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4.2.1 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children


Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery – Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (DfE, 2017)

Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) – Age Assessment Guidance and Information Sharing for UASC

Securing British Citizenship for Looked After Children (No Recourse to Public Funds Network)


Modern Slavery Act 2015


Derby / Derbyshire SCBs online procedures, Safeguarding Children who May be Victims of Modern Slavery (have been Trafficked) Procedure


In July 2018, Section 5, Age Assessments and Disputes was updated to note that, 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. A link to the relevant contact details for local authorities was added.


  1. Scope of this Chapter
  2. Related Legislation and Guidance
  3. Context
  4. Procedure for UASC Arrivals in Derbyshire
  5. Age Assessments and Disputes
  6. Provision of Services
  7. Placement Choice
  8. Assessment Planning and Review Specific Issues
  9. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching 18

1. Scope of this Chapter 

For the purposes of this chapter, a young unaccompanied asylum seeker 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.

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 as set out in Assessment Procedure.

Where a young unaccompanied asylum seeker becomes a Child in Care, the procedures in this manual relating to Children in Care 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. Related Legislation and Guidance

The law around asylum and immigration has grown and developed over time, the chief references for those working in Children’s Social Care are:

  • Children Act 2004;
  • Human Rights Act 2000;
  • Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000;
  • Local Authority Circular (2003) Guidance & Hillingdon Judgement 2003; 
  • The United Nations Convention on the Status or Refugees (UNHCR) of 1951, amended by the 1967 Protocol;
  • UNHCR Refugee Children: Guidance of protection and care. Geneva 1994;
  • Immigration and Nationality Policy for Asylum Seekers;
  • A myriad of legislation dealing with Immigration and Asylum rules and process - Immigration Act 1971, (and the Immigration Rules published under this and updated and amended) Immigration and Asylum Appeals Act 1993, Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Nationality Asylum and Immigration Act 2002 and Asylum and Immigration (treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004;
  • Children Act Regulations and Guidance April 2011;
  • Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (DfE, 2017).

This is an ever changing area and staff need to take account of case law including Hillingdon 2003/Barking and Dagenham 2010. The Hillingdon Judgement established in law that Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 should not be routinely used to meet the accommodation and support needs of unaccompanied children. The legal expectation within this judgement is that the majority of unaccompanied asylum seeking children should be cared for under Section 20 of the 1989 Act.

3. Context

The changing pattern of wars, conflicts and persecution tends to dictate where asylum seekers originate. For each of them there is the reason why they started their journey and their experiences on the way. Social care staff may be amongst the first people they meet on arrival. For many their experiences prior and up to leaving their homes will have been traumatic, complicated and include the loss of significant family members and community, and for many their experience of the journey will also have been traumatic.

Asylum seekers may arrive in Derbyshire in several ways and this will dictate where they are in the immigration process. They may be new in-country applicants who have found their way to Derbyshire and are not known to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). In other words they have not been identified at a point of entry. An interview with the UK Visas and Immigration is the first step. For unaccompanied minors this is important as UKVI will assess an age although the local authority is responsible for making its own assessment of age. The local authority where an unaccompanied minor first arrives is responsible for them under the Children Act 1989. The document issued at this point is essential as it establishes the immigration status.

Unaccompanied minors are then awaiting a decision about their leave to remain. It is important to bear in mind that their status may change on the young person’s eighteenth birthday and to ensure they have active legal representation.

4. Procedure for UASC Arrivals in Derbyshire

Prior to commencing a Single Assessment, the duty officer should liaise with the police and/or Immigration Office to establish the following information:

  • Does the individual have access to a translation/interpretation service?
  • Does the individual have access to a solicitor specialising in immigration?
  • Have the police secured an immigration Officer?
  • Has the young person come through another screening point for immigration e.g. another local authority?
  • Does the young person need immediate health or medical intervention?
  • Is the young person being held in police custody; and
  • What is known about the individual’s country of origin/background information?

In all cases where a referral is received concerning an unaccompanied asylum seeking child, the Reception and Assessment Team or Out of Hours Service will complete a Single Assessment to determine whether they are a Child In need. The Single Assessment will take account of:

  1. The age assessment (where relevant) of the young person (see Section 5, Age Assessments and Disputes);
  2. Ethnicity, religion, gender and how these will impact on immediate needs;
  3. Available information regarding how the young person arrived in the UK, how long they may have been here, possible family or friends that they may be intending to meet;
  4. The young person’s health and any factors which may increase their vulnerability;
  5. The young person’s accommodation and financial needs;
  6. Whether the child or young person is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, for example as a result of sexual exploitation or trafficking; and
  7. 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;
  8. Any issues that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked or is a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery.

All unaccompanied asylum seeking children are by the nature of their circumstances potential Children in Need. Services should be provided in line with the needs identified using Section 20 and Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. The section of the Children Act that the separated child or young person is supported under is very important, as it not only determines the level of support they are provided with as a child under 18 but also affects whether they are entitled to leaving care support once they reach 18.

