Open letter warning of risks to young people from incorrect age assessments

Date
7
th
June 2022 
 

 

Open letter regarding
harms and impacts of incorrect age assessments and rise in age disputes

 

We the undersigned wish to raise our serious and immediate concerns regarding the
ongoing failures of Home Office led age assessments.  
 

 

A disturbing number of young people, clearly and undeniably under 18, have been
seen to have been incorrectly assessed as being adults. This presents an
immediate risk to their welfare and safeguarding.  
 

 

Home Office officials have claimed that “in almost two-thirds of disputed cases from
March 2021-22 the person was found to be over 18”
[1].
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of age assessments being
conducted recently, from 875 in 2018, 798 in 2019, 853 in 2020 to 2517 in 2021.
During the same periods we have seen proportion of those being assessed as
under 18 decline.

 

Whereas previously, when age assessments were conducted by local authority Social
Workers, the figures show that more age disputes were found to be under 18 than
over, there has been a shift to more being assessed as over 18 than under
[2].
This change coincides with increasingly draconian immigration policies, and
what appears to be an almost deliberate approach of presuming that anyone
facing an age dispute is automatically disbelieved and treated as an adult. An
approach which good practice developed in the field of age assessment over the
last decade highlighted as basic in its concept and a harmful practice rooted
in the asylum, immigration, and border ‘credibility’ philosophy. An approach
which is clearly contra with the safeguarding and welfare of children and
statutory duties incumbent on the Secretary of State for the Home Office and
contracted Social Workers. Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and
Asylum Act specifically sets out the Secretary of State for the Home Office’s
responsibilities in this matter, including: 
 

• Fair treatment which meets the same standard a British child would receive;  

 • The child‘s interests being made a primary, although not the only
consideration; 
 

 • No discrimination of any kind;   

• Asylum applications are dealt with in a timely fashion;   

• Identification of those that might be at risk from harm[3] 

 

By seemingly failing to ensure that age assessments are conducted in an accurate
and sympathetic manner, which reflect existing good practice and case law, we
believe that these responsibilities are not being met. The presumption of
minority has apparently been replaced by a presumption of majority. We are
returning to the bad old days where young people’s age is based on their
physical appearance, with little to no regard placed on cultural differences,
how easy misunderstanding can arise, the complexity of identity and diversity
and the importance of applying anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive
principles in assessments and one’s practice when working with children. A
failure to provide documentation is seen as confirmation that they must be
lying, yet many will not have documentation which would act as proof no matter
what. These realties are well known. 
 

 

Child protection law and statutory guidance in the UK, related to that and the
safeguarding and welfare of children and their rights in law, are things which
we should be proud of and protect. We have a long track record of ensuring that
child protection is prioritised. The actions of the Home Office currently
undermine that, not just for asylum seeking children, but for all children. 
 

 

In the spirit of those precious laws, we must, and do, raise our concerns directly
with you and urge you, in the best interests of children and the strongest
terms, to stop and reflect on the direct and indirect harm this approach has on
children and young people. The implementation of the National Age Assessment
Board risks exacerbating the issues of incorrect age assessments, and, by
undermining the trust and morale of local authority social workers, doing
long-term damage to the existing child protection mechanisms in this country
which have taken so long to develop. 
 


Incorrect age assessments are not an isolated issue. Through them we see young people
placed in adult facilities, put at increased risk of exploitation, denied
access to essential care and support, and even potentially put in danger of
being deported to Rwanda, or another country, thousands of miles away where
they can face discrimination, abuse, and a total lack of care.  
 

 

It is not good enough to say, as the Home Office has, that “two thirds of age
disputes are adults” when we are seeing first hand that Home Office age
assessments are wrongly treating children as young as 14 as adults. 
 

 

We therefore call for the following actions:  

·        The removal of age assessments from the Home Office, and for them to be placed back in the hands of trained, experienced, local authority and independent social workers
operating within the multiagency assessment framework.  
 

·        All individuals who have been classed as an adult by the Home Office to be re-assessed by independent specialists, with immediate priority given to those in detention,
shared adult facilities, such as hotels, and facing removal to third countries 
 

·        A full explanation from the Secretary of State as to the exact processes and procedures which have been carried out leading to such a significant increase in age disputes and the
increase in the proportion of people who have been being determined to be adults. 
 

 

Signed:  

Love146, Philip Ishola, CEO

British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Dr Luke Geoghegan, Head of Policy and Research

Social Workers Union, John McGowan, General Secretary

Kent Refugee Action Network

TACT, Andy Elvin, CEO. 

Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile, Sheila Melzak, Director

Monica Haft Law, Monica Rey Haft, Lawyer




[1] UK
accused of attempting to deport children to Rwanda (Guardian June 5th
2022) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/05/uk-accused-of-attempting-to-deport-children-to-rwanda?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
[2]
Asylum and resettlement datasets (Age Disputes) https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/asylum-and-resettlement-datasets
[3]
Section 55 Guidance https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/431346/Section_55_v12.pdf

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