A young person’s age is a key part of the information needed when assessing needs and ascertaining the appropriate provision of services.
An age assessment is required when the age of a purported unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC) is disputed and needs to be determined. This type of assessment is required to be undertaken by local authority’s children’s services where it is disputed that someone is a child. Therefore, an assessment is needed to ascertain whether the person claiming to be a child is a child; if so, they will be entitled to services and support from the local authority, including accommodation under S.20 Children Act 1989.
UASCs are vulnerable to exploitation.
“Unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable to exploitation. 15% of all unaccompanied children went missing from care in 2017, according to the charity ECPAT, which is often a signal of trafficking.” Anne Longfield, Children Commissioner for England
Where it is disputed, it is essential to establish a child’s age to safeguard the UASC and necessary for the safety and well-being of other children the USAC child is placed with and has contact with, such as at school or other activities.
Age should never be assessed solely based on physical appearance, as this can be a very unreliable indicator of age. This is because many factors can impact a person’s appearance, such as genetics, diet, environment, life experiences, and cultural practice. For example, it may be the cultural practice in some communities for boys as young as 13 or 14 years to grow beards.
The age assessment
An age assessment undertaken by the local authority should be carried out correctly, failing which it can be challenged. The assessment should consider the following:
- Two trained and experienced social workers should undertake the age assessment.
- The UASC’s medical, family and social history should be considered. (R(B) v Merton  EWHC 1689 (Admin));
- The interview process should be conducted in an inquisitorial and not an adversarial or hostile way.
- The UASC should be given an opportunity to have an appropriate adult to be present during the age assessment interview (R (FZ) v London Borough of Council of Croydon  EWCA Civ 59];
- The UASC must have the opportunity to respond to adverse aspects of the assessment (R (FZ) v London Borough of Council of Croydon  EWCA Civ 59];
- The UASC’s level of tiredness, trauma, bewilderment, and anxiety levels should be considered, and the USAC should be provided with appropriate breaks.
- If the UASC is feeling unwell, the interview should be rearranged.
- Where it is very clear from the UASC’s physical appearance and demeanour that they are over the age of 18, a prolonged enquiry may not be necessary (R(B) v Merton  EWHC 1689 (Admin));
Challenge to the age assessment
Should the UASC wish to challenge the conclusion of the age assessment, an application can be made for judicial review. Once the application is before the court, the determination of the UASC’s age is then a matter for the court and not the local authority (R(A) v Croydon LBC, UKSC8 .
The quality and robustness of the age assessment is vital in assisting the court in making an accurate determination of the USAC’s age and defending the challenge when the local authority has assessed the USAC as an adult and not a child.
How we can help
We are specialists in providing legal and social care training. If you require bespoke and practical skilled training on undertaking an age assessment or related subjects, please contact us for a no-obligation discussion of your training needs.
Copyright: The content of this legal briefing is the copyright of Kingsley Knight Training. It can be printed and downloaded free of charge in an unaltered form temporarily for personal use or reference purposes. However, it is prohibited for any content printed or downloaded to be sold, licensed, transferred, copied, or reproduced in whole or in part in any manner or in or on any media to any person without the prior consent of Kingsley Knight.
Disclaimer: The contents of this guide are for information and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice