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4.2.1 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

RELATED GUIDANCE

Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children (Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on the Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children, July 2014)

The ADCS Asylum Task Force, Good Practice Documents

AMENDMENT

In March 2016, the chapter was updated to include a link to the ADCS Asylum Task Force and also an age Assessment Guidance. This material has been devised jointly by them with the Home Office.


Contents

  1. Scope of this Chapter
  2. Eligibility for Service
  3. Our Duties
  4. Social Work Assessment of Need
  5. Age Disputes
  6. Children in Need Criteria
  7. Twin Track Planning
  8. Provision of Services
  9. Refusal of Services
  10. Withdrawal of a Service
  11. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching Age 18
  12. Review of Services
  13. Special Grant Application for UASC
  14. Appendices

    Appendix A: Initial Determination of Age Assessment for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers

    Appendix B: Age Assessment Report for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers


1. Scope of this Chapter

For the purposes of this chapter, a young unaccompanied asylum seeker is a young person who arrives in this country unaccompanied by an adult, with the exception of his/her agent, and has no relatives or legal guardian resident in this country who is able to care for him/her.

This chapter describes the particular issues arising in referrals involving young unaccompanied asylum seekers.

In all such referrals, the Procedures in relation to Social Work Assessment of Need will apply as set out in a Social Work Assessment of Need and ICS Recording Procedure and Wirral Safeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual: Strategy Discussions/Meetings and Section 47 Enquiries as Part of a Social Work Assessments Procedure, Section 25, Children's Services Recording Requirements.

Where a young unaccompanied asylum seeker becomes Looked After, the procedures in this manual relating to Looked After Children apply.

Procedures for the safeguarding of UASC are contained in Safeguarding Children from Abroad (including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children) Procedure and Safeguarding Children and Young People who may have been Trafficked Procedure of the Wirral Local Safeguarding Children Board.


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. Where such young people are provided with services, they will continue to be eligible for a service from the Local Authority where they achieve refugee status 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. The relevant team should also inform Residential Services Manager (UASC Lead) - 13. Special Grant Application for UASC.

If the young person is under the age of 18 the case will remain within the relevant team until such time the UASC meets the eligibility criteria for a service under the Leaving Care Act (i.e. 3 months).


3. Our Duties

All UASC should, on arrival be supported under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, until assessment of needs has been completed.

Section 17 can be used to support UASC in exceptional circumstances where an assessment of needs identified that to become looked after would not be in the UASC’s best interests - for example if the young person (aged 16-17) strongly expresses aversion to becoming looked after.


4. Social Work Assessment of Need

In all cases where a referral is received concerning an unaccompanied young asylum-seeker, the relevant Team will carry out a Social Work Assessment of Need in accordance with the guidance to determine whether he or she is a Child in Need. The Social Work Assessment of Need should be proportionate to the young person's presenting and emerging needs. This should be agreed between the Social Worker and Team Manager. The Social Work Assessment of Need will take account of:

  1. The immigration status of the young person;
  2. The young person's accommodation arrangements and needs;
  3. The young person's local connection with the Local Authority area;
  4. The young person's financial and other support;
  5. The young person's ethnicity and religion; and
  6. The age assessment of the young person 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. An Initial Determination of Age form should be completed along with the Social Work Assessment of Need. (See Appendix A: Initial Determination of Age Assessment for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers).

In determining an unaccompanied young person's accommodation needs, the Social Work Assessment of Need must have regard to his or her age and independent living skills, and consider the intensity of service required. This may range between independent accommodation, semi-independent accommodation and foster placements.

An interpreter will be used to assist in all assessments.

The caseworker must complete a Social Work Assessment of Need in all cases.

The assessment of age is a complex task, which usually involves a face-to-face meeting and often relies on professional judgement and discretion. Such assessment may be compounded by issues of disability. 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 ADCS Asylum Task Force has worked with the Home Office to provide a set of jointly agreed “good practice documents”. This guidance brings together the fundamental elements of what constitutes a lawful assessment whilst promoting best practice. It 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.

