Pioneering new guidance aimed at assisting English social workers in conducting age assessments of unaccompanied children seeking asylum has been launched today by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).
The guidance has been produced by a group of specialist social workers and professionals in the NGO and legal sectors. It was overseen by a group of experts brought together by the ADCS comprising representatives from local and central government, health, the police, NGOs including the Refugee Council and the Children’s Commissioner for England’s office.
The authors consulted amongst interested parties and held an event to learn from young people who had experienced age assessments.
Last year, 1,945 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in Britain. Over the same period, according to Home Office statistics, 318 young people had their ages disputed. These are cases where an applicant claims to be a child but the Home Office assessment of appearance, or occasionally other evidence, leads to a dispute of the claim to be a child.
Young people whose ages are disputed are usually referred for an assessment by a social worker. This practice has been controversial for many years and there have been frequent calls for guidance to enable social workers to undertake this specialist task. To date good practice has been largely established through case law following legal challenges.
The stakes are high when it comes to getting someone’s age right. While those who are assessed to be children are cared for by local authorities, those thought to be adults are left to navigate Britain’s tough asylum system alone, as an adult with their credibility in tatters.
The ground breaking guidance published today will equip social workers to be able to make lawful, fair and sensitive age assessments. The guidance contains practical advice on preparing for, and conducting, age assessments, as well as a range of useful resources covering issues such as trafficking, trauma and memory, and legislation and case law.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “The consequences of getting age assessments wrong can be dramatic. Poor age assessments can leave ultimately endanger the safety of some of the most vulnerable children in the country: leaving them without the care and support they so desperately need and are entitled to.
“This guidance should help equip front line social services staff with the tools they need to make sure that children who require protection receive it.”
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ Asylum Taskforce encourages social workers across the country to make use of this new resource to complement existing guidance on conducting holistic assessments, and to work with all relevant professionals to respond to the needs of this particular group of children in need.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “It is critically important to the lives of many hundreds of young unaccompanied asylum-seekers who arrive in the UK each year that the age assessment process is as accurate and fair as possible. Those who are children must be treated as such – ensuring they get the support and security they need. That is why I am pleased to support the new age assessment guidance from ADCS and encourage social workers to make use of it.”