Category Archives: Court processes

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.



  



Changing Times

Have you ever imagined a world where there is no need for Social Work within families or Children Social Workers.  For many families this will already be true, and for them it would be harder to imagine what Social Work is and why it takes place.  


David Cameron is an example of this, and this week announced his vision to end state monopoly on Public Services.  Cameron explains his rationale for this over his own experience of the care of his son; and his own  frustration over the Local Authority having control of the budget for this.  A feeling shared by most parents who have Children, that need extra support with a disability.   


Perhaps worryingly this explains the increasing erosion of front line services, that are so successful in engaging vulnerable families.  Agencies such as Home Start or Sure Start Children Centres.  Which often provide a life line to vulnerable, and young families who need simple and often basic support to improve their situation.  To be replaced with another vision of a Big Society where people will volunteer and support services and their own community’s. Something that has yet to be tested and tried in any large scale.


Being a Children’s Social Worker I do worry that through all of these changes that Child Protection is being forgotten despite being in the news for serious cases like Victoria Climbe (2003) that lead to the Laming enquiry and report.   Baby Peter, and from this the Munro investigation into Child Protection.  


I worry because we only just have the Munro interim report and her first report into Child Protection Part one from which, the key message was clearly early intervention and prevention is key for  preventing families to enter into the system and drifting within it.  What we have now seems to be a backward step being taken in an area, which is so key to the long term success for the child remaining within their family and achieve positive outcomes.  


Early intervention is not a new concept and the CAF (Common Assessment Framework (2006) was a way of creating an early assessment and a team around the child quickly.  To work with services to prevent families needing to come in to contact with Social Care.


I wonder whether Child Protection teams could be taken away from Council control and be part of a Profit making company or even a Non Profit making Charity such as the NSPCC who are the only other organisational body that can investigate Child Protection enquiry’s.  


I guess that if I had a vision it would be for Social Work teams working with Children and their families to begin their work earlier to prevent families breaking down.  It would be for Social Workers to support vulnerable groups such as looked after Children, Care Leavers, and Young Parents.  Supporting School’s with Challenging Behaviour and neglect.  Supporting parents with Substance misuse and helping families and parents develop their confidence to become part of the community that they live in.  But I guess that this is not really a big vision or even a new vision.  It is just a plea that all Social Workers are supported by everyone to reduce the stigma attached to having Social Care involved and promote the Job that we do initially to support family’s and then keep Children Safe!



A Nice Surprise

Have you ever wondered why you chose to work in  Social Work? the long hours, mountains of paperwork and constant criticism from Family’s, the Media, Managers and just about anyone else who can speak.  It’s also not often that you can see the effect of any change that you may have instigated.  And more often then not you see family’s come back to your attention.  The reality being that these family’s need our help and support beyond what is offered.


Despite this Social Work is still about working with people, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and strangers.   Social Work is about bringing down barriers, and empowering the people we work with to engage with Society.  Developing with them a plan they know so that they will not need a high level of intervention.  Social Work is also about Safeguarding, and protecting the vulnerable and supporting them to remain within their family, or home.


As a Children’s Social Worker it is not about removing Children to place just for adoption just because we can.  Unlike what is printed in the Telegraph claiming that Social Workers are Child Snatchers and adoptions are forced.  I think it is important to remember that there is a Court process that is followed and that the Judges have to balance the basic principles of the Children Act 1989 and the Welfare of the Child.  Plus CAFCASS offer their own independent view.


Often our most challenging cases are our most rewarding.  And this week I bumped into a Foster Carer, who was caring for a baby boy I removed 18 months ago.  The mother was a drug user unable to break the cycle of her substance misuse.   A few months earlier I had removed her two year old daughter, and I can still remember her face as she sobbed realising she could not put her daughters needs before her own need for a hit.


Her family all offered support giving her false hope at the Child Protection conference, but in reality they offered her none.  Having spent hours trying to try arrange support within the family I felt frustrated when they walked away.  Seeing the rejection in the young mothers face and attitude to the safeguarding process.  I then discovered that the mother was pregnant again.  A one night stand with her drug dealer.   The baby boy was born three months early, and with withdrawal symptoms and required oxygen for the first three months after discharge from hospital.


I can still remember coming into work and answering the phone at 9am to hear the Foster Carer tell me what had happened during the evening.  The oxygen alarms had gone off, meaning the baby had stopped breathing and only had minutes to live.  A quick 999 call and basic first aid was the only thing keeping the baby boy alive.  Showing how serious this case was, and the level of risk involved returning the baby boy home.  


Despite this I wanted the Mum to be involved to maintain their relationship and attachment.  I called the Mum and made the arrangements for her to get to the hospital.  What touched me the most was remembering the Foster Carer telling me that, the young Mum had introduced her to the nurses as her own Mum.  Craving the care and emotional support herself that she asked the Foster Carer to support her with this.


I had worked hard for her daughter to return to her care, but the pressure from the dealers had her hooked back onto the drugs completely.  The lack of support from her family and the new baby made the escape she received from the drugs more attractive.  And the drug rehabilitation programme broke down completely and she disappeared from the area leaving her Daughter and Son behind.


So when I bumped into the Foster Carer this week, I was sad to hear that the Mum had refused contact since.  But pleased to see the baby was still alive and reaching its developmental milestones and going to meet his new family.  His older sister living with her Dad and half siblings.  


So although Social Work is hard and the rewards are small, it is important to remember that there is satisfaction at times.  When there is happy endings for the children we work with.