5. Preparing to Assess
Key questions for practice:
- Who should undertake an age assessment?
- Is an "appropriate adult" required?
- Is the young person aware of their rights and do they have access to legal representation?
- Do I need an interpreter?
- What should the timescales be?
- Where should I undertake interviews?
Assessment: Getting It Right For Every Child
A key purpose of establishing a young person's age is to determine what type and level of support they may be entitled to. Determination of age is also important with regards to both safeguarding the young person and those with whom they are in contact. Factors that are relevant to determining age will also be relevant in a wider assessment of need. As such there is value in considering the age assessment in the wider context of an assessment of need and risk. This is consistent with the underlying values of Getting It Right For Every Child ( GIRFEC), namely those relating to being child-focused, considering overall wellbeing and working in a joined-up manner.
The principles of GIRFEC are as applicable to young asylum seekers as they are to any other group of young people although it would be important to be mindful of cultural translation. However, the potential vulnerabilities of this group, coupled with their very particular additional needs and the consequential challenge for professional practice, make certain aspects of GIRFEC especially relevant:
1. Using the GIRFEC tools and materials in assessing need will also support the improvement of assessments of age. Previous judgements have indicated. that it is hard to see how an asylum seeking child cannot be a 'child in need'.
2. Adopting a 'whole child' approach across statutory and voluntary agencies will increase the quantity and quality of information and analysis that can be used in age assessments. The common set of terminology and indicators within GIRFEC allows for more effective communication across agencies.
3. Use