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4.2.3 Age Assessment Procedure

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure sets out the age assessment process within Cumbria. This procedure was put in place in November 2017, however, as more research is conducted and more legal challenges are made, it will be necessary to periodically review and update to incorporate new information.

This chapter was added to the manual in February 2018.


Contents

  1. Introduction: When to Assess
  2. Assessment Process
  3. Concluding the Assessment
  4. Representations and Complaints Received after the Assessment has been Signed Off
  5. Supporting Documents


1. Introduction: When to Assess

An Age Assessment is a holistic assessment of an individual taking into account self-report of their background and family, ethical and cultural needs, their journey, observations of their behaviour and development, and information held by other agencies to reach a judgement about their likely age. The information will be collated by the social workers and the outcome will be based on their professional judgement

Where it is evident that they are a child an age assessment is not required and they would be accommodated in local authority care. If they are an adult (over 25) then they would be referred to the Home Office to be processed as an adult claiming asylum. If you are unable to clearly state that the individual is over 25 then they would be accommodated in suitable accommodation while a full age assessment is carried out. For this reason, the initial age assessment (Appendix 1: Initial Age Assessment Form (Documents Library)) should actively consider and remark on whether a full age assessment is required (Appendix 2: Age Assessment Form (Documents Library)).

If at this first meeting the social workers conclude that the evidence strongly suggests that the person concerned is significantly over 18, they should first consult the county lead manager for age assessments. Once the decision has been agreed, the social worker should inform the Home Office, the person and clearly record this

The age stated by an undocumented young person will normally be accepted, but in cases where there is a strong suggestion that the stated age may be incorrect, an age assessment should be carried out. Until the assessment has been completed they will be accommodated at the stated age (if they state they are 14 and you initially assess as 17 – 19 you will accommodate as 14 until a full age assessment has been completed)

The decision to assess a young person who has been accepted into Local Authority care may be made as a result of information arising at any stage of their care process. It is however preferable for any adjustment of age to be done early in a care episode, in particular within the first 28 days for someone who may be adult, and in any event before their asylum decision is issued.

On occasion, repeat age assessments may be required in response to new, significant information coming to light after the conclusion of an earlier assessment.

Where the request to assess age is made by another agency, for example Home Office caseworker, carer or school, they will be asked to provide reasons for their concern. This should normally include information in addition to their physical appearance, and should be provided in writing. The referrer should be made aware that this information could form part of any subsequent assessment and they could be required to give evidence in court if the age assessment is challenged.


2. Assessment Process

The young person’s Home Office caseworker and solicitor should be informed by the allocated worker that an assessment is being undertaken. The allocated worker should be separate from those undertaking the age assessment

The assessment will be allocated to two trained social workers and the county lead manager for age assessments. At allocation a supervision discussion will be held at which point the roles of the social workers will be agreed (who will lead the interviews, who will draft report, etc.), and sources of potential information will be discussed. A timescale for completion and implementation will be agreed. This may need to be as little as 2 weeks for a possible adult, and will normally be within 35 working days. Social workers are expected to regard age assessments as high priority work because timely completion is important for both the young person and their Care Plan, and relevant agencies and placement providers/carers.

Before the assessment is begun a visit should be made to the young person by the allocated worker to explain that an assessment will be undertaken, and what it will involve. This should be recorded on ICS Wherever possible, written information should be provided to the young person in their first language, and information provided to the foster carer and/or accommodation provider.

The young person being assessed should be offered the support of an advocate or another suitable independent adult to be present at assessment interviews in the role of an ‘appropriate adult’, and to assist with challenging the outcome of the assessment if required. If the young person declines an appropriate adult this should be recorded on ICS under the heading ‘age assessment’ as failure to offer an appropriate adult could be grounds for a legal challenge of the assessment. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has developed Good Practice Guidelines including a Consent Form which must be shared with the young person and signed as appropriate (see Appendix 3: Good Practice Documents ADCS (Documents Library)).

The full age assessment (Appendix 2: Age Assessment Form) will normally include at least one interview (normally up to 3 sessions), with suitable face to face interpreter as required. Observations should be sought from other relevant professionals, including carers and education providers, the allocated worker, Health professionals, including the professional undertaking the LAC health assessment and the dentist should be asked for their professional view.

The presence of several fully erupted wisdom teeth could suggest that the person concerned is older than 18 however there is counter research suggesting that the reliability of dental information to accurately determine age is flawed. Whilst information with regard to wisdom teeth should be taken into consideration in determining age, this needs to be viewed in the light of any other information gathered during the course of the assessment.

