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3.2.1 Unaccompanied (including Asylum Seeking) Children


This procedure concerns all unaccompanied children from abroad, including those seeking asylum, other migrants and those who are victims of trafficking and modern slavery.


Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Board, Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked Procedure.

See also Section 8, Further Information.


This procedure was re-written in October 2018 and should be read in its entirety.


  1. Introduction and Definitions
  2. Responsibilities of Children's Services
  3. Referrals
  4. Assessment
  5. Provision of Services
  6. Unaccompanied Child Migrants at 18
  7. Asylum Process - Possible Outcomes
  8. Further Information

1. Introduction and Definitions

This chapter should be read in conjunction with the government guidance: Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, November 2017 - which sets out the steps which local authorities should take to plan for the provision of support for Looked After Children who are unaccompanied asylum seeking children, unaccompanied migrant children or child victims of modern slavery including trafficking. Elements of this guidance will also be relevant for the care of looked after UK nationals who may also be child victims of modern slavery. The practice guidance Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Board, Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked Procedure provides detailed guidance for local authorities and their partners on the identification and protection of child victims of modern slavery, including trafficking.

The cohort of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery includes a wide range of children in a variety of circumstances for whom Children's Services must ensure that they receive appropriate legal advice and support. Some will have been trafficked or persecuted and may have witnessed, or been subjected to, horrific acts of violence. Other migrant children may have been sent in search of a better life, or may have been brought to the UK for private fostering and have been exploited or abandoned when the arrangement failed.

The following categories regarding status are the most likely to be encountered. However this list is not exhaustive and legal advice should be sought wherever there is uncertainty about a migrant child's status.

Categories of unaccompanied children include:

  • Unaccompanied asylum seeking children: children who are claiming asylum in their own right, who are separated from both parents, and who are not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so. Some will not qualify for asylum but may require 'humanitarian protection' (where an individual is found not to be a refugee under the Refugee Convention but they are nevertheless at risk of serious harm on return to their country of origin - see Home Office Guidance on Humanitarian Protection. Others may not qualify for any leave to remain in the UK. Their status will be determined by the Home Office;
  • Unaccompanied migrant child not seeking asylum: a child who is not seeking asylum because their reasons for being here are not connected to seeking protection, or who may be undocumented, or is not seeking asylum because they have not been advised of the need to do so. The child may be separated from both parents and is not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so;
  • Unaccompanied EEA national child: a child who is a national of a European Economic Area country and who has entered the UK with a family member and has been separated from them, or has entered independently. They have a right to reside in the UK for an initial period of three months. After this time, an EEA national child will only have a right to reside in the UK if they are exercising their free movement rights or they are the family member of an EEA national exercising free movement rights in the UK;
  • Asylum seeking child: a child who is in the UK with family members. They may be here with family members who are also seeking asylum or have already gone through the asylum process. Alternatively, they may have been moved to the UK under the Dublin III Regulation to join a close family member and have their claim for asylum processed here.

2. Responsibilities of Children's Services

Where a referral concerns an unaccompanied child, regardless of the category, this will always in the first instance satisfy the criteria for assessment as a Child in Need and they will normally be accommodated (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure), unless there is a relative in the UK willing and able to care for them Any such connection must be carefully checked and verified before the young person is allowed to reside with the known adult to ensure this is not simply part of them being trafficked.

The young person should be supported to access legal advice at the earliest opportunity. This can only be provided by a registered immigration advisor, ideally one with expertise in working with children. Legal Aid is available for asylum cases and Looked after Children will generally be eligible. If they have been a victim of modern slavery, it may also be required in relation to criminal proceedings or compensation claims.

All professionals involved in the care of unaccompanied children and child victims of modern slavery should be able to recognise indicators of trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour and should have an understanding of the particular issues likely to be faced by these children.

Social workers should have, or seek, a broad understanding of the immigration system - for example, the immigration application process, different types of leave, making further leave to remain applications and the appeals process. Social workers should also have an understanding of the trafficking referral process and the wider child protection system around child victims of modern slavery, including how and when to refer a child to the National Referral Mechanism.

Foster carers and all other care staff in placement settings should have an understanding of the needs of the children in their care and be particularly aware of indicators of trafficking such that they are equipped to reduce the risk of trafficked children returning to their traffickers and intervene as necessary.

3. Referrals

Referrals of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, typically come from two sources:

  1. Direct from the police;
  2. As part of the National Transfer Scheme, via the Regional Co-ordinator.


Any referrals from the police, are directed to the Contact Centre/MASH, and directed to the Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children's Team, if during office hours, or passed to the Emergency Duty Team if outside of these hours. The police will make such a referral in relation to someone who is in custody who wishes to claim asylum and is advising that they are a child.

