2.1.17 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children


  1. Definitions
  2. Scope of Chapter
  3. New Arrivals
  4. Single Assessments Including Age Assessments
  5. Safeguarding UASC
  6. Home Office Interview
  7. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching 18

1. Definitions

Asylum Seekers

The term ‘asylum-seeker’ is used to describe a person who has made a claim for asylum within the meaning of Section 18 Nationality Immigration Asylum Act (NIAA) 2002 and is awaiting a decision from the Home Office.

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children are children who enter the country and apply for asylum and meet the following criteria:

  • Is, or (if there is no proof) appears to be, under eighteen;
  • Is applying for asylum in his or her own right;
  • Has no adult relative or guardian in this country.

Or those young people who enter the UK accompanied but become unaccompanied during their stay in the UK and subsequently claim Asylum in their own right.

Accompanied children

Accompanied children may have travelled either legitimately or illegitimately with their parents. Others may be brought in by adults either purporting to be their parents or stating that they have the parents’ permission to bring the child. There are many legitimate reasons for children being brought to the UK, such as economic migration with their family, education, re-unification with family or fleeing a war-torn county.

Trafficked children

The United Nations protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (the Trafficking Protocol 1) defines trafficking as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transport, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purposes of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitutes of others or other forms of sexual exploitations, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Child trafficking is defined as:

“The act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child (defined as under 18) for the purpose of exploitation either within or outside the country.”

Unlike trafficking in adults, there is no requirement that the child have been deceived or coerced by the trafficker: a child’s ‘consent’ to go with a trafficker is not recognised in law.

The vast majority of irregular migrants coming to the UK are smuggled rather than trafficked. People smugglers may profit by transporting irregular migrants for money, but do not attempt to exploit migrants once they reach their destination country. In sharp contrast, traffickers profit through exploitation of their victims, controlling them by:

  • Threatening or using violence against the victim or their family;
  • Debt bondage (a form of slavery where people are forced to work for little or money in order to pay back debts, in this case debts ‘owed’ to their traffickers);
  • Using threats relating to the victims immigration status (trafficking victims may be terrified of the Immigration Service and of deportation);
  • Exploiting emotional attachments, such as ‘boyfriends’ trafficking women for the purposes of sexual exploitation;
  • Exploiting the victims vulnerability and lack of alternative options.

Some children may have been trafficked and brought into the country by their facilitator, but then claim asylum as unaccompanied children. This may happen after coercion by their facilitator and by doing so they are legally granted permission to reside in the UK entitling them to welfare benefits.

Some groups of children will avoid contact with the authorities as instructed by their traffickers. For example, it is well documented that some children ‘disappear’ into their ethnic communities once they arrive in the UK. It is also believed that some traffickers insist that the child applies for asylum as this gives the child legitimate right of temporary ‘leave to remain’ in the UK.


Refugee Children are children and young people less than 18 years within families who are not British citizens but have leave to remain in this country. They may previously have been asylum seekers and been granted Refugee status, or they may have been resettled in this country or any other EU country via UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).

For the purposes of this policy, an unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC) is any person who, at the time of making an asylum application is:

  • Under the age of 18, or in the absence of any documentary evidence, assessed as being under 18;
  • Applying for asylum in his/her own right;
  • Without an adult relative or guardian with parental responsibility in the UK.

For those young people who are seeking asylum and where there is uncertainty about their age, they will be age assessed by a social worker with specific training in completing Age Assessments.

For all newly presenting Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC), the procedures in relation to Referral, Assessment and Family Support will apply.

Where an unaccompanied asylum seeking child comes into care, the procedures in relation to Looked After Child apply.

All staff must also have an awareness of the particular needs and issues children may face as a result of being an unaccompanied or trafficked child.

Independent Review Officers must have a particular awareness of the issues these children may face so that they can provide appropriate challenge at review. Foster care and residential care providers also need to be aware of appropriate steps to reduce the risk of trafficked children returning to their traffickers.

2. 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.

If Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) are assessed as requiring accommodation arranged by the local authority they will become a Looked After Child under Section 20 Children Act 1989. As such they are entitled to the full range of services available to CLA and provided through Children’s Services and the partner agencies, including as care leavers. 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 also need to be aware of appropriate steps to reduce the risk of trafficked children returning to their traffickers.

