Age Assessments

Have you ever lied about your age to achieve something you would never be able to get legally and or maybe because you are not happy with your age.  For me I can answer yes to both, at 17 years of age I would often go out with friends and pretended to be 18 to get served (I would not promote this now of course).  Also with my current age I could happily be a few years younger!

However, for some young people age is an important issue especially for claiming asylum.  Age assessments have always been a thorny subject for both Local Authority’s and for young people.  Understandably so, with the importance of the age determining the level of support that the individual will receive and also where they might live. 

Working in a Looked After Children’s team I have started working again with young unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.  From this I have developed an interest in the age assessment process.  I have 13 years of experience working with Teenagers, and feel confident in understanding behaviours, attitudes, and other aspects that allow me to develop positive relationships. 

So what do you need to know to complete an age assessment? Because we know that we can not just go by looks.  However, looks is the biggest area of contention with all age assessments.  It is also the most frequent argument I hear “He looks at least 20” or “he can only be 14!” 

Thankfully there has been guidance created from a legal challenge on an age assessment.  Meaning that all age assessments need to be Merton Compliant from the Queen on the application of B v the London Borough of Merton.  As there is no guidance set out in the Children Acts this sets out guidance on how age assessments should be completed. 

But my interest in age assessments goes further, developed from a very long conversation with an independent Social Worker recently employed to complete an independent age assessment, for our team after a challenge to our assessment.  At present I do not undertake these assessments, although I have been asked too as the internal policies change due to the number of recent challenges to age assessments.  So interested I asked what training he had to help with the assessment.  His reply “I have not had any! there is none!” I learned that his experience has developed from being in my position and the conversations and research he has completed through his practise.  However, this has not filled me with confidence when I learnt further the detail and level he probes to.  

His knowledge now includes the education systems in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.  Perhaps more impressive is a working understanding of the Koran and the various practises of this belief in these different cultures.  The spelling of town names, Services provided in these countries, Family traditions, Working attitudes, Whether there is National Service and the age that this comes in force.

Why is this important? it all plays a part in developing a picture from which can be tested to accurately create a picture of the age for the young person.  One that can comply with the Merton guidance and stand up in Court as being fair and accurate.

I also learnt that it is important who completes the age assessment.  It has been a reoccurring theme that if there has been a complaint about an age assessment one issue has been made about the person completing it.  Another key factor is understanding the language that is spoken and also the different dialects that may impact on the translation.

I guess the easiest answer is research, research and more research and this is what I will be doing from now on.


7 responses

  1. That's a really interesting post about something that I wouldn't have much involvement with, dealing as I do with people at the other end of the 'age' scale. I'm surprised there isn't more research into this. I've been interested in increasing directly relevant research in practice. Unfortunately the research that takes place in social work is often at the whim of university based academics… anyway, that's another subject for another day. I always enjoy your posts as they open up my mind to what is happening elsewhere in social work 🙂

  2. I feel you are right, and would there be enough time to teach everything you would need to know. Yet this is such an important issue with massive consequences to everyone if the assessment is wrong.Thank you for your kind comments

  3. Fascinating insight thanks Simply social work -I do not know if you are in an agency with access to the research literature – SCIE has made it possible in many places. You might find the following of interest:Fiona Mitchell and Rhavi Koli have written up their research in a number of articles. Try putting their names in to Google Scholar. Here are a couple of examplesThe social services response to unaccompanied children in EnglandF Mitchell – Child & Family Social Work, 2003 – Wiley Online Library comfort of strangers: social work practice with unaccompanied asylum‐seeking children and young people in the UKRKS Kohli – Child & Family Social Work, 2006 – Wiley Online Library you cannot get to the full texts give me a shout.On the research topic you might want to have a look at the summary of the doc developed by social work academics in universities re their desire to work in partnership with practitioners and service users to undertake research which will be of use and used. Though in the new era of HE it is getting more and more difficult for lone researchers to go off and undertake research that they and practitioners decide needs to be done. More cross university large scale research groups to match the funding calls of the research councils.

  4. Thank you Jackie that has been helpful and I will take a look at those articles

  5. You ok if I take a screenshot of your blog to use with a group of social work students?

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Very very interesting piece. Thanks. And yeah, age is a very important issue. These young people know that they need to be a child for them to get any help so the assessment process needs to be effective and thorough.

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