An initial enquiry will be completed at the police station by two social workers. This is to assess the immediate needs of the individual within custody, identify any safeguarding concerns, including trafficking and modern slavery, and includes initial consideration as to whether they are, in fact, a child. An interpreter must normally be provided over the phone. Where one is not available, the social worker must document the attempts made.

Age within other cultures, communities and countries does not have the level of importance that it does within the UK. Some young people will not know their age or may believe they are older or younger than they actually are. They are also likely to be exhausted, hungry and confused and may be anxious having often having had negative experiences of the police in other countries. Being detained in custody is often a frightening experience and this is therefore a brief initial enquiry.

If it is clear that the person is a child, then basic information can be gathered, and full details taken outside of the police station.

Where the social workers are concerned that the individual may be an adult suggesting they are a child, there is clear guidelines from case law. If an individual is considered to be 'significantly over 18', then the Home Office will take responsibility for their accommodation. If it is felt that they are not 'significantly over 18', however, may be over 18, they will be accommodated without prejudice until a Full Merton Age assessment is completed. Where the age of the child is uncertain and there are reasons to believe they are a child, they will be presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate assistance, support and protection in accordance with section 51, Modern Slavery Act 2015.

For those who are significantly over 18, the police will be informed by letter of this decision and the Home Office will be notified via the Information Sharing Pro-forma (see Documents Library) completed by Social Care. Without this document, the Home Office are unable to take responsibility for the individual.

Referrals via the National Transfer Scheme

For all Local Authorities within the Eastern Region, there is a rota in place to take transfer of young people that arrive within the region, who are in excess of their 0.07% of population. Each region is notified the week before that they are on duty the following week. Due to the size of Cambridgeshire it is agreed that CCC can take 3 referrals per week when on duty. If any spontaneous arrivals are accommodated during that week, then these are taken off the three, unless they arrive after the transfers have been accepted.

Referrals will be received via the National Transfer Scheme Co-ordinator who will share the Unique Child Record. Once a referral is accepted, case responsibility must be taken over within 48 hours, and the receiving Local Authority are responsible for transport arrangements.

Following the accommodation of any unaccompanied asylum seeking child, the full Looked After Children procedures must be followed (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure) In addition, a Unique Child Record is completed for any spontaneous arrival and sent to the Home Office.

4. Assessment

For individuals, where their claimed age is disputed, then a Full Merton compliant age assessment will be completed (see Single Assessment Framework). Assessments must be undertaken in accordance with standards established in case law and should only be carried out where there is reason to doubt that the individual is the age they claim. For further guidance see: Age Assessment Guidance published by ADCS. An appropriate adult must be provided, alongside an interpreter. These assessments should be completed by two Social Workers who have either had experience in assessing age, or attended training in this subject. Good practice dictates that the Social Workers completing these, should not be those that completed the initial enquiry.

For those children, in which it is deemed that an age assessment is not required, their full needs will be assessed using the Single Assessment. Social workers should consider all unaccompanied children as potential victims of modern slavery in the first instance until this possibility is either confirmed or discounted and they should also have an understanding of the trafficking referral process.  The worker should contact the Home Office Liaison Lead who will phone the Home Office for an immediate check as to whether the person concerned has a 'live' asylum application, has been refused asylum, or has some other application pending. Checks can also made using the Home Office form (see Documents Library) and sending it to

The Assessment must take account of:

  • Their immigration status;
  • Their ethnicity and religion;
  • Any safeguarding issues or factors that may indicate they have been trafficked or may be  a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery;
  • The fact that many unaccompanied and/or trafficked children are at risk of going missing from care, often within the first 72 hours, whilst others may be at risk of repeated missing episodes due to ongoing exploitation. Photographs of the child should be kept on file for use if they do go missing. Photographs should include one of their full body length, one of their face and any others that depict distinguishing features (see Children Missing from Care or Home Procedure);
  • Any family links that may be available to support the child (ensuring that any search for family members does not jeopardise their). The child should always be consulted about family tracing being undertaken or commissioned on their behalf (see British Red Cross - Find my missing family);
  • Their accommodation arrangements and needs;
  • Their education needs and how these will be addressed through a Personal Education Plan;
  • Developing their connection with the local area;
  • Arrangements for their financial and other support;
  • 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
  • The child's health needs 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 them cope with these.

The assessment should note that specialist legal support is required and how it will be provided. The child's social worker should ensure that the child is accompanied/supported in all meetings with legal professionals and an interpreter provided where required. The person accompanying the child does not have to be the child's social worker.

In determining an unaccompanied young person's accommodation needs, the Assessment must consider their age and independent living skills and the level of support required. Alternatives include independent accommodation, semi-independent accommodation, fostering or residential placements or, in specific cases, a specialist residential therapeutic Team. Young people aged under 16 should normally be placed with foster carers who have relevant experience/knowledge of the care needs of children from other cultures.

