Children’s social workers could be required to commission medical assessments when there is a dispute over the age of asylum-seeking young people, under government plans that campaigners claim could be illegal.
The proposals are contained in a consultation paper, part of a review on provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, which talks of the “pull” of UK benefits for under-18s and of the need to introduce comprehensive age assessments to reduce “expensive judicial challenges”.
But charities say the plans, being led by the National Asylum Support Service, could compromise the independence of social workers who have a duty towards children’s welfare.
Local authority children’s services currently conduct largely holistic age assessments of asylum seekers who claim they are under 18. Medical assessments, often involving x-rays and dental checks, are mainly carried out at the request of asylum seekers who want to prove they are under 18.
Paediatricians say they can only judge the age of minors to the nearest two years either way, while Immigration and Nationality Directorate guidance states asylum claimants should be given the benefit of the doubt unless their appearance strongly suggests they are 18 or over.
Syd Bolton of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture said medical assessments for non-clinical purposes would pose a series of ethical questions, and could breach a European directive on radiological intervention if they became compulsory.
Social workers contracted by NASS via their local authority to assess and support minors could also face a conflict with their duties to children under the Children Act 1989, he added.