This document forms part of a suite of publications including the ADCS and Home Office Age Assessment Joint Working Guidance and the Information Sharing Proforma.

The advice of a paediatrician with experience in considering age may be needed to assist in this, in the context of a holistic assessment. However, the High Court has ruled that, unless a paediatrician's report can add something specific to an assessment of age undertaken by an experienced Social Worker, it will not be necessary. (See Appendix A: Initial Determination of Age Assessment for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers and Appendix B: Age Assessment Report for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers).


5. Age Disputes

Assessment of age is a key factor in the assessment of need and subsequent delivery of appropriate services to UASC. Services offered to those over 18 may differ from those offered to persons under 16.

When requests for services are received, age must be addressed as an integral part of the Social Work Assessment of Need. This is so that eligibility for services is determined accurately and appropriately.

UKVI policy, where an applicant claims to be under 18, but his or her appearance strongly suggests that he or she is over 18, is to treat the applicant as an adult and offer support under the UKVI Support Service (and they would not be UASC). The decision can be challenged by the person claiming to be a minor. An age assessment provided by a Social Worker must be obtained and it is essential that this assessment is completed with the help of a skilled interpreter.

The case of R v Merton LBC (2003) and the R v Croydon and Lambeth deals with the do’s and don'ts of age assessment; Children's Specialist Services Department must undertake their own age assessment and ensure that there are clear reasons for the conclusion. This procedure is drafted in line with guidance contained within that case.

Prior to attending the first interview, the Social Worker will obtain as much background information as possible, including the views of the immigration officer, all medical data collected at the initial medical examination and any other additional evidence of family or other contacts in this country. Components of the assessment should include:

  • Physical presentation (pen picture, physical development, clothing);
  • Social presentation (observation on behaviour, interactions/relations with others, self care skills, level of coping);
  • Family composition/demographics;
  • Education (history and achievements);
  • Health (growth and development, findings from medical and dental checks);
  • The history given by the child or young person, and an examination of credibility of the history given;
  • Any other professional views.

The Age Assessment should be recorded on the appropriate document format which can be found on ESCR with clear and concise wording which demonstrate the evidence upon which the Local Authority seeks to relay (See Appendix B: Age Assessment Report for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers). Any piece of evidence which is presented by the young person must be considered and reasons for accepting or dismissing it must be clearly recorded. The assessor must give the young person the opportunity to respond to any conclusions she/he makes about the evidence offered by the young person, and the detail of this must be recorded.

The Croydon and Lambeth Judgment referred to best practice considerations for assessments as including:

  1. Use of trained and experienced (in dealing with children from abroad) assessors;
  2. Merton compliance;
  3. Procedurally fair;
  4. UASC having right to have independent adult present during interview;
  5. Use of appropriate interpreters;
  6. Cautious approach with UASC given benefit of any doubt;
  7. Evidence based decision making;
  8. Physical appearance not being reliable indicator;
  9. Inconsistencies/concerns should be put to the UASC at the time of assessment for comment/clarification;
  10. Interview notes may be inspected by the court;
  11. Need to balance factors for and against the claimed age and reach an objective conclusion on the totality of the relevant and material information;
  12. Assessors should be independent i.e. not defending previous decisions.

Once the assessment has been completed, a meeting must be convened to share the findings with the young person and their representative. The meeting will decided upon the level of service to meet the assessed need and whether or not other agencies need to know the outcome of the assessment. The young person must demonstrate a clear understanding of the process and if there is any doubt because of language or other difficulties these must be addressed. A letter setting out the final decision must be provided to the young person and evidence which forms the basis of this decision must be included. This will allow the young person the opportunity to challenge any issues which they may feel has been wrongly recorded.

