Local authorities are “picking up the pieces” where decisions made by the Home Office on the age of unaccompanied asylum seekers are incorrect, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has warned.
Charlotte Ramsden’s comments came a few days after the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, tweeted: “The #BordersBill will end many of the blatant abuses that have led to our immigration and asylum system being abused. We're changing UK laws to introduce new scientific methods for assessing the age of asylum seekers to stop these appalling abuses.”
Patel recently announced that the Home Office was establishing a new Scientific Advisory Committee to provide advice on ways of checking how old an asylum seeker is.
The Government also plans to create a new right of appeal over age assessments, which it says “will provide a quicker and cheaper way to resolve legal disputes”.
Ramsden said: “Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are fleeing desperate situations and arrive here alone in search of safety. Their care and best interests must be at the heart of any decision made, but we are aware of too many instances where children have been wrongly assessed as adults.
“Conducting age assessments is complex and specialist work and the persistently high numbers of arrivals we have seen in recent months is adding pressures to those caused by the pandemic.
“However, age assessments are frequently the subject of legal challenge and local authorities are picking up the pieces where decisions made by Home Office are found to be incorrect. This is placing additional pressure on us and our staff at a time when children’s services and social workers are already stretched. It is also a scary and worrying time for children who are far from home and initially placed in unregistered and unregulated settings, namely hotels.”
Ramsden said urgent improvements were needed in the initial screening process that takes place at ports of entry.
She added that ADCS cautiously supported the government’s plans to introduce a common assessment process, but said action was needed now.
“Age assessments must be driven by a child-centric approach and should be thorough as well as timely," she said. "Engaging with gateway local authorities in particular will be key here as they have a lot of expertise in this area. The safety and best interests of asylum seeking children must be at the heart of any reforms or decisions made.”