No assumptions should be made about the child's language skills. An interpreter must be used to assist in all assessments and all key meetings, including legal appointments.

Planning for the child should include consideration of the various possible outcomes regarding the child's immigration status - see Section 7, Asylum Process - Possible Outcomes.

The DfE has published guidance on appropriate care placements for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (see DfE - What is a suitable placement for an unaccompanied asylum seeking child?).

5. Provision of Services

Young unaccompanied children should be provided with information (see Documents Library) about the services available to them from the local authority and other agencies.

They must be supported to register with a GP and dentist, and arrangements made to enrol them in a local school or college. The health professionals and the school should be made aware of their status and the Virtual School Head should be informed of the school placement. An interpreter should be booked to accompany the young person to appointments with the GP or school, where necessary.

Where children are under 16, there is no-one with parental responsibility to provide consent to medical and/or treatment. Where this is required (including for their Health Assessment when first looked after), this should be provided by the Head of Service.

Where the Assessment identifies that an unaccompanied young child should be Looked After, all the procedures in relation to Care Plans, Health Care Plans, Personal Education Plans and Placement Plans must be completed. See Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure.

For unaccompanied children who are Looked After, the placement decision will also need to be informed by careful consideration of the wider support needs of the child, including their cultural and social needs. It may be that the accommodation setting or carers cannot meet those needs on their own so other more creative ways, such as mentors or links to diaspora groups, could be used. As with all Looked After Children, an unaccompanied child's ethnicity, cultural and linguistic background should be taken into account when placing the child with foster carers. However, these are not overriding considerations and should be taken into account alongside all of the child's needs. Nevertheless, the placement should meet the child's needs as a whole and be consistent with their wishes and feelings.

All unaccompanied asylum seeking children upon accommodation, will have a modern slavery questionnaire (see Documents Library) completed, and this will determine whether additional protective action is required.

Where there are safeguarding concerns relating to the care and welfare of any unaccompanied child, including where modern slavery is suspected or has been identified, these must be investigated in accordance with safeguarding procedures. The opportunity to intervene to prevent any further exploitation might be very narrow, so the entry local authority should convene a strategy discussion as soon as possible and take any necessary immediate action to safeguard and promote the child's welfare. This strategy discussion should involve the police, immigration officials and any other relevant agencies and plan rapid further action if concerns are substantiated.

Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any further assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately. The location of the child should not be divulged to any enquirers until their identity and relationship with the child have been established and the local authority is assured of their motives, if necessary, with the help of police and immigration officials.

See also the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Board Procedures for:

All unaccompanied young asylum-seekers who are eligible for a service will be entitled to financial assistance which must first be authorised through presentation to the Threshold and Access to Resources Panel (TARP). Completion of SOC 408 will trigger support and placement payments.

Where an Assessment identifies that an unaccompanied child migrant 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 local authority, the Refugee Council, UK Visas and Immigration and/or an appropriate voluntary agency.

In such circumstances, the duty social worker should make an appointment for the young person and advise them 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 send 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 their 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.

The provision of a service is dependent on the young person continuing to qualify for the service.

Services to an unaccompanied child migrant may be withdrawn, for example, where another adult wishes to assume Parental Responsibility and this is assessed as appropriate.

The service must not be withdrawn without a Child in Need Plan or Looked After Review and 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.

6. Unaccompanied Child Migrants at 18

Planning transition to adulthood for unaccompanied children is a particularly complex process that needs to address their developing care needs in the context of their immigration status.

Pathway planning to support an unaccompanied child's transition to adulthood must cover the areas that would be addressed within any care leaver's plan as well as any additional needs arising from their immigration status and the action required to resolve this (see Leaving Care and Transition Procedure).

Former unaccompanied children who qualify as care leavers and who have been granted leave to remain, or who have an outstanding asylum or other human rights claim or appeal, are entitled to the same level of care and support from the local authority as any other care leaver.

The extent of any care leaver duties on local authorities to provide support to former unaccompanied children who have turned 18, exhausted their appeal rights, established no lawful basis to remain in the UK and should return to their home country is subject to a Human Rights Assessment by the local authority. This is set out under the restrictions on local authority support for adults without immigration status.

Where any unaccompanied child or child victim of modern slavery qualifies for local authority care leaving support, a personal adviser must be appointed to support them.

Pathway plans should always consider and reflect the implications for the child or young adult if their asylum claim is refused without a grant of leave, if their application to extend their leave is refused or if their appeal against a refusal is dismissed. In such circumstances, the person will become unlawfully present in the UK and be expected to make plans for a return to their home country. A plan for a return to their home country may also be required should the young person decide to leave the UK.

Planning will usually be based around short-term, achievable goals whilst entitlement to remain in the UK is being determined. Planning cannot pre-empt the outcome of any immigration decision and so 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 granting 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 a young person's 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.

