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2.7 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 (2014)

AMENDMENT

In June 2016, this chapter was updated to include links to newly published practice guidance for front line workers who are responsible for conducting assessments of age on unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK. The documents, which have been published by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) contain 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. See Section 3, Age Assessment for more information.


Contents

  1. Legislation
  2. Referrals
  3. Age Assessment
  4. Child and Family Single Assessment
  5. Triple Planning
  6. Safeguarding UASC
  7. Home Office Interview
  8. Personal Finances
  9. Education
  10. Health
  11. Leaving Care


1. Legislation

If Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) are assessed as requiring accommodation arranged by the local authority they will become Children Looked After (CLA) under Section 20 Children Act 1989. As such they are entitled to the full range of services available to CLA and provided through CSWS and the partner agencies, including as care leavers. 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 also need to be aware of appropriate steps to reduce the risk of trafficked children returning to their traffickers.

Having taken account of a child's wishes, a local authority might decide that the child is competent enough to look after him/herself. In such cases, local authorities may legitimately use Section 17 for support instead of Section 20.

If UASC are placed with extended family (not a close relative as defined by Children Act 1989), friends or strangers in an arrangement made by their parents then they are privately fostered. In such cases, the local authority must be informed by the parents and the carers, and has to satisfy itself that the welfare of privately fostered children will be satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted by the arrangements made, See Private Fostering Procedure and consult with the private fostering officer.


2. Referrals

Referrals may be made to the Duty and Advice Team or direct to the Children's Asylum Seeking and Refugee Team (CART). Where a contact is received directly, the duty social worker will check to see if there is a record on Mosaic and, if there is not, will telephone the Duty and Advice Team to request this as soon as possible.

The procedure for children and young people referred to CART differs from that for all other referrals to CSWS because the referral, assessment and care management processes commence simultaneously as soon as the referral is received. When a child or young person is referred directly to CART, it is likely that arrangements for accommodation will need to be made on the same day.

Workers should check:

  • If the child is known to another local authority;
  • Establish whether overnight accommodation is required;
  • If so arrange for this;
  • Reclaim the expenditure;
  • Arrange for return to the relevant authority;
  • If the child is not known elsewhere, senior practitioners will decide if an Age Assessment is required.


3. Age Assessment

Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children: Statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children (2014) 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. Where Age Assessments are conducted, they must be undertaken by two qualified social workers and be Merton Compliant.

Consent for an Age Assessment must be obtained using the form in the leaflet 'Explaining Assessments' - Information for Parents / Information for Children. A photograph must be taken at the time of the assessment and attached to the age assessment form.

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 Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has published practice guidance for front line workers who are responsible for conducting Age Assessment.  The documents contain 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. See Age Assessment Guidance and Information Sharing Guidance for UASC for more information.

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.

All assessments must be undertaken using Leeds Central Interpreting and Translation Unit (CITU) approved interpreters except when English is fluently spoken. The interpreter must be conversant in the child's first language, and care should be taken to ensure that the interpreter knows the correct dialect. The interpreter must be able to interpret fully with regard to gender issues and matters of a sensitive nature. It is important that the young person can understand the interpreter that is engaged. The Team Manager must be informed if an appropriate interpreter is not available.

Age Assessments can be further complicated by young adults attempting to portray a different age from their true age in an attempt to gain Looked After status. Look out for signs of any 'coaching' that the young person may have had prior to arrival in the UK, i.e. how to behave and what to say. This is also important in relation to identifying UASC who may be trafficked (see Section 6, Safeguarding UASC). It is important to engage with the young person and establish as much rapport as possible. Be aware of body language and the different expectations that different cultures will have. For example, maintaining eye contact can be a sign of respect or disrespect. Gender issues must also be taken into consideration.

Some societies do not place a high level of importance on biological age and calculate age in different ways. Some children will not know their biological age, and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks might not mirror European expectations about a child of the same age.

If an Age Assessment it carried out, the worker should:

  • Inform the young person of your conclusion and give a copy of the assessment;
  • Input Mosaic with the assessed age;
  • Input Mosaic and inform with any amended details about their name, etc.

If assessed as being over 18:

  • Refer to RC;
  • Offer to inform their solicitor;
  • Send a copy of the assessment to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), (this requires the consent of the young person).

If assessed as being under 18, notify administration support staff who will advise the following agencies of their age and that they are CLA:

  • RC;
  • UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI);
  • CLA Health Team, CLA Reviewing Team and the Children and Families' Services Finance Team.

16 - 18s are referred for shared housing or emergency accommodation. Under 16s are referred to Resources using form CC6.


4. Child and Family Single Assessment

Information for the Child and Family Single Assessments is collected right from the start of CART's involvement. Further information will be gathered at immigration and solicitor appointments (which a member of CART will attend in the role of Appropriate Adult). From the first point of contact CART staff will prepare UASCs for the outcome of their application for asylum by triple planning (See Section 5, Triple Planning).

When assessing the particular needs of UASC it is important to remember that:

“…children are children first, whatever may distinguish some children from others.'

'From referral through to assessment, intervention and planning, race and culture have to be taken account of using a holistic framework for assessment.'