It is important to use information from all assessments previously completed and cross reference information to gain clarity around the person’s age. It would be useful to prepare a consent letter to gather and share information from and about the person to help in the process

Further interviews may be needed to clarify omissions or discrepancies in the information. If doubts have developed about the person’s credibility this should be put to them, and they should be given the opportunity to respond. By the time the completed assessment report is shared, the person being assessed should be aware of any issues which appear to cast doubt over their claimed age and have had the chance to discuss them with the assessing social workers. The assessment report should show clearly that issues of credibility have been discussed in this way.

If documents are made available, the Home Office and/or the child’s solicitor may be able to assist with deciding if they are genuine. It is also necessary to decide how useful they are in verifying age, for example if they were issued without production of a valid birth certificate, they do not prove age better than any other kind of self-report.

The assessment should take into consideration the person’s country of origin, language, dialect, their journey including a timeline, impact of the journey, family life, what information you already have and what is still needed.

A further joint supervision meeting will be held to discuss the draft report, and agree the conclusion and any amendments. There should also be a discussion about how to present the report to the young person. Depending on their language and literacy skills and whether or not the assessment changes their date of birth, this could include a brief summary of the assessment report, a full translation, or a translation read onto CD.

At this stage, if the conclusion is that the person being assessed is over 18, the allocated worker should alert the Home Office caseworker and begin negotiations for adult accommodation.

The report should be signed by both social workers and the lead manager, and countersigned by the person being assessed to indicate they have had the contents shared with them.

The social workers should ensure that when the assessment is shared, information is given about challenging the assessment. If the young person is not happy with the assessed age then this challenge should be done via their solicitor. If the complaint is about the process then this can be done through the complaints procedure. Where it is expected to continue giving a service to the young person, implementing the assessed age can be deferred for up to two weeks to allow time for representations to be made and considered. Where the assessment concludes that the person is an adult, and should never have received a Children Act service, the assessed age should be implemented as quickly as is practical. This however should allow for appropriate transfer arrangements to be made to adult provision so that the move can take place in a planned and supportive way. It would not be realistic however to expect foster carers to keep someone assessed to be adult in placement longer than 24 hours after the assessment conclusion is shared. Representations and additional evidence must still be considered, but the person should be supported as an adult in the interim.

Where the subject of an age assessment is in an external foster placement and the outcome will result in the termination of the placement, the External Placements Management Team should be alerted and agreement sought about how and when to give notice, in order to mitigate avoidable costs where possible. Similar consideration needs to be given to serving notice with providers of supported accommodation.


3. Concluding the Assessment

The full, final report should be given to the person being assessed and any advocate, and may be given to the solicitor. The decision should be notified to the Home Office caseworker by the assessing social workers, using the ‘Information Sharing/Outcome form (Appendix 4: Information Sharing/Outcome Form (Documents Library)). This includes the social workers’ experience and training and a summary of the information considered in the assessment. This document may be submitted to an Immigration Tribunal as evidence in support of Home Office’s adoption of the assessed date of birth. (Please note the fully completed assessment is not given to the Home Office).

Whether or not the assessment results in a change of date of birth, the ‘Age assessment Information Sharing/Outcome’ form should be completed by the assessing worker. The form should be saved in the young person’s record. This form requires an ‘implementation date’ to be recorded. This is the date any change in age will be acted on; it may be different from the date the assessment is ‘signed off’.


4. Representations and Complaints Received after the Assessment has been Signed Off

The assessment process, including the early participation of an advocate, should allow the person being assessed to take part, clarify misconceptions and explain apparent inconsistencies or concerns about credibility. At the time the report is signed off, the social workers and lead manager should be satisfied that all relevant information was carefully considered. If complaints or representations are received after the process is complete a decision will need to be taken as to whether to continue to give a service, or withdraw services, as indicated by the assessment, while the complaint is investigated.

Additional information not available at the time of the assessment is sometimes provided to support a complaint. This can include paediatric assessment or the decision of an Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. Such evidence should be considered and if a decision is taken not to use it, this should be recorded.

An age assessment can only be challenged for up to 3 months following the completion date. If a new assessment is undertaken the right to challenge will begin again.


5. Supporting Documents

Please see Documents Library.

  • Appendix 1: Initial Age Assessment Form;
  • Appendix 2: Age Assessment Form;
  • Appendix 3: Good Practice Documents ADCS;
  • Appendix 4: Information Sharing/Outcome Form.

End