Category Archives: Complaint

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.



Fish Bowl working

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a hamster stuck in a cage in a pet shop.  That is what the new ways of working feels like in the office.  With seven Social Work teams all sitting on one floor, hot desking.  With an average of three workers fighting for one desk.  The result is Social Workers climbing walls, hiding under paperwork and nesting in the kitchen area. occasionally a visitor will walk onto the floor and be circled by Social Workers checking with the visitor to ensure they are not stopping.

The idea is to save the Local Authority money, in reality it did not.

Don’t get me wrong I want to see Social Work develop and become in line with the rest of the world, no longer a tick box and clip board profession.  But the true knowledge is held within the team and the experience of the workers within it.  More importantly the need to find privacy in order to discuss, reflect upon day to day practise and case decisions.  Also to have a laugh and vent the frustrations in a safe and supportive environment.

Now I could be taking a complaint about a member of staff I am sitting next to, whether it be a Social Worker I supervise or a Fostering Social Worker or previous Social Worker involved in a case. 

Now when trying to write up an assessment, I have to analyse conversations, observations and interactions with the noise and discussions around me.  Something that I have yet to be able to achieve in work.  Instead I am having to distance myself from the team and working from home.  Making my experience less available for the team and for the people I supervise.

In order to support this way of working, I have been provided with a 3G laptop.  Which, is a start in the right direction for faster mobile working.  A visit out of County now means that e-mails can be sent, and the case recording completed straight away.   Thankfully we have so much security on the laptop that often it can take 20 minutes to load up.  Meaning that there is time to drink Costa Coffee without disruption.

This does mean that when I am back in the office I am up to date and not having to read through hundreds of e-mails to read through.  But that is it.  You still have to stop somewhere safe and secure to access this information.  

There are some very good positives about open plan working with other teams.  This can mean good information sharing, working together with the fostering team and smoother transfers from team to team.  Or gaining information and insight into a case that may not have been recorded.

However, I look forward to a time when ICS is completely fit for purpose, that mobile working truly means mobile working and I can leave my heavy bag at home and just carry around one item that allows me to communicate quickly and freely, and be up to date with all case information.  

Until then I look forward to the restructuring next year and what this may bring! and continue to enjoy spending time with the Young People doing the work that is important.