Access to Public Funds

Financial support for care leavers who are former unaccompanied child migrants should reflect their needs and their immigration status. Pathway plans should address employment opportunities and funding arrangements for education and training, taking account of the young person's immigration status.

If a young person has no recourse to public funds, they will be unable to access a number of welfare benefits and social housing. Subject to the Human Rights Assessment by the local authority under Schedule 3 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (as amended), the provision of accommodation may form part of the leaving care support provided to a young person who has no recourse to public funds. For further information, see Families with No Recourse to Public Funds Procedure.

Having 'no recourse to public funds' does not prevent a young person from accessing other publicly funded services, but many of these will have eligibility criteria based on immigration status which will need to be considered (see NRPF Guidance - What are not public funds?).

7. Asylum Process - Possible Outcomes

There are four main possible outcomes of the asylum process for an unaccompanied child, which will determine what the long term solution might be:

  • Granted refugee status (i.e. granted asylum), with limited leave to remain for five years, after which time they can normally apply for settlement (i.e. indefinite leave to remain);
  • Refused asylum but granted humanitarian protection, with limited leave to remain for five years, after which time they can normally apply for settlement (i.e. indefinite leave to remain). This is most commonly granted where the person is at risk of a form of 'ill treatment' in their country of origin but which does not meet the criteria of the Refugee Convention.

    As it is very likely that those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection will qualify for indefinite leave to remain, their care and pathway planning should primarily focus on their long-term future in the UK, in the same way as for any other care leaver;
  • Refused asylum but granted Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child (UASC) Leave. This is normally for 30 months or until the age of 17½, whichever is the shorter period. This form of leave is granted to unaccompanied children where they do not qualify for refugee status or humanitarian protection, but where the Home Office cannot return them to their home country because it is not satisfied that safe and adequate reception arrangements are in place in that country. It is a form of temporary leave to remain and is not a route to settlement. It is important to note that this decision is a refusal of the child's asylum claim and will attract a right of appeal. The child should be assisted to obtain legal advice on appealing against such a refusal. Before the child's UASC Leave expires, they can submit an application for further leave to remain and/or a fresh claim for asylum, which will be considered. It is essential that they are assisted to access legal advice and make any such further application or claim before their UASC Leave expires.

    In such cases, care and pathway planning should therefore consider the possibility that the child may have to return to their home country once their UASC Leave expires or that they may become legally resident in the UK long-term (if a subsequent application or appeal is successful). Planning should also cover the possibility that they reach the age of 18 with an outstanding application or appeal and are entitled to remain in the UK until its outcome is known;
  • Refused asylum and granted no leave to remain. In this case the unaccompanied child is expected to return to their home country and their care plan should address the relevant actions and the support required. The Home Office will not return an unaccompanied child to their home country unless it is satisfied that safe and adequate reception arrangements are in place in that country. Any appeal or further application should be submitted where appropriate by the child's legal adviser.

    Although the above are the four main types of outcomes for an unaccompanied child, there may be others. For example, a child may be granted discretionary leave depending on whether they meet other criteria such as needing to stay in the UK to help police with their enquires after being conclusively identified as a victim of trafficking. Other examples include: leave as a stateless person; limited or discretionary leave for compassionate reasons; and limited leave on the basis of family or private life.

8. Further Information

Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, November 2017

Safeguarding Children who May Have Been Trafficked (Home Office, 2011) - non-statutory government good practice guidance.

Local Government Association - Council Support: Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children - resource for council staff, designed to answer questions about supporting refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children.

National Referral Mechanism: Guidance for Child First Responders - provides details on how to refer a child into the NRM and complete the referral form, reviews of decisions and the benefits of referral.

Guidance on Processing Children's Asylum Claims - sets out the process which immigration officials follow in determining an asylum claim from a child and the possible outcomes for the child.

UK Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre - Unseen (Registered Charity)

NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC) - specialist advice and information to professionals who have concerns that a child may have been trafficked.

National Transfer Protocol for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children - interim national transfer procedure and transfer flow chart for the safe transfer of UASC from one UK local authority to another.

How to Report Modern Slavery (Home Office, December 2016)

Duty to Notify the Home Office of Potential Victims of Modern Slavery - guidance and forms.

Child Protection: Working with Foreign Authorities - guidance on child protection cases and care orders where the child has links to a foreign country.

Refugee and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and Young People: Age Assessment and Children in Detention, (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health)

Refugee Council - Children's Panel - national remit to offer advice and support to unaccompanied children, and advise other professionals who are involved in their care.

Asylum-Seeking Children Joining Family Under the Dublin Regulation

Modern Slavery Act 2015

Victims of Modern Slavery: Guidance for Front Line Staff, GOV.UK (2016)

Securing British Citizenship for looked After Children - NRPF Network