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3.2.1 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children


  1. Scope of this Chapter
  2. Eligibility for Service
  3. Visual Assessment
  4. Procedure for Placement of Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers
  5. Age Assessment
  6. Single Assessment
  7. Provision of Services
  8. Refusal of Services
  9. Withdrawal of a Service
  10. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching Age 18
  11. Review of Services

    Appendix 1: UASC Assessment Process (including Age Assessment)

1. Scope of this Chapter

For the purposes of this protocol, and in accordance with the Home Office definition, an unaccompanied asylum seeking child is any person who, at the time of making an asylum application:

  1. Is under the age of 18, or in the absence of any documentary evidence, appears to be under 18;
  2. Is applying for asylum in his/her own right;
  3. Has no adult relative or guardian to turn to in the UK.

This means that an UASC who gives the Police details of an adult relative or guardian does not meet the definition of UASC and should be supported by the Police to make contact with this person.

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

In all such referrals, the Procedures in relation to Assessments will apply.

Where a young unaccompanied asylum seeker becomes Looked After, the procedures in this manual relating to Looked After Children apply. 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 need to be aware of appropriate steps to reduce the risk of trafficked children returning to their traffickers.

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 relatives in the UK at point of presentation to the Police.

All young people claiming to be unaccompanied must be informed that if it later turns out that they have relatives in the UK this could affect their status and eligibility for services. Social care would need to be completing an assessment of any reported relatives.

If following a request of UASC status a relative / legal guardian resident in this country present themselves to care for the Young person then the Family and Friends Care Policy should be followed.

When an UASC either is taken to a Police station or presents to the Police, the Police need to refer to (Immigration, Compliance and Enforcement - ICE) to check if they are known. If the UASC claims or the Police are of the view that they are a minor then a referral needs to be made to Social Care for a Visual Assessment. If from visual assessment and brief discussions with them they appear to be 16-17½ years then a full Merton Compliant Age Assessment is not required. If from the Visual Assessment there is doubt around the claimant’s age then they are accommodated without prejudice until a full Merton Compliant Age Assessment can be conducted. However if they are clearly not a minor and do not present as border-line then they need to be issued with an over 18 letter and for the Police and ICE to deal with them as an adult.

The guidance states they must look ‘significantly’ over 18 for this to apply. The general consensus from the Eastern Region is they must look over 25 years of age to be considered as ‘significantly’ over 18.

Where such young people are provided with services, they will continue to be eligible for a service from the Local Authority where they are granted refugee status, humanitarian protection or leave to remain, which may continue up to their 18th birthday. In accordance with the Leaving Care Act (2000) guidance, some young people may be entitled to Leaving Care support beyond their 18th birthday subject to their immigration status.

Some young people will be considered eligible for a service from Cambridgeshire County Council following agreed transfer under the National Transfer Scheme for unaccompanied minors.

3. Visual Assessment

In cases where it is clear from the visual assessment that an individual is more than likely to be a minor and therefore under the age of 18 then Children’s Social Care should make arrangements to accommodate “without prejudice”. A full Merton Compliant Age Assessment will only be undertaken where further clarification is required in relation to a person’s age.

4. Procedures for Placement of Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers

  • Following the visual assessment, accommodation should be secured in a placement suitable to meet needs. In most cases this will be with a supported accommodation provider for 16-17 year olds. During office hours this will be led by the UASC team, and out of office hours this will be arranged by the Emergency Duty Team;
  • If the UASC is clearly under 16, they should be placed in foster care with 24 hour support;
  • This accommodation should only be used until the UASC team can complete a full Merton Compliant Age Assessment (where applicable), which should happen within a maximum of 28 workings days;
  • The Case responsible Social Worker should contact ART to arrange a planning meeting, involving the YP, to secure a longer term placement if they are not already in a placement that they can remain in.

Bed & Breakfast

Bed and Breakfast (B&B) accommodation is not an appropriate place for any child to stay unaccompanied and should never be used for unaccompanied children aged 16 or under.

No 16 or 17 year old should be placed in B&B accommodation by (housing services or) children’s services, except in an emergency, where B&B accommodation is the only alternative to “rooflessness”. In these exceptional cases, B&B accommodation should be used for the shortest time possible and support must be offered by Children's Social Care or delegated provider to the young person during their stay. Head of service approval is required if B&B accommodation is required.