Having taken account of a child's wishes, a local authority might decide that the child is competent enough to look after him/herself. In such cases, local authorities may legitimately use Section 17 for support instead of Section 20.

If UASC are placed with extended family (not a close relative as defined by Children Act 1989), friends or strangers in an arrangement made by their parents then they are privately fostered. In such cases, the local authority must be informed by the parents and the carers, and has to satisfy itself that the welfare of privately fostered children will be satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted by the arrangements made. See Private Fostering Guidance and consult with the private fostering officer.

Where a young unaccompanied asylum seeker becomes Looked After, the procedures in this manual relating to Looked After Children 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.

3. New Arrivals

Where a contact is received, the procedure for children and young people referred to differs from that for all other referrals to because the referral, assessment and care management processes all start at the same time as soon as the referral is received. When a child or young person is referred it is likely that arrangements for accommodation will need to be made on the same day.

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 him or her. 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.

Workers should check to see if the child is known to another local authority and if so, arrange for return to the relevant authority.

If the child is not known elsewhere the Team Manager will decide if an Age Assessment is required.

4. Single Assessments including Age Assessments

4.1 Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children

Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children: Statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children (2014) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, they are presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with Article 10(3) of the European Convention on action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. Age Assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child. Age Assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority’s assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children. Where Age Assessments are conducted, they must be undertaken by two qualified social workers and be Merton Compliant.

Single Assessments will be undertaken where appropriate in accordance with the Assessments Procedures but should not be undertaken without the approval of the social worker's manager.

A number of additional factors need to be considered which would usually not apply. Particular sensitivities for an unaccompanied asylum seeking child or young person might include:

  • Anxiety about legal status;
  • Worries raised by yet another professional asking similar questions;
  • Lack of understanding and trust regarding the role of social care as distinct from the police and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI);
  • Not understanding why assessments are needed;
  • Traumatic experiences impacting on physical or psychological health;
  • The journey itself as well as the previous living situation may be a source of trauma;
  • The shock of arrival: the alien culture, systems and language can cause shock and uncertainty, and can affect the mood, behaviour and presentation;
  • 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.

In these circumstances, reluctance to give information, fear and confusion can easily be mistaken for lack of co-operation or deliberate withholding of information.

4.2 Single Assessment

The Single Assessment in accordance with the Assessment Procedure. The Single Assessment will take account of:

  • The immigration status of the young person;
  • The young person's accommodation arrangements and needs;
  • The young person's local connection with the local authority area;
  • The young person's financial and other support;
  • The young person's ethnicity and religion;
  • The age assessment of the young person (where relevant) and any available information on their agent, their access into this country, the length of time they have been in this country and possible other connections;
  • 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; and
  • Any issues that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked or a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery.

Particular note should be made of:

  • Health, behaviour and social presentation can be affected by trauma. Famine and poverty can have an effect on development;
  • Education: What has school previously meant to this child? Do they have concerns about "fitting in" at a school or fear of racism/bullying?
  • Self Care Skills: the competence of this child or young person may not be comparable with a child of the same age in this country. The child might be very able in self-protection but not very able other basic skills such as cooking. Some children might have been working, or part of direct armed conflict in their country of origin. Loss of a parent can enhance or deprive a child of skills;
  • Identity: Who is this child?
  • Physical appearance: Life experience and trauma can affect this, as well as lack of nourishment, which can make a child look older or younger. Children from other certain ethnicities may develop facial hair at an earlier age in comparison to European children for example;
  • War, famine or persecution can make a family mobile - they may have moved frequently to keep safe. The stability of the family unit might be more important to the child than stability of place. Judgements that mobility might equate with poor parenting capacity could be entirely wrong;
  • The fact that a child seems to have been given up by a parent may not imply rejection; the motive may have been to keep the child safe or to secure better life chances;
  • Talking about parents or family might be extremely painful or stressful for the child;
  • It is important for the assessor to recognise the differing role of extended family and communities in other cultures; a Eurocentric view of 'family' may not apply.

