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5.5 Children from Abroad (including Unaccompanied and Separated Children and the International Tracing and Messaging Service)


  Legal Position
  Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC)
  Establishing the Child's Identity and Age


  1. Large numbers of children arrive into this country from overseas every day. Many of these children do so legally in the care of their parents. There are many reasons for their arrival including the expansion of the global economy and incidence of war and conflict. Recent evidence indicates that many children are arriving into the UK who are:
    • Accompanied: Whilst there are many legitimate reasons for children to be brought into the UK such as, education, reunification with family or fleeing a war torn country, little is known about this group of children:
      • They may be:
        • In the care of adults who, whilst they may be their carers, have no Parental Responsibility for them;
        • In the care of adults who have no documents to demonstrate a relationship with the child;
        • In the control of traffickers/agents.
    • Unaccompanied: More is known about this group of children as most come to the attention of the authorities when they claim asylum although some "disappear".
  2. Unaccompanied children or those accompanied by someone who is not their parent are particularly vulnerable; a point that is clearly made in the Second Joint Chief Inspector's Report Into Safeguarding Children. Many of these children and their carers will need assistance to ensure that the child receives adequate care and accesses health and education services;
  3. Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of these children must remain paramount with agencies in their dealings with this group. Where there are concerns for the welfare of a child who has arrived in the region from abroad, every effort should be made to obtain information about the child and family from the child's country of origin.

The Legal Position

  1. Immigration legislation impacts significantly on work under the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from abroad. It is important to note that regulations and legislation in this area of work are complex and subject to constant change through legal challenge etc. All practitioners need to be aware of this context. Legal advice on individual cases will usually be required by Children's Social Care;
  2. Local authorities should carry out a Single Assessment where appropriate for every child referred to them by Immigration Services, regardless of their immigration status. Based on this assessment local authorities have a duty to provide appropriate support and services to all UASC, as these children should be provided with the same quality of individual assessment and related services as any other child presenting as being a Child in Need.

Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC)

  1. An UASC is a child who is applying for asylum in their own right and is separated from both parents and is not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so;
  2. Consideration should be given to providing services under Section 20 where accommodation is required. Once UASC become accommodated children under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, they are required to be the subject of a Care Plan and, if over 16, a Pathway Plan. The plan must be based on this comprehensive assessment of their needs, taking account of the following dimensions:
    • Health (including mental health, such as whether post-traumatic support and counselling if needed);
    • Education - what has school meant to this child?
    • Emotional and behavioural development;
    • Identity and age;
    • Family and social relationships;
    • Social presentation;
    • Self-care skills, including the child's understanding of the implications of their immigration status and the skills required to manage transitions.
  3. The responsible local authority should provide services for the UASC on the basis of the above assessment, irrespective of their immigration status;
  4. 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;
  5. In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.

Establishing the Child's Identity and Age

  1. Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory guidance for local authorities (DfE, 2017) 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 section 51 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. 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;
  2. Citizens of EU countries will have passport or ID card (usually both). Unaccompanied children very rarely have possession of any documents to confirm their identity or even to substantiate that they are a child. Their physical appearance may not necessarily reflect his/her age;
  3. The assessment of age is a complex task, which often relies on professional judgement and discretion. Such assessment may be compounded by issues of disability. Moreover, many societies do not place a high level of importance upon age and it may also be calculated in different ways. 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;
  4. In advance of undertaking an age assessment for an unaccompanied asylum seeking child, local authorities must seek Home Office assistance with verifying the authenticity of identity documents e.g. travel documents or a birth certificate. See further information and contact details for local authorities: Age Assessment Guidance and Information Sharing Guidance for UASC.

Age Assessment Information Sharing for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

  1. The issue of age assessment in social work with asylum seeking young people remains controversial and has been something that Children’s social care have struggled with since the millennium. The ADCS Asylum Task Force has worked with the Home Office to provide two new jointly agreed documents, as detailed below. These documents are offered as practice guidance, by way of assistance to local authorities and their partners. The use of the proforma and consent form is voluntary. The content does not, nor does it seek to, be binding on local authorities. It is simply a recommended approach.