A number of additional factors need to be considered, which would usually not apply. Particular sensitivities for the young person include:

  • Anxiety about legal status;
  • Worries raised by yet another professional asking similar questions;
  • Lack of understanding and trust regarding the role of social care as distinct from the police and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI);
  • Not understanding why assessments are needed;
  • Traumatic experiences impacting on physical or psychological health;
  • The journey itself as well as the previous living situation may be a source of trauma;
  • The shock of arrival: the alien culture, systems and language can cause shock and uncertainty, and can affect the mood, behaviour and presentation;
  • 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.

In these circumstances, reluctance to give information, fear and confusion can easily be mistaken for lack of co-operation or deliberate withholding of information.

Particular note should be made of:

  • Health, behaviour and social presentation can be affected by trauma. Famine and poverty can have an affect on development;
  • Education: What has school previously meant to this child? Do they have concerns about "fitting in" at a school or fear of racism/bullying?
  • Self Care Skills: Do not judge competence compared with a child of the same age in this country. The child might be very able in self-protection but not very able other basic skills such as cooking. Some children might have been working, or part of direct armed conflict in their country of origin. Loss of a parent can enhance or deprive a child of skills;
  • Identity: Who is this child?
  • Physical appearance: Life experience and trauma can affect this, as well as lack of nourishment, which can make a child look older or younger. Children from other certain ethnicities may develop facial hair at an earlier age in comparison to European children for example;
  • War, famine or persecution can make a family mobile - they may have moved frequently to keep safe. The stability of the family unit might be more important to the child than stability of place. Judgements that mobility might equate with poor parenting capacity could be entirely wrong;
  • The fact that a child seems to have been given up by a parent may not imply rejection; the motive may have been to keep the child safe or to secure better life chances;
  • Talking about parents or family might be extremely painful or stressful for the child;
  • It is important for the assessor to recognise the differing role of extended family and communities in other cultures, and not maintain a eurocentric view of 'family'.

The first task of assessment with the child is engagement. Open questions are most helpful, with clear emphasis on reassurance and simple explanations of the role and reasons for an assessment. Engagement is more likely to lead to opportunities to build on the initial contact.

Ensure the child is seen alone, particularly to check out the stated relationships with any person accompanying them (Section 6, Safeguarding UASC). Keep control of the interview and be mindful of interpreters who appear to be doing more than interpret.

Establish the reasons the child has come into the UK.

The assessor must not assume that a parent abroad cannot be contacted, and must be pro-active in seeking to do this. Caution is however required in carrying out this action as the notification of an UASC to another country may result in action being taken against those relatives remaining. The Red Cross Tracing and Messaging service is a confidential service that can be offered.

Seeking information from abroad should be viewed as a routine part of the assessment process. All agencies should be prepared to make enquiries from their counterparts in the country of origin whenever practicable. Information on who to contact can be obtained via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 020-7008 1500, or via the appropriate Embassy or Consulate. A list of these can be obtained from the London Diplomatic List (ISBN 0 11 591772 1) obtainable from the Stationery Office on 0870-600-5522, or via the FCO website.

Use any documentation the child has from their country of origin/previous country such as benefit letters, ID cards, letters from doctors/hospitals or from other social services. Where an address in a town abroad is known, contact International Telephone Directories (dial 155) and ask for the main town hall. They should have details of local offices. Recipients abroad tend to respond faster to emails or faxed requests.

Any documentation received must be given to the legal representative for authentication to avoid fraud.

All UASCs provided with accommodation under Section 20 CA 89 are Children Looked After, and the procedures in this manual relating to Looked After Children and Care Leavers will apply. Reviews of the Care / Pathway Plan are held at 28 days, three months and then six monthly.


5. Triple Planning

UASCs coming up to 16 years old and those who are 16 - 18 years old must have a Pathway Plan to prepare for the transition period to adulthood.

Support for young people turning 18 is especially important for UASC as they need to be prepared by triple planning for the three possible outcomes of their asylum applications by their Plans :

  • They have been given some form of leave to remain in the UK;
  • They are refused leave but are not returned (because it is to a country where the UK government has no diplomatic route to get them back);
  • They are to be returned to their country of origin.


6. Safeguarding UASC

Research indicates that significant numbers of UASCs have also been trafficked. Some of these children go missing and back into the care of the traffickers before being properly identified as victims of trafficking. The police must be informed straight away and the procedure in the West Yorkshire Joint Protocol for Children Missing from Home and Care should bel followed.

At all stages of the assessment process and in subsequent work with UASCs the possibility of trafficking and the need to safeguard young people has to be considered.

As soon as suspicions are raised that a child is being trafficked, Child Protection procedures should be followed. The social worker should liaise with the police and use a Strategy Discussion to plan the investigation. (See West Yorkshire Consortium Procedures, Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked)

Where it is believed the UASC has been trafficked, assessing the child's vulnerability to continuing influence and control by traffickers is part of the process. In order to minimise the risk of trafficked children becoming re-involved:

  • Do not divulge the location of the child until thorough investigation by social worker in conjunction with the police and immigration;
  • Ensure vigilance of foster carers, residential care staff and CART;
  • Share information effectively between agencies upon receipt of information that is concerning or suspicious.

The social worker should attempt to make contact with the child's parents in the country of origin to verify the identity and to discuss the future of the child whilst being mindful that the parents may have sold the child to traffickers.

All agencies must work together to verify the identity of anyone approaching the local authority as a potential carer, friend or member of the family.

If the child is believed to have been trafficked the assessment should include:

  • How the local authority intends to safeguard the child;
  • Contingency plans should the child go missing.
Where the young person is in the care of the local authority the care plan or the pathway plan should include a risk assessment about trafficking.


7. Home Office Interview

This substantive interview usually forms the key part of deciding an asylum application. During the interview, the asylum seeker is expected to disclose all relevant information. There will be two appointments:

  • The screening interview will focus on the young person's method of entry and an explanation of how to claim asylum;
  • The substantive interview will focus on the statement that the young person has previously completed with their legal representative detailing their grounds for asylum. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) caseworker will interview the young person and ask them questions in relation to this statement and their grounds for asylum.

UASCs should always attend an interview with an appropriate adult.

  • Dates of appointments are emailed directly to the social worker / senior practitioner;
  • Failure to attend the interview can result in a non-compliance refusal (claim denied);
  • The young person's legal representative will attend the interview, but only as an observer;
  • It is common practice for the young person's legal representative to bring their own interpreter to the appointment, not to act as advocate, but to point out any problems or inconsistencies in interpreting. It is at the end of the interview that any interpreting discrepancies are discussed;
  • Asylum applicants are strongly recommended to ask for a copy of their interview record;
  • At the end of interview, the applicant will be asked to sign a copy of the interview record. However, they are not obliged to do this if unhappy or unclear about its contents. Refusal to sign does not result in a non-compliance refusal.


8. Personal Finances

All UASCs are paid 70% of Income Support. Single UASCs who are living independently receive a weekly allowance.

Those who attend school or college for 16 hours or more will receive an incentive allowance. For those studying less than 16 hours the cost of a weekly bus pass will be added to their weekly allowance.

UASCs who are parents receive an allowance for each child they are looking after.

Clothing Allowances for over 16s living independently: An assessment of the young person's clothing needs will be completed during the year by the social worker and further allowances can be requested if felt appropriate. The team manager authorises the payments. It may take two weeks before the money comes through. Arrange to take the young person shopping especially the first time and give the receipts to the finance officer.

When UASCs are moved from emergency accommodation to live independently, ensure that the grant form is completed with their name, date of birth, Mosaic number, the address they have moved to, and state the purpose of the allowance with the correct weekly sum. The grant form will be authorised by the team manager and then sent to Head Office: Boarding Out, for payment. This may take up to two weeks to be processed.

UASCs below 18 years old are entitled to birthday allowances with a final birthday allowance being made at the age of 18 years. A Christmas or Eid allowance is also provided.

UASCs rising 18 years and post 18 years:

With a decision on their asylum application giving leave to remain in the UK ensure that an application for Income Support or Job Seekers is made as soon as possible.

Without a decision:

  • A NASS application is made 12 weeks before their 18th birthday. This will enable the finance officer to apply for reimbursement.


9. Education

Under 16 UASCs are referred to Education Leeds Admissions and to the Head of Extended School using the 'New to Country' application form without filling in the school preference

Admissions oversee an equitable distribution of UASCs across all areas and will ensure that all schools are accessible to UASCs. Admissions inform CART of the allocated school, admission date and the member of staff to contact at the school.

The social worker contacts the identified staff member and arranges the admission meeting. At this meeting arrangements for the personal education plan ( PEP ) meeting should be discussed and if possible linked with the first care review.

The social worker will complete a grant form requesting school uniform and any other school requirements.

Over 16 UASCs are referred to college.


10. Health

If under 16: administration support staff will notify Child Health on form CC7 and request the Health Needs Assessment using BAAF Form 1HA at the same time.

If over 16: administration support staff will send CC7 to the CLA nursing team. For all ages record the due appointment date on Mosaic.

Registration with GP: social welfare officers take young person with a letter of introduction to practice near their accommodation. Give or send GP the immunisation guide form.

Administration support staff will request dental access centre.

Administration support staff will submit a HCI form.


11. Leaving Care

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

Where the young person is Looked After, the case will remain with the Leaving Care Team on the young person's 18th birthday and the Leaving Care Team will be responsible for implementing the procedures in relation to Eligible Young People and Relevant Young People, as appropriate, in accordance with Leaving Care Procedure. 

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.

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.

All UASCs are eligible for leaving care services (Leaving Care Procedure does not apply as all UASCs remain in the CART).

The process of triple planning (see Section 5, Triple Planning) is continued throughout the transition period and continues after the young person reaches 18.

Six weeks before the 18th birthday:

If no outcome of asylum application:

  • Complete a NASS application;
  • Give on-going support.

If UASC has either refugee status or limited leave to remain:

  • Apply for Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance;
  • Apply for Housing Benefit;
  • Apply for Housing;
  • If limited leave - remind young person to see solicitor and apply for extended leave.

End