Consideration should always be given to the child being seen on their own with an interpreter if needed. Unless they are fluent in English it is not possible to conduct an assessment without an interpreter. The Council has an interpreting and translation service to meet this requirement. It is not possible to provide a professional service without being able to communicate with the child and family. Young people and families should be provided with translations of information and assessment reports.

The threshold of eligibility and priority for services are the same for unaccompanied asylum seeking children as any other child. The same thresholds for child protection responsibilities also apply. There is no difference in entitlement to allowances or financial support because of immigration status for Children in Need, Children in Care and care leavers. Where a child is accompanied consideration needs to be given as to their relationship with that adult and whether private fostering duties and responsibilities apply. (See Private Fostering Procedure).

Prior to the social worker initiating the Children in Care Planning and Review documentation, the duty manager will need to consult with the Head of Service (Localities) and seek agreement to accommodate the young person (see Section 7, Placement Choice).

5. Age Assessments and Disputes

A UASC's age is a key part of the information needed when making an assessment of need and subsequently for the appropriate provision of service. It is important to explain to the UASC when an assessment must be undertaken to identify what services will be provided.

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 they must be treated as a child unless and until a Merton Compliant age assessment shows the person to be an adult.

Determining age between 14 and 18 is not an exact science. In determining age, it should be remembered that some societies do not place a high level of importance on age and may calculate it in different ways. Some children will genuinely not know their age, and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks might not mirror our expectations of a child of the same age. Two suitability competent and experienced social workers will undertake the age assessment of an UASC. Where there is uncertainty, the benefit of doubt should always be given to the young person. In completing the assessment, workers should be mindful that the UASC has the right to legally challenge the conclusion.

If a young person is assessed by two social workers as being over 18, the manager of the staff should be consulted. The young person must be given a copy of the assessment and decision in writing and advised to seek independent legal advice. In addition they should be made aware of their opportunity to use the complaints procedure should they dispute the process and manner in which the assessment was conducted.

The age assessment should refer to briefly, if at all, to reason why the young person is claiming asylum and focus on age assessment alone.

This initial age assessment will take into account the young person’s given information/appearance (pen picture, physical development), views of other professionals, medical advisor, immigration officer, social and education information. The age assessment will continue with time within the process for asylum seeking with the Home Office and a more detailed assessment will be asked for by the allocated social worker including observations of their carer on the young person’s social, emotional and behavioural presentation.

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 Age Assessment Guidance and Information Sharing Guidance for UASC (ADCS) for further information and contact details for local authorities.

The ADCS Asylum Task Force has worked with the Home Office to provide a set of jointly agreed “good practice documents”. The guidance documents have been produced to help social care professionals determine whether or not age assessments are necessary in individual cases. It also provides step by step information on the process for carrying out age assessments, including planning, conducting the interviews, making decisions and sharing results.

6. Provision of Services

To be eligible for a service, a young unaccompanied asylum-seeker must be seeking asylum in the UK and have no relative/supporting adult willing to take responsibility for them. 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 unaccompanied asylum seeking children leave to remain, which may continue up to their 18th birthday. In relation to all new referrals, the duty worker in the relevant Team must complete a Referral Form, and check all Home Office documentation and evidence that the young person has resided in or has a local connection to the local authority area.

The Hillingdon Judgement and subsequent guidance (LAC (2003) 13) makes clear that all UASC fall within the scope of S20 of the 1989 Children Act. All placements should reflect the assessed needs of the child or young person, although it is acknowledged that needs may change as the assessment progresses and an alternative placement may need to be found. The department will strive to match the assessed or perceived need as follows:

  • All UASC will be accommodated under Section 20 - in a suitable placement in accordance with their age and assessed needs;
  • In very exceptional circumstances, children over the age of 16 may be supported under S17, this decision must be endorsed by the Head of Service (Localities);
  • If not accommodated under Section 20: Young people are not entitled to care leaver status;
  • If granted Refugee status/Further leave to remain the young person will be entitled to access the welfare benefits system post 18 years.

Following the assessment described above by the duty social workers, the completed assessment will inform the UASC's care plan and a social worker will be allocated for immediate tasks (see below):

  • All children less than 16 who are looked after, will be allocated a qualified social worker from the Children’s Looked After Team at first review;
  • Those aged 16+ will be referred to the After Care Service and invited to the first Looked After Review. In order to facilitate a smooth transfer all basic tasks (finance, legal, admin) and Looked After paperwork must be completed – please refer to checklist.

The allocated worker will complete further assessments and put the care plan into action. The Independent Reviewing Officer will review UASC in the same way as for any other Child in Care.

Note: all the procedures in relation to Care Plans, Health Care Plans, Personal Education Plans and Placement Information Records must be completed. See Decision to Look After, Care and Planning Procedure.

Prior to the social worker initiating the Child in Care Planning and Review documentation, the duty manager will need to consult with the Head of Service (Localities) and seek agreement to accommodate the young person.