Mechanism of appeal for young person within the Local Authority - if the young person wishes to contest any of the issues raised within the assessment or decision letter, this could be done initially in discussion with their Social Worker and if necessary with the Social worker’s Manager. If the young person continues to be unhappy they should be given information about the complaints procedures. Complaints leaflets should be given to UASCs and where possible in their own language.

There should be three levels to the assessment when a UASC's age is in doubt, when the following information should be considered;

Level 1 (immediate assessment at point of entry). The young person's given information/appearance (pen picture, physical development), views of other professionals, medical advisor, immigration officer, social and education information.

Level 2 (by the end of the Social Work Assessment of Need) when the assessing Social Worker and carer have undertaken a more detailed assessment of the young person's social, emotional and behavioural presentation over a short period of time, and a second medical opinion has been obtained namely from a health professional.

Level 3 (by the first Looked After Review) when the assessing Social Worker and carer have undertaken a more in depth assessment of the young person's needs and will include information on:

  • Physical presentation - include pen picture, physical development, observations of clothing, evidence of financial resources;
  • Social presentation - to include observations of behaviour, interactions with others, self care skills;
  • Emotional and behavioural presentation - to include observations of relationships with others, evidence of anxiety or worries, being harmed, or the fear of harm;
  • Medical assessment - to include the findings of a comprehensive medical examination.

This must be available to the first review as a written report.

IT IS VITAL THAT THE AGREED AGE OF THE YOUNG PERSON IS ENTERED ON ICS AND ALL APPROPRIATE RECORDS.

If two professionals agree the young person is older than stated, and the young person is unhappy about this assessment, the Social Worker should explain to the young person the reasoning for this decision. If they are still not happy a 'resolution meeting' chaired by a Manager where young person is present should be held. The young person will have access to the normal complaints procedure and can seek advice and support from other agencies (See Complaints Policy and Procedure).

A resolution meeting would have the purpose of determining the level of need of the UASC and where it is thought it should be appropriately met. If this is from an alternative service, the social worker will make a referral.


6. Children in Need Criteria

Where it is established as a result of the Social Work Assessment of Need that the referral concerns a young unaccompanied asylum-seeker, this will always satisfy the criteria for services to a Child in Need.

Where there are concerns that a young person has suffered or is at risk of suffering Significant Harm, for example as a result of trafficking and/or sexual exploitation, the Social Worker must discuss the case with their Manager and consider whether the circumstances warrant a Strategy Discussion/Meeting and Section 47 Enquiry.


7.Twin Track Planning

The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) definition of an UASC necessitates ‘twin track planning’ between Wirral Council and the UKVI when working with UASC. This means Wirral has to work in parallel with UKVI and share information.


8. Provision of Services

Where a Referral / Social Work Assessment of Need identifies that a young unaccompanied asylum seeker is in need of services, the young person should be provided with information about the services available to them from the Local Authority and other agencies.

The young person will also be given assistance to register with a GP and Dentist, and enrol in a local school or college. An interpreter should be booked to accompany the young person to appointments with the GP, where necessary.

Where a young person's needs are for independent or semi-independent accommodation, and the manager agrees, assistance should be given with completion of the necessary Housing Application.

Where the Social Work Assessment of Need identifies that an unaccompanied young asylum-seeker needs to be Looked After, all the procedures in relation to Care Plans, Health Care Plans, Personal Education Plans and Placement Information Records must be completed. See Decision to Look After, Care and Planning Procedure.

All unaccompanied young asylum-seekers who are eligible for a service will be entitled to financial assistance which must first be authorised by the manager. The Social Worker should arrange for payment of the relevant amounts in accordance with the Local Authority's detailed financial procedures.

Travel cards or warrants will be issued to young unaccompanied asylum-seekers in relation to appointments at the Home Office.


9. Refusal of Services

The circumstances in which a family or young person may be refused a service are:

  • The young person has provided inadequate documentation;
  • The young person has provided documentation believed to be fraudulent or tampered with in any way;
  • There is an age dispute and an unaccompanied young asylum-seeker presents as over the age of 18.

