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.
Have you ever wondered how some people make decisions. This is what I have been wondering this week as other people’s decision making has been a prominent issue for me. I have been working with Young People for over ten years, and like myself and everyone else, when we were in our late teens. This age is about self learning, understanding how to push boundaries and most importantly learning who we are.
For young people living in care this is not always as easy as it could be. Mainly because of the fear that some workers have in understanding, managing and assessing risk. In the case of the young person that I have been working with their is also a fear that the family will make a complaint and threat legal proceedings. However, the GSCC codes of Practise (2002) 4.1 encourages the importance of Young People taking risks.
So imagine what I am thinking when I find out that a 16 year old girl has had her mobile phone removed from her. All because she had been out with a friend, and had not checked in when she should have done. As a result of this incident an inevitable argument leads on to the young person absconding back to her Mum’s home. Who has ever since enjoyed screaming down the phone not only to me, but also anyone who answers the phone.
What worries and troubles me is that after every phone call, I can hear the frustration in the Mother’s voice that her daughter is still there. I also know that her daughter will also be sitting there not wanting to be there; yet to scared to tell her Mum that she wants to leave.
What angers me even more is that the workers caring for this young person continue to fail to see the harm that they have caused. Most importantly for this young person it is about the trust, and attachment issues and her own self confidence, which have been destroyed and betrayed because of the heavy handed approach, to her testing the boundaries around her or more simply put trying to find a boyfriend.
There is a risk if this young person remains at home that she may not leave. However, the difficulties lie with her age and the Fraser Guidelines and Gilleck Competence. This means that if this, has to go to Court for a recovery order under section 50 of the Children Act 1989 there is a strong possibility that the young person could argue to stay with her family and the Judge may grant this.
Ironically by the misunderstanding of what the real risk has been here, by the workers. The worst outcome has occurred. There will come a point where the young person will be asked to leave the family home by her mother. Further reinforcing the rejection she has already suffered throughout her whole life. The impact of this will further affect her ability to form and maintain relationships. In desperation that she might be still able to have a relationship with her Mum.
I hope that when considering risk, that all possibilities are considered and balanced. That it is important to include the young person in the planning and that they are listened to. That Honesty is key to the concerns and trust in the plan; and having a good back up plan. Afterwards, assess whether now is the right time to challenge the young person, or should they be allowed time to appropriately calm down. More importantly if there has to be a sanction for a behaviour, that it is appropriate for the young person and effective and achievable for them.