Additional duties:

  • Register the UASC’s Home Officer number and details with the nominated NRUC Contact Manager at Matlock;
  • Establish with the local Immigration Office whether the UASC has been allocated a case worker;
  • Check that the UASC has a further appointment with their solicitor in order to complete any necessary Home Office documentation;
  • Alert the Children in Care Team of the forthcoming transfer. Transfer at first child in care review;
  • Identify a placement through liaison with the fostering or residential services;
  • An UASC under 16 must be accommodated in a foster or residential setting;
  • For those believed to be over 16, independent accommodation options can be considered, and assistance given with housing applications;
  • An Independent Fostering Agency placement can be considered if the UASC is eligible for a Government grant. To be eligible for this, the young person will have had to make a formal application for asylum and to have a Port and Home Office reference. A form; Notification of Asylum Seeker supported by DCC, needs to be completed and sent to the Accountancy Division at County Hall;
  • If the young person identifies an adult who may be able to undertake their care, these will need to be contacted and checks carried out, including a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS);
  • A Health Assessment should be arranged as a matter of urgency as the full health history of the UASC is not known and they could have immediate health needs. They must be registered with a GP;
  • The young person should be provided with written confirmation on headed paper that they are a child in the care of Derbyshire County Council, with a contact name and number;
  • Identify appropriate religious and cultural links for the young person in the locality where they are placed or if this is not possible, in a neighbouring town or city;
  • Arrange an interpreter for social work visits and other appointments if this is not provided by the Agency that the young person is meeting with;
  • Identify appropriate education provision for the young person;
  • Alert the Aftercare service to the arrival of the young person and begin the referral process. Invite an aftercare worker to attend the first review;
  • Consult with a manager re immediate financial assistance and the department’s payments section processes set up, including travel warrants for meetings with the Home Office.

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.

7. Placement Choice

A careful evaluation of the young person’s needs and wishes will need to be undertaken in order to identify a suitable placement. A full and considered assessment may not be possible at the initial meeting with the young person, yet it is likely that a placement will need to be identified.

It may be necessary, therefore, to place the young person temporarily pending further assessment and identification of a suitable placement. The young person and carers should be made aware of this, and further assessment undertaken at the earliest opportunity. The temporary nature of the accommodation should be recorded on the Child in Care papers and the service manager notified if the young person is still placed in the accommodation after 4 weeks. This practice should also apply where bed and breakfast accommodation is used for unaccompanied asylum seeking children aged 16 and 17 years where suitable placements have not been immediately available.

A balanced decision regarding placement choice needs also to consider any potential risk to other children or young people due to our lack of knowledge, the access to cultural and religious services, access to commissioned educational resources for English as second language, and distance re ability to monitor their welfare.

8. Assessment Planning and Review Specific Issues

When working with UASC it is important that workers consider the following:

  • The majority of these young people will feel isolated without family or friends in this country;
  • The potential for making contact with birth family in country of origin;
  • Educational attainment will vary greatly, depending on their country of origin, previous formal education and fluency in speaking and comprehension of English;
  • Health problems may not have been diagnosed due to limited health services in their country or origin;
  • Experience of prejudice against asylum seekers;
  • Feelings of uncertainty and anxiety whilst their claim for asylum is considered;
  • The young person may have suffered torture and be traumatised by this abuse;
  • It is useful to have background information about the young person’s country of origin;
  • Planning and preparation for possible return to country of origin.

All children looked after may experience difficulties because of their situation, the combination of the above factors can only compound the specific vulnerability of UASC.

Should the young person go missing the appropriate procedures should be followed for any Child in Care who is missing. See the Derby and Derbyshire Runaway and Missing from Home or Care (RMFHC) Protocol.

Where a young person is a Child in Care, their case will be reviewed in accordance with the Looked After Reviews Procedure.

Any other services provided should be reviewed at least every 6 months as set out in the Child in Need Plans and Review Procedure.

9. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching 18

The child’s plan must cover three possible outcomes for those turning 18 as their asylum status will determine their right to public services as adults. This should be part of the statutory planning through the Care Plan, Pathway Plan and review process. Planning for three possible outcomes at 18 includes:

  1. Equipping the young person to have a future in the UK if they receive some form of leave to remain in the UK past their 18th birthday, via pathway planning and aftercare services;
  2. Preparing the young person to be returned to their country of origin if they are refused an extension to remain in the UK and are being returned to their country of origin; or if they decide to return of their own accord;
  3. Supporting young people who are refused leave to remain in the UK and who have exhausted all appeals but have not yet been removed. These young people are referred to as “end of line” or Appeal Rights Exhausted.

Pathway planning should address any additional needs arising from the young person’s immigration issues.

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 dual or 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.

The law relating to asylum seekers who no longer have leave to remain can be complex and terminology can cause confusion. In addition changes can be made quickly and the social worker should keep up to date by consulting “Seeking Support” guidance written by the Migrant Children’s Project which is part of the Coram Children’s Legal Centre website.