A court has ruled that local authorities must protect and accommodate unaccompanied young people in their area while their ages are being assessed.
The welcome judgment means that local authorities must follow best practice guidance produced by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services aimed at keeping young people safe.
The ruling comes as a result of a legal challenge brought by Bhatia Best against Croydon Council’s refusal to accommodate a Refugee Council client – known as SS – whose age was being assessed.
This resulted in SS being forced to live in adult asylum accommodation while his age was determined instead of being properly cared for by the local authority.
Croydon Council’s decision flew in the face of expert guidelines – produced by a range of professionals including the former Director of Children’s Services at Croydon Council – which state that young people should be cared for by local authorities while their ages are assessed.
This safeguard is common practice among most local authorities and is designed to protect children from harm and to avoid the risk of trafficking victims falling back into the hands of their abusers.
Today’s court judgment means that local authorities are now legally bound to accommodate young people whose ages they are challenging.
Responding to the judgment, Refugee Council Head of Children’s Services Helen Johnson said: “It’s extremely welcome that the courts have recognised what the experts have known for some time; that it’s absolutely fundamental that until a young person’s age has been established they are cared for in a safe and supportive environment.
“Unaccompanied children who seek refuge in the UK have often suffered horrific abuse and exploitation that most grown ups would find difficult to imagine. Today’s ruling will help keep more of these children safe at a frightening and bewildering time.
“It’s vital that local authorities put young people’s safety first and follow the expert guidelines available to them.”