Thoughts on the rights, responsibilities and duties for UASC children
So this is a bit of a social worker/social care professional post but actually I would invite anyone who has an interest in unaccompanied asylum seeking children to read and think about this post, as actually if everyone understands the rights of this vulnerable group of children then actually there is less likely to be deviation from this!
The most important thing to say is that regardless of whether a child or young person is seeking asylum they are still and most importantly a child or young person and therefore, this should be the priority! They should be offered the same level of support as any other child within the local authority.
For every unaccompanied asylum seeking child or young person who is in the UK, if they are under 18, they should be known to the local authority and should be considered a looked after child. This is really important, as when they are over 18 years of age this will mean that they are entitled to leaving care services (dependant on their immigration status). If you know an unaccompanied asylum seeking child who is not a looked after child, they either need to be referred to the local authority or be supported to seek legal advice if this has been refused.
If you are not sure check out my post on definitions to make sure the child or young person you are thinking of is an unaccompanied asylum seeking child - https://www.thoughtsofawanderingmind.com/post/thoughts-on-words-and-terms-used-about-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-a-glossary-of-terms
As a looked after child, they will be entitled to the support of a social worker, they will have regular looked after children's reviews, they will have regular updates to their care plan/pathway plan and this should take place until they are 19 regardless of their immigration status.
So here comes the contentious bit, the local authority only have the duty to provide services to children and young people, so if someone is 18 years old and one day, they are not entitled to services, they will access support from the Home Office. Now in some situations, local authorities may have concerns that someone is pretending to be a minor when in fact they are over 18 years of age - believe me it does happen I have encountered adults who are advising they are children and there is good reason for this including the level of help offered by the Home Office and the likelihood of asylum claims being granted as a child vs an adult so I don't blame anyone for giving it a try.
In this situation, unless the local authority believe that an individual is significantly over 18 years of age (think 25) then they must accommodate them until a full Merton compliant age assessment is completed. And in this they should be treated as their claimed age until this assessment (although I think a local authority may be well within their rights to put some safeguards in place if they are concerned in reference to child protection).
Now I won't bore you to death about age assessments (although I love talking about them, and they are something that I do for work, so if you want to chat send me a message), but the core things to know are:
1) An interpreter must be present who speaks the individuals language.
2) The person must be provided with an appropriate adult throughout the interview/interviews.
3) The decision making must not be solely based upon someone's physical appearance.
4) Any information that is being used to make a decision that is not in the individuals favour must be presented to them to ensure procedural fairness.
5) Most importantly, the assessors should be affording the benefit of doubt to their decision, meaning that if they feel that a person could be aged between 17 and 19, they should be offering them the benefit of the doubt and saying they are 17 years of age.
If you are working with someone who has been age assessed and was told they were over 18 but they do not agree, they have got a right to challenge this assessment. The best course of action is to get them to speak to their solicitor or a voluntary agency/advocate service specialising in working with asylum seeking children.
For those that have been accepted as children or young people, they should be supported and cared for as any other child of their age would be. This means if they are under 16, they should be in either a foster placement or a children's home. If they are under 16, they should not be in semi-independent accommodation. In accordance with the law they should be in education and they should be receiving all the same statutory processes as any other child or young person.
Lastly, the local authority should be helping them to complete their asylum claim. This is not to say they should be paying for this, as at the point of writing, children and young people are entitled to claim legal aid for their asylum claim, however, the local authority should be ensuring that their welfare interview has been completed with the Home Office to ensure their intention to claim asylum is known, they should be accessing a specialist asylum and immigration solicitor (this is a very specific area of law and so they should be a specialist) and they should be supported both emotionally and practically to complete their asylum claim.
I hope this post is helpful and please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or want more information - I may know the answer but if I don't I know lots of people that will.
Check out my other post on the asylum process to see how this works so you can understand the process.