As with all assessments the key is engagement and open questions are most helpful, with clear emphasis on reassurance and simple explanations of the role and reasons for an assessment. Good engagement is more likely to lead to opportunities to build on the initial contact.

Ensure the child is seen alone, particularly to check out the stated relationships with any person accompanying them. Keep control of the interview and be mindful of interpreters who appear to be doing more than interpret.

Establish the reasons the child has come into the UK and how.

Social workers should not assume that a parent abroad cannot be contacted and must be pro-active in seeking to do this. Caution is however required in carrying out this action as the notification of an UASC to another country may result in action being taken against those relatives remaining. Barnados can provide advice on whether making contact is likely to place relatives remaining in the country of origin at risk. The Red Cross Tracing and Messaging service is a confidential service that can be offered.

Seeking information from abroad should be viewed as a routine part of the assessment process. All agencies should be prepared to make enquiries from their counterparts in the country of origin whenever practicable. Information on who to contact can be obtained via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 020-7008 1500, or via the appropriate Embassy or Consulate. A list of these can be obtained from the London Diplomatic List (ISBN 0 11 591772 1) obtainable from the Stationery Office on 0870-600-5522, or via the FCO website.

Use any documentation the child has from their country of origin/previous country such as benefit letters, ID cards, letters from doctors/hospitals or from other social services. Where an address in a town abroad is known, contact International Telephone Directories (dial 155) and ask for the main town hall. They should have details of local offices. Recipients abroad tend to respond faster to emails or faxed requests.

Any documentation received must be given to the legal representative for authentication to avoid fraud.

As the UASC is automatically Section 20 from Day 1 of arrival, an ILAC will be due in 28 days – therefore further information gathering.

Where there are concerns that a young person has suffered or is at risk of suffering Significant Harm, for example as a result of trafficking and/or Sexual Exploitation, the social worker must discuss the case with the manager and consider whether the circumstances warrant a Strategy Discussion/Meeting and Section 47 Enquiry.

4.3 Age Assessment

The Merton Compliant Age Assessment is not just a means of determining the young person’s age. In order to do this a full background history is taken and the young person’s story informs the decision over age.

The assessment of age is a complex task, which usually involves a face-to-face meeting and often relies on professional judgement and discretion. Such assessment may be compounded by issues of disability. Some young people may genuinely not know their age and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks may exceed or fall short of our expectations of a child of the same age in this country.

The Age Assessment has four main functions:

  1. To identify if a young person is (on the balance of probability) under 18 and eligible for Walsall Children’s Services support;
  2. To help identify all the immediate care, health, education, identity and emotional/psychological needs a young person has;
  3. The Age Assessment form is given to the child or young person’s legal adviser (never the Home Office) to help them to start formulating a case for the child or young person’s asylum claim;
  4. To ascertain if there are any immediate concerns around risks of terrorism/radicalisation, trafficking and or child sexual exploitation. If any of these concerns arise immediate referrals need to be sent to the relevant persons/agencies.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has published practice guidance for front line workers who are responsible for conducting Age Assessment. The documents contain practical advice on preparing for, and conducting Age Assessments, as well as a range of useful resources covering issues such as trafficking, trauma and memory, and legislation and case law. See Age Assessment Guidance and Information Sharing Guidance for UASC for more information.

The advice of a paediatrician with experience in considering age may be needed to assist in this, in the context of a holistic assessment. However, the High Court has ruled that, unless a paediatrician's report can add something specific to an assessment of age undertaken by an experienced social worker, it will not be necessary.

A photograph must be taken at the time of the assessment and attached to the age assessment form.

All assessments must be undertaken using an approved interpreter except when English is fluently spoken. The interpreter must be conversant in the child's first language, and care should be taken to ensure that the interpreter knows the correct dialect. The interpreter must be able to interpret fully with regard to gender issues and matters of a sensitive nature. It is important that the young person can understand the interpreter that is engaged. The Team Manager must be informed if an appropriate interpreter is not available.

