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9.2 Age Assessment Guidance

PLEASE NOTE:

Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review provides that in every case where someone seeking asylum claims to be a child but their age is in doubt they should be treated as the age they claim to be, unless, and until, a case law compliant age assessment – including a less prolonged enquiry carried out by a social worker in accordance with Home Office guidance ‘Assessing Age’ - shows them to be otherwise, or other documentary evidence of age comes to light.

Where they are claiming to be a child, the presumption that they are a child until assessed or established otherwise enables them to receive immediate assistance, support and protection in accordance with section 51 Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Guidance Notes to Accompany the Age Assessment Form for UASC

Please read through these notes carefully before starting the assessment. Separate notes are provided in relation to each section, but this does not imply the information must be gathered systematically in any particular order. The social worker must consider the best approach to take in each case, tailoring the process to the individual circumstances of each young person.

Please see relevant section of the Forms Library to access the required template.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in November 2021.


Contents

  1. General Guidance
  2. Physical Appearance, Demeanour
  3. Interaction of Person during Assessment
  4. Social History and Family Composition
  5. Developmental Considerations
  6. Education
  7. Independent / Self Care Skills
  8. Health and Medical Assessments
  9. Information from Documentation and other Sources


1. General Guidance

  1. Disputes about age may arise because:
    • Not all countries and cultures attach the same importance to chronological age, and birth records are therefore afforded less importance. The birth of many children may not have registered, and there may be no proof of when they were born;
    • Recording conventions and calendars are different in other countries and may not be easily reconciled with UK systems;
    • Adults may wish to portray themselves as being younger in order to avail themselves of asylum processes and support arrangements made for children, as these are perceived to be more favourable;
    • Traffickers may present individuals as older or younger than there true age in order to avoid immigration controls or Children's Social Care checks.

  2. Age assessment is a complex task, and is not an exact science:
    • It has been recognised by the Royal College of Paediatricians that in practice age determination is extremely difficult to do with certainty, and for young people between 15-18 it is not possible to be certain about age. The margin of error may be as much as 5 years;
    • In undertaking an assessment the social worker should be aware of the possibility that the individual may have been “coached” prior to arrival in the UK, regarding how to behave and what to say;
    • A holistic approach needs to be taken when conducting an age assessment. The social worker must make an informed judgement, taking account of all available information, that the individual is probably within a certain age parameter.

  3. An age assessment should form part of the wider assessment of a young person’s needs and will inform the Single Assessment which must be carried out to ensure that appropriate services are provided to the young person:
    • The social worker should ensure that the young person understands the process of assessment, the reasons it is necessary to undertake the assessment, and the possible outcomes;
    • The assessment must be conducted with full regard given to the ethnicity, culture and customs of the individual being assessed, and care taken to ensure that the young person has adequate support to enable him/her to communicate effectively with the assessing social worker;
    • Attention should also be paid to the recent and past circumstances and experiences of the young person. The young person is likely to be bewildered anxious, and traumatised to some degree; and initially levels of tiredness may be high;
    • The highly personal and detailed nature of the questions which will be asked of the young person during the assessment should be acknowledged, and that this may be difficult and distressing for him/her;
    • The outcome of the assessment must be fed back to the young person. In circumstances where the individual is not in agreement with the outcome of the assessment, he/she will have the right to legally challenge it;
    • The summary sheet at the end of the assessment form will be forwarded to the Home Office as evidence of the LA assessment of age in disputed cases. This should be explained to the young person and a copy of the summary given to him/her.


2. Physical Appearance, Demeanour

  • An initial impression of age range is formed based on height, facial features (facial hair, skin lines / folds etc) voice tone and general impression;
  • Racial differences e.g. it is normal in some cultures for boys to have facial hair at an early age and for girls to develop at different ages;
  • Life experiences and trauma may impact on the ageing process;
  • Demeanour and personal presentation including style, attitude & authority in relation to the culture of the country of origin and events preceding the interview and experiences during the journey to this country;
  • The length of time that the person has taken to arrive in the UK from the time they left their country of origin should be factored in to the age calculation.


3. Interaction of Person during Assessment

  • Note verbal & non-verbal behaviour of the person;
  • How does the person copes with the assessment – do they appear confident or overwhelmed;
  • Take account of differing cultural terms e.g. some people may believe it impolite to make direct eye contact;
  • There can be cultural variations in attitudes to elders. Does the person appear to be uncomfortable speaking to an adult;
  • Your position is likely to be seen as one of power, which may influence the way the person interacts with you;
  • Your role needs to be clarified, particularly the differences in the roles of Children's Social Care and the Home Office.


4. Social History and Family Composition

  • Talking about their family may be very painful and difficult for the individual. It may be too painful to open up at this time. This must be understood, acknowledged and respected;
  • It is important to clarify the nature of their parent and siblings relationships as some cultures e.g. call a half-brother a brother, or stepmother, mother. Additionally, clarify whether either parent had more than one wife/husband.


5. Developmental Considerations

  • Use open-ended questions to encourage the disclosure of information without prompting - e.g. “tell me what you did in your spare time” may elicit information which indicates the young person has age appropriate interests and activities;
  • However cultural factors should be taken into account e.g. young people may normally enter the workforce at a younger age than in UK; attitudes to alcohol consumption. Consider responses in relation to what would be appropriate within the young person’s culture and country of origin;
  • Ask about peer relationships at school/work/neighbourhood;
  • Ask about age-related rituals such as forced marriage;
  • Some young people may have been involved in armed conflict; have been child soldiers; or been involved in sexual exploitation or other traumatic situations. However, answering questions about these matters may be too painful until a relationship of trust has been established;
  • Observing the individual’s interaction in social situations with other young people of the age being claimed may be illuminating.


6. Education

  • Clarify the age at which school was started, and the number of completed years spent in any school;
  • Establish if there were any gaps in education and if so, how long was the gap/s and why;
  • The number of years of school attendance, including periods of possible disruptions in schooling added to the age school was started should equate to the stated age;
  • Obtain names and addresses of schools attended. It may be possible to contact schools in some countries of origin;
  • Gaining knowledge of education in different countries is useful to validate the authenticity of the information provided - e.g. it may be useful to know that it is the norm to have 6 years of junior and 6 years of senior school in some countries.


7. Independent / Self Care Skills

  • Has the person lived at home or have they lived on their own/in an independent setting;
  • Is there a clear impression that the person has never lived away from home and has been cared for by adults?
  • Does the person have experience in managing money, paying bills, arranging appointments, buying food etc?
  • Is the person able to cook more than just a basic meal?
  • It is essential to take into consideration the local situation from which the person has come from e.g. war, famine and cultural. Norms: e.g. it may not be expected that men should have any domestic skills in some countries;
  • Has the person stated a preference during the assessment of how they wish to live in the UK?
  • The social worker may wish to pose a scenario to the person at this point or at the end of the assessment; that if the person is believed to be under 16 s/he will be placed in foster care where certain house rules will have to be followed e.g. will have to be at home at a certain time etc. The reaction may provide valuable information;
  • The social worker may wish to ask the person directly how they feel about living in an independent setting and observe their reaction.


8. Health and Medical Assessments

  • Questions about the person’s health history can be informative in assessing age both from the information given and reactions to specific questions;
  • Invasive methods and medically unnecessary examinations should never be used.
    However opinions and views of age from a paediatrician, GP dentist and optician can be very useful in assisting in the process.


9. Information from Documentation and other Sources

  • Documentation when available should be carefully checked, although authenticating documents is a specialist task;
  • It is important to obtain the views of other significant figures involved with the young person, including foster carers, residential workers, schoolteachers, doctors, solicitors;
  • Observations of how the person interacts in different social situations can provide useful age indicators.

End