3. Initial Presentation
This section is designed to assist social workers in determining whether they need to undertake an age assessment.
Key questions for practice:
- Is it necessary to undertake an age assessment?
- Are there circumstances in which you wouldn't ordinarily undertake an age assessment?
- What about recording and sharing information?
Whether to undertake an age assessment
Asylum seeking children and adults arrive in Scotland in many different ways. Frequently, local authorities are notified (often out of hours) of the presence of an asylum seeking person by one of the following sources:
- Non-governmental organisations who support asylum seekers
- Police Scotland
- The Home Office United Kingdom Visas & Immigration ( UKVI)
The key task at this stage is to decide whether an age assessment is required, as quickly as possible, to enable the individual to be transferred to the most appropriate accommodation and care arrangements based on their likely status as an adult or child.
The decision as to whether it is necessary to undertake an age assessment is a professional judgement based on the individual's initial presentation and circumstances, physical appearance and demeanour. In making this decision, social workers should be alert to any unconscious bias (how our own experiences of family, society and culture etc. have shaped our views) and ensure that decision making is reasoned and robust.
Normally, there will be no need for a prolonged inquiry into a person's age, if it is very obvious that the person is over the age of eighteen years. As such, if the physical appearance or demeanour of that person strongly suggests that they are significantly over the age of eighteen years, under this guidance, it is suggested that no prolonged inquiry into the person's age is necessary. If the person is obviously a child, normally, no inquiry at all is called for.
In the great majority of cases, age assessment will apply to those persons who are considered borderline as to whether they are an adult or a child and their age is in doubt. In undertaking an assessment there should be no assumption that the individual is an adult or a child.
If the notification received by the local authority indicates that the individual is, or states that they are under the age of 18, then the local authority social work service must respond and arrange to meet the young person, with an interpreter where this is practical. Whilst an interpreter might not be available at short notice, the timing of the meeting may need to be balanced with the fact that the young person is likely to be in a police station or other temporary setting.
In considering how to respond, the following scenarios are given as guidance.
- The individual states they are under 18, but is so clearly and obviously an adult that, unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, they would be most appropriately supported by an adult service provider. In this case, a full age assessment under this guidance is unlikely to be necessary and they should be referred to an adult service. In practice, it is rare that social workers encounter a case where it is this clear or this obvious, but it can happen from time to time.
- The individual states they are under 18 and there is reasonable grounds to believe that they have been trafficked. In this case, the Human Trafficking & Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 emphasises the duty of local authorities to give the benefit of the doubt to the young person. Section 12 of the Act applies where a Health Board or Local Authority has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a victim of human trafficking and, while not certain of their age, there are reasonable grounds to think the persons may be under 18. In these circumstances, the Board or Authority has to treat that person as a child in relation to certain statutory powers and obligations. They are required to do so unless the person is proven or assessed to be 18 or over. In these cases, a children's service must be provided pending an age assessment being carried out.
- The individual states they are under 18, but there is some doubt in the minds of the social work staff or others that he or she may be a `borderline' case. In this case, social workers should give the individual the benefit of the doubt and err on the side of caution, providing a children's service in the interim, pending an age assessment.
Where a children's service has been provided pending the completion of an age assessment, it will be for the local authority to determine the most appropriate care arrangements based on the young person's presenting needs (see Additional issues and Potential Vulnerabilities section for further information).
Age assessments should only be undertaken where they are absolutely necessary.
Where a young person has been provided with a children's service, staff supporting and managing the young person's care will be forming views about the young person. If the subsequent consensus is that local authority staff are happy to accept the stated age, then it may not be necessary to continue with an age assessment. The exceptions to this would be where an age assessment is required to support a young person's care for example to provide a date of birth to enable access to services (and of course in recognition of the importance of this to a young person's sense of identity).
There may be occasions where the Home Office UKVI disagree with this approach and request a full age assessment to assist with immigration decision making. In these circumstances, to best support the young person, negotiations may need to take place to determine what existing information can be provided to the Home Office and what (if any) further assessment is required. The legislation, case law and guidance governing data protection and human rights law must be adhered to at all times.
Recording decision making, sharing information
In all cases, it is important to ensure that decision making and rationale is clearly communicated to the young person (and their legal representative) and recorded. This is to ensure transparency should there be any subsequent questions or challenges to initial decision making going forward. A sample recording is attached at Appendix 1 to help social workers in thinking about what to record.