Age Assessments can be further complicated by young adults attempting to portray a different age from their true age in an attempt to gain Looked After status. Look out for signs of any 'coaching' that the young person may have had prior to arrival in the UK, i.e. how to behave and what to say. This is also important in relation to identifying UASC who may be trafficked. It is important to engage with the young person and establish as much rapport as possible. Be aware of body language and the different expectations that different cultures will have. For example, maintaining eye contact can be a sign of respect or disrespect. Gender issues must also be taken into consideration.

Some societies do not place a high level of importance on biological age and calculate age in different ways. Some children will not know their biological age, and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks might not mirror European expectations about a child of the same age.

If an Age Assessment it carried out, the worker should inform the young person of their conclusion and give them a copy of the assessment. The outcome of the Age Assessment must be placed on the child’s file.

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.

5. Safeguarding UASC

Research indicates that significant numbers of UASCs have also been trafficked. Some of these children go missing and back into the care of the traffickers before being properly identified as victims of trafficking. The police must be informed straight away and the procedure in the West Midlands Police Protocol for Children Missing from Home and Care should be followed.

At all stages of the assessment process and in subsequent work with UASCs the possibility of trafficking and the need to safeguard young people has to be considered.

As soon as suspicions are raised that a child is being trafficked, Child Protection procedures should be followed. The social worker should liaise with the police and use a Strategy Discussion to plan the investigation. A referral to the National Referral Mechanism should also be made.

Where it is believed the UASC has been trafficked, assessing the child's vulnerability to continuing influence and control by traffickers is part of the process. In order to minimise the risk of trafficked children becoming re-involved:

  • Do not divulge the location of the child until thorough investigation by social worker in conjunction with the police and immigration;
  • Ensure vigilance of social workers, foster carers, residential care staff;
  • Share information effectively between agencies upon receipt of information that is concerning or suspicious.

The social worker should attempt to make contact with the child's parents in the country of origin to verify the identity and to discuss the future of the child whilst being mindful that the parents may have sold the child to traffickers.

All agencies must work together to verify the identity of anyone approaching the local authority as a potential carer, friend or member of the family.

If the child is believed to have been trafficked the assessment should include:

  • How the local authority intends to safeguard the child;
  • Contingency plans should the child go missing.

Where the young person is in the care of the local authority the care plan or the pathway plan should include a risk assessment about trafficking.

6. Home Office Interview

This substantive interview usually forms the key part of deciding an asylum application. During the interview, the asylum seeker is expected to disclose all relevant information. There will be two appointments:

  • The screening interview will focus on the young person's method of entry and an explanation of how to claim asylum;
  • The substantive interview will focus on the statement that the young person has previously completed with their legal representative detailing their grounds for asylum. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) caseworker will interview the young person and ask them questions in relation to this statement and their grounds for asylum.

    UASCs should always attend an interview with an appropriate adult;
  • Dates of appointments are emailed directly to the social worker or Team Manager;
  • Failure to attend the interview can result in a non-compliance refusal (claim denied);
  • The young person's legal representative will attend the interview, but only as an observer;
  • It is common practice for the young person's legal representative to bring their own interpreter to the appointment, not to act as advocate, but to point out any problems or inconsistencies in interpreting. It is at the end of the interview that any interpreting discrepancies are discussed;
  • Asylum applicants are strongly recommended to ask for a copy of their interview record;
  • At the end of interview, the applicant will be asked to sign a copy of the interview record. However, they are not obliged to do this if unhappy or unclear about its contents. Refusal to sign does not result in a non-compliance refusal.

7. Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers Reaching 18

All UASCs are eligible for leaving care services.

Where an unaccompanied young asylum-seeker reaches the age of 18, and the young person's legal status remains unresolved, a referral to the UK Visas and Immigration should be made.

Where the young person is Looked After, the case will remain with the Leaving Care Team on the young person's 18th birthday and the Leaving Care Team will be responsible for implementing the procedures in relation to Eligible Young People and Relevant Young People, as appropriate, in accordance with the Transition and Leaving Care Procedure.

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.

Assistance should be given in advance of their 18th birthday with the necessary applications for housing, Housing Benefit and any other relevant benefits. The social worker must ensure that the young person has accommodation to which to move on his or her 18th birthday. The social worker must also ensure that the provider of the young person's present accommodation and the Finance Office is informed when the accommodation arrangement will end.