Where a Social Work Assessment of Need identifies that a young unaccompanied asylum-seeker does not meet the criteria for a service from Children's Specialist Services, but appears to be in need of services from elsewhere, the Social Worker will refer the young person to the appropriate agency which may be a different Children's Specialist Services authority, the Refugee Council, the UK Visas and Immigration and/or an appropriate voluntary agency.

In such circumstances, the Duty Worker should make an appointment for the young person and advise him or her of the name, address (including a map where necessary) and contact number of the person with whom the appointment has been made. In addition, the Duty Worker must fax a copy of the Referral Form and Social Work Assessment of Need Record to the relevant office.

In all cases where a service is to be refused, the Social Worker must consult his or her manager before the decision is made and the letter confirming the decision is sent. Any correspondence received in relation to the decision should be referred to the manager.


10. Withdrawal of a Service

The provision of a service is dependent on the young person continuing to qualify for the service and/or meeting the Local Authority's requirements, for example, where the young person does not keep the Department informed of their asylum claim, or where the young person is evicted from accommodation due to their conduct or behaviour or fails to attend appointments.

The circumstances in which service to an unaccompanied young person may be withdrawn are:

  • Where another adult wishes to assume Parental Responsibility and this is considered appropriate;
  • If the young person is not residing in the accommodation provided (as evidenced, for example, by their failure to collect their weekly allowance and the absence of any belongings from their room);
  • The young person's conduct - assault or extremely abusive behaviour - towards staff or the provider of accommodation.

The service should not be withdrawn without the agreement of the Social Worker's Manager. Any such decision must be clearly recorded, with reasons. In all such cases, legal advice should usually be obtained before a final decision is made.

Where a service is withdrawn, the Social Worker should inform the Finance Office, if appropriate, immediately.


11. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching 18

Where an unaccompanied young asylum-seeker reaches the age of 18, and the young person's legal status remains unresolved, a referral to the UK Visas and Immigration should be made.

Where the young person is Looked After, the case will remain with the Children In Care Team. On the young person's 18th birthday and Team will be responsible for implementing the procedures in relation to Eligible Young People and Relevant Young People and former relevant young people, as appropriate.

Assistance should be given in advance of their 18th birthday with the necessary applications for housing, Housing Benefit and any other relevant benefits. The Social Worker must ensure that the young person has accommodation to which to move on his or her 18th birthday. The Social Worker must also ensure that the provider of the young person's present accommodation and the Finance Office is informed when the accommodation arrangement will end.


12. Review of Services

Where a young person is Looked After, his or her case will be reviewed in accordance with the Looked After Reviews Procedure.

Any other services provided should be reviewed at least every 6 months.

In advance of each review, the Social Worker will send the young person a Checklist setting out the documents which the Social Worker requires to be produced at the Review, such as confirmation of registration with a GP, enrolment at schools/college and updated information concerning their asylum status.

The young person should be invited to the Review and an interpreter should be booked as necessary.

Where a Review confirms the service, the Financial Assessment Form should be updated. Where additional support services are identified as necessary, the Plan should be updated to reflect this.

Where services are withdrawn as a result of the Review, the relevant teams should be notified immediately.


13. Special Grant Application for UASC

Wirral Children & Young People’s Department is able to claim each year for an element of the cost of services provided to each UASC. The Home Office administers this grant and guidance is issued each year to Local Authorities advising them on how to claim. The grant is payable for services provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, or those looked after under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

In order to claim the grant finance require details held on Home Office documentation, especially the HO reference number, and those obtained during the individuals claim for asylum. Any revisions to the claim information must be processed through UKVI, and Residential Services Manager (UASC Lead) must be notified. Changes to the date of birth can cause particular problems.


14. Appendices

Click here to view Appendix A: Initial Determination of Age Assessment for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers

Click here to view Appendix B: Age Assessment Report for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers

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