Social workers were urged to stand their ground this week after it was alleged that managers were pressurising them to assess unaccompanied asylum-seeking children as older than they are to save money.
Research on 14 councils carried out for the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association alleged that social work managers in some areas were instructing or pressuring social workers to incorrectly assess the children as over 18 or over 16.
Currently, councils have a duty to provide services to asylum-seeking children under the age of 18. Those assessed as being over 16, however, receive a lower level of support. Once they reach 18, the children are the responsibility of the National Asylum Support Service.
Felicity Collier, chair of the British Association of Social Workers’s Standards and Ethics Board, said social workers’ adherence to the General Social Care Council’s code of conduct should be paramount over their employers’ instructions if they were faced with an ethical dilemma.
She did not believe that any social workers would bow to such pressure. “Social workers are registered with the GSCC and if they are members of the BASW they are signed up to the BASW codes of ethics and I do not believe that any social worker would be prepared to distort any assessment,” she said.
The research by Swansea University states that under the current system there is a potential conflict of interest with social workers from councils who would later have to support the child carrying out the assessments.
Lisa Nandy, chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, said she was aware of social workers being pressurised and that, although she did not think they did an assessment with the intent of denying a child services, concerns about the councils’ resources were often at the backs of their minds.
The report recommends the creation of regional age assessment centres, funded independently of and staffed by multi-agency teams.
Heaven Crawley, author of the report, said social workers should be a part of the teams but they should not be from the authority that would later go on to support the child.
“Lots of social workers felt the assessment was too big a responsibility to take on without any other support,” she said.
“If they were taking such a decision on behalf of children elsewhere in the looked-after system they wouldn’t have to do this on their own.”
● Local authorities are not following the Home Office policy which states that unaccompanied minors should be given the benefit of the doubt over their age.
● Social workers are being pressurised or instructed by some managers to deem children to be older than they are.
● There is a lack of training on how to conduct age assessments.
● There is no statutory guidance on age assessments.
● There is a general lack of understanding among social services departments as to their role in age disputes.
● Regional age assessment centres should be established, funded independently of local authorities and staffed by multi-agency teams.
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