Transport to placement

It is usual for Children's Social Care to make the arrangements for the transportation of the child to a placement. This may mean directly undertaking the task or delegating the task to the accommodation/supported accommodation provider or to an approved transport provider.

Where appropriate and subject to policing requirements at the time the Police may be asked to assist. However, the primary responsibility rests with Children’s Services.

5. Age Assessment

The ADCS guidance highlights that statutory guidance on the care of unaccompanied children states that:

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.

See ADCS - UASC Age Assessment Guidance – October 2015

See Home Office – Age Assessment Joint Working Guidance

See EELGA – East of England Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) Safeguarding Protocol 

The full Merton Compliant Age Assessment pro-forma needs to include information regarding the referral process, who referred the case and information gathered as a result of the referral prior to agreement that age assessment could be completed. This should also include whether a visual observation has taken place and by whom and what the outcome of this was, for example accommodation without prejudice and for how long. If the YP was accommodated without prejudice enquiries should be made regarding how they have managed independently during this period from them but also any support staff who have been involved in their care during the period they have been accommodated.

See Appendix 1: UASC Assessment Process (including Age Assessment).

6. Single Assessment

In all cases where a referral to longer term Social Care service is accepted concerning an unaccompanied young asylum-seeker (confirmed by the Home Office / UK Visas and Immigration), the relevant Team / Unit will carry out a Single Assessment. The Assessment will take account of:

  • The immigration status of the young person;
  • The young person's accommodation arrangements and needs;
  • The young person's local connection with the Local Authority area;
  • The young person's financial and other support;
  • The young person's ethnicity and religion; and
  • The age assessment of the young person (where relevant) 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; and
  • 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 determining an unaccompanied young person's accommodation needs, the Assessment 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 an Assessment Record in all cases.

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 Merton Compliant.

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 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.

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.

A young unaccompanied asylum seeker should always be considered as looked after if under 18.

For any trafficking concerns there is a referral process to the Home Office.

7. Provision of Services

Where a Referral / Assessment 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 (The responsibility of the virtual school). An interpreter should be booked to accompany the young person to appointments with the GP and other agencies, where necessary.

Where a young person's needs as identified in their Pathway Plan are for independent or semi-independent accommodation, and the team manager agrees, assistance should be given with completion of the necessary Housing Application. However until a young person has a permanent immigration status, they are not entitled to Housing, and so cannot apply. If they have a permanent immigration status, then a Home-LInk application should be done at 17.5, however, if there is no  agreed immigration status on their 18th birthday, then suitable accommodation will need to be provided by the local authority as necessary under the Leaving Care Act eligibility.

Where the Assessment 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 Plan must be completed. If young person is over 16, then a Needs Led Assessment is completed and then a Pathway Plan, not a Care Plan. All under 18s should have a Safety Plan as well.

See Decision to Look After and Care 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.

Depending on their period of time as a Looked After child, young people may be entitled to some Leaving Care services. They will have the same rights and entitlements as any other former relevant young person. This entitlement to Leaving Care services can change dependant upon their asylum status.

If the young person becomes ARE (Appeals Rights Exhausted) the Local Authority will undertake a Human Rights Assessment to ascertain if the Local Authority has a continuing duty to them.

8. Refusal of Services

Where an Assessment identifies that a young unaccompanied asylum-seeker does not meet the criteria for a service from Children's 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 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 Email a copy of the Referral Form and Assessment 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.

9. Withdrawal of a Service

Services to an unaccompanied young person may be withdrawn for example:

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. A CHILD CARE CHANGE FORM (SOC408) should be completed.

10. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching Age 18

Where the young person is Looked After, the case will remain with the 14-25 UASC team who will be responsible for implementing the procedures in relation to Former 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.

Pathway Panning should occur from 16 years old.

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 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.

For young people who have an immigration status 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.

See Seeking Support - A Guide to the Rights and Entitlements of Separated Refugee Children – Turning 18

11. 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.

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

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

Further Reading

CCinform: The online resource for professionals working with children and families.

Research in Practice.

To view Internal Processes, please refer to Cambridgeshire County Council Internal Intranet.

Coram – Children’s Legal Centre. Seeking Support – A Guide to the Rights and Entitlements of Separated Children (2012).

Save the Children.

Appendix 1: UASC Assessment Process (including Age Assessment)

Click here to view Appendix 1: UASC Assessment Process (including Age Assessment)