New guidance for social workers aims to help trigger a “dramatic improvement” in the quality and consistency of age assessments of young asylum seekers.
The Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) and Glasgow City Council have produced specialist guidance on age assessments to help social workers navigate the “difficult task” of assessing the age of young asylum seekers.
Inconsistencies in the quality of age assessments had led to vulnerable young people being “lost in the complex asylum system”, the SRC said.
The guidance is written in the context of the Scottish government’s Getting it right for every child and young person strategy. But with age assessments conducted by social services across the UK and the UK Border Agency (UKBA), much of the document will be applicable to social workers in England and Wales, the SRC said.
Clare Tudor, children’s policy officer at the SRC, said the guidance was “a big step” towards improving the transparency and consistency of age assessments.
“A wrong decision made by authorities can have serious implications for how a young person will be treated in Scotland,” she said.
Councillor Matt Kerr, Glasgow City Council’s executive member for social care, praised the contribution of his council’s specialist social workers in handling the “highly complex and challenging” task of age assessments. But he admitted improvements in the standard of assessment were needed.
“Many of these young people arrive without any form of identification, do not know their date of birth and have never celebrated their birthday as they come from societies where age is not seen as important,” he said. “We hope this collaborative project is an important step towards a dramatic improvement in the standard and consistency of age assessments across Scotland.”
Sue Kent, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said that social workers need to be given the time and facilities to carry out proper age assessments.
“In the past that has often not been the case as local authorities often seek very quick responses from social workers,” she said.
“You can’t make a standard age assessment based only on how someone presents to you. You need an awareness of a whole range of other factors like cultural issues, information on their country, child development issues and the individual circumstances. For example, if a young person has grown up in a warzone they will have grown up very quickly.”
Fifty social workers from across Scotland were trained in using the guidance at an event marking the launch of the document this week. A decision has yet to be made on whether training will be extended to more social workers, the Scottish Refugee Council said.
The launch of the guidance follows controversy over plans by the UK Border Agency to use dental x-rays as a means of determining the age of young asylum seekers. In May the UKBA admitted it was forced to shelve the plans until it could get approval from the National Research Ethics Service.
Check out Community Care Inform’s research review on asylum seeking children and the process of age assessment