Category Archives: Guidance

Can I assess who is a child still?

Its an interesting time working with children.  I have recently put myself forward for a research project and as it has to be relevant to my work place and my employers.  I have decided to look at the thorny subject of age assessments.

Probably a bad idea when so much research has already been done around this firstly by Heaven Crawly in 2007 with ‘when is a child not a child?‘ and now more recently by the Children Society with ‘I don’t feel human’,   Yet even with this mistakes are still being made about age assessments and vulnerable young people not receiving the right support or help.

The answer is sadly not easy and with no matter how much good will is made with the assessments that age determination on its own is going to be hard.  Furthermore, there is the objective of the agents bringing the young people into the country.  Especially when considering child sexual exploitation and the advantage of having young girls or boys act older to get past the assessments in order for them to disappear.  There is also the dilemma around the benefits that are provided to young people if they are under the age of 18, meaning the credibility of a few impact on the outcomes for so many, when older young people who may still be vulnerable in themselves have argued to be under 18.

Despite this, looking further still into the assessment process I have had to look at definitions of childhood.  One argument that has been consistent in all research is that young people from poorer economic climates may present as being older looking.  And their demeanour presenting as older because what advantages are there in being a child.

This amuses me because actually the research is right, when completing an assessment of age it is essential to understand what that young person defines as childhood? what have they had to do to grow up and survive? And what are our comparisons in the UK? I guess the bit that makes me chuckle was observing an independent advocate pulling a toy train out for a 17 year old young man to play with.  It is clear that we can not make comparisons so should we force all aspects of what we think is childhood onto someone who has already had to grow up?

But then I wondered is this right, in the UK right now there are more and more young people experiencing poverty, abuse and neglect.  Growing up in poor conditions and failing to engage with education and employment due to their basic need of survival.  And also is the young people making it to the UK the most vulnerable or the ones who have had the money to make the journey originally.  We are now hearing of stories of tragic losses of young people in Afghanistan freezing to death in make shift illegal camps.

But again it is not easy, what is right and wrong? are our perceptions of childhood changing and are we able to understand what childhood is? Which, means spending more time researching these subjects but also more time working on for us in social work that have to undertake these complex tasks is our understanding of assessments.

Alone this is a massive subject with many different theories and data which could provide the wrong cue to through the person or people out who are completing the assessment.  Experience is essential, however can be less helpful in this situation of completing age assessments.  The reason for this is the time allowed to complete the assessment and fully analyse the information given.  One reason for this is the information shared by the young person you are assessing.  When understanding the experiences that a separated child may have experienced in travelling to the UK it is important to understand the difficulties that they may experience and then why they may not trust us as professionals.

For me this subject remains immensely interesting and important at so many levels, firstly to safeguard separated children but also in improving the understanding of social worker with all children that are vulnerable and continuing to improve the assessment process.

Winds of Change

Its been a funny week this week, my Manager who had been on leave, has returned to work.  And with this appears to have a new eagerness to make sudden changes in the teams practises! it seems at any cost.  It appears as a result of this, the team had made a concious decision to be working from home all this week.


Perhaps this eagerness is due to the important changes in Children’s Social Care; as new Guidances comes into force on the 1st of April 2011.  With these changes comes a new framework for Care planning.

Department of Education

This diagram shows how all of the sections of the legal framework fits together, in order to keep the theme of the Child at the centre.  And maybe it is me, but this is not a new concept? and all services should link together to provide answers to met the individual Child’s needs.


It felt like we were almost preparing for this change for the first time by inviting in an external trainer to explain the changes to Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transitions to Adulthood for Care Leavers.  However, this soon changed as after the lunch it seemed like everyone had starting to flag with the dry delivery, and copious amounts of handouts that would need to be read!


This Guidance sets out the contents of the “Pathway Plan” and explains how and with whom this plan should be created with.  However, this is not as easy as it always may seem.  For many Young People, and including myself at 16, leaving home and starting on your own seems daunting.  At least I was able to have a choice as to when I moved out! 


The Guidance is supposed to aim to give Care Leavers the same level of support that their peers would receive when leaving home from a reasonable parent.  “Reasonable” being the key term for tailoring a plan that meets the individual needs of the Young Person in preparing and support to Leave Care.


There is two new exciting additions to this Guidance that I like.  The first being a move away from the attitude of ending the Looked After Status of Young People (Under Section 20, CA 1989) who have returned home.  For me this is a positive step to ensuring that risk can be balanced with Support and success.  The support of course, is based on the Assessment of Need and is individual to each Young Person. But will ensure that there can be a successful return home managed and ensuring this does not break down by cutting all support altogether.  This could also be true for Young People 16+ who decide to move into unregulated placements, or found a friend they can share with.

The second change is a big step to supporting any Young Person who has left Care, to carry on with Higher Education up to the age of 25.  This is a good move to support Young People who may still be in Crisis and vulnerable as they leave care, who might have wanted to carry on learning but has not been able to.  I know from my own experiences contemplating Higher Education at 21 was too much and I was not in  Crisis!  The support however, will be assessed by the Local Authority and could vary from individual to the area they live in.
Since I know longer case hold and have responsibility to ensure that the Pathway plans meet the level required, I find it more and more important that the time is taken to ensure the plans are made well.  It is clear where the Social Workers really know the Young Person as the plan is clear and shows the views of the Young Person.

But as the 1st of April approaches, these changes become more real and important to not only the Local Authority’s but also to the Young Person.  Who should be at the centre of the planning and kept up to date with any changes.  I know I will be making sure the Pathway Plans that I sign off meet up to the new Regulations. 

I hope that by next week my Manager would have had time to reflect on her drive for change, read the paperwork and be ready to support our team with the changes required.