
It is proposed to establish social work teams on a pilot basis at ports and asylum screening units. Where these teams are established they will develop a local protocol for determining LA responsibility with the immigration service.
See Age Assessment form below: