6. Planning the Assessment
Key questions for practice:
- Does the young person know the purpose of the assessment?
- How to manage new information?
- Consideration of the young person's vulnerability?
- What if the young person chooses not to participate?
- How do I undertake interviews?
Purpose of the assessment and the role of the social workers
The young person, any legal representative on behalf of the young person and the involved 'appropriate adult' should be made aware of the purpose of the assessment at the outset. Workers should record whether and how the young person has indicated that they have understood this. It would be useful to prepare a statement of purpose to be given to the young person verbally and in writing (with any necessary supplementary explanations). The aim is to give the young person as much information as they need to support them to participate as fully in the process as possible.
How the process is explained to the young person will be determined by their particular needs. As a basic guide, workers should cover:
- The role of each worker (and anyone else who is anticipated to be in the room during interviews eg. interpreter)
- What will happen in the age assessment process (eg. interviews, speaking to others, gathering information) and how long you anticipate the process to take
- That the process is to determine whether their needs should be met within children's or adult support services
- That the process is separate from the decision making about any claim for asylum, but the outcome could be considered by the Home Office in making their decision
- That they will be asked to give consent to participate in the process (in compliance with relevant human rights and data protection legislation) and that they can change their mind at any time
- They can seek legal advice
- If they wish to have an appropriate adult present during interviews they can
- That they can ask to take a break, get a drink of water etc. (particularly if they feel upset) or ask for clarification if they don't understand anything at any time during interviews
- What will happen once the assessment is complete (including that decision making will be explained giving them an opportunity to comment)
- That they can appeal with the help of a solicitor if they don't agree with the outcome
Managing new or revised information during the course of the assessment
In planning any assessment, arrangements for carrying out age assessments should include how to manage new information that comes to light after the assessment interviews have been concluded and how this would be reviewed. It should be possible to take new information into account and for opinions about assessed age to be revised. It is important to give the young person an opportunity to discuss provisional findings prior to finalising any assessment to give them the opportunity to clarify any information.
The potential vulnerability of young asylum seekers (due to communication issues, possible trauma, absence of familial supports, loss of identity and the general effects of dislocation) means that they depend particularly upon having a fair and effective assessment process. It should be ensured that there are safeguards and independent supports built into each assessment to make certain that young people's rights are understood and protected. It should be noted that a high level of vulnerability in a young person does not necessarily equate to them being a child but it does mean particular care should be taken so as to ensure that a fair and defensible assessment is conducted which recognises the impact on the young person's identity and circumstances. It is also important to take this approach given that until the assessment is complete, the possibility remains that the young person is a child and action needs to be in line with Article 8 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child  . A trauma informed approach to assessment is recommended – guidance on this is provided in Appendix 4.
The young person decides not to participate in the assessment
If a young person decides not to participate in the age assessment process then the assessors will be expected to continue to undertake the assessment, albeit noting the constraints and limitations that result. The young person should be supported to understand they will not be forced to participate in any interview and consent (which must be in accordance with data protection legislation in force at the time) would still be sought from them to seek information from other agencies as necessary. They should be made aware that information will still be gathered from existing social work records and from observations assessors/those directly caring for the young person have been able to make. Attempts should be made to ensure the young person is given the opportunity to comment on the contents and outcome of any such assessment and any feedback recorded.
Similar to principles and techniques used in undertaking other interviews with children and young people, workers should seek to establish a rapport at the outset of the interview process and use open rather than closed questions to support the young person to contribute as fully as possible to the assessment.
Assessors may wish to prepare a set of 'core' questions in advance based upon the individual case. Core questions might include tailored 'open' questions that encourage fuller answers such as descriptions or narratives. The aim is to build as full a picture as possible about the young person's background and experiences which can support an assessment of their age.
Suggested areas of enquiry are outlined in the suggested assessment headings to be considered in any report appended to this Guidance ( Appendix 3). A key question is to specifically ask the young person what their age and date of birth is to support a fuller exploration of the contextual information which supports their view, eg. rites of passage, comments from their parents about their season of birth etc.
Interviews should be recorded and it may be best to decide in advance how this will be undertaken. Detailed written notes should be undertaken to ensure that the significant points covered are recorded (unless the interview is being recorded by another means). It is important to remember that if an age assessment is disputed in court, all original records may be required to be provided (even where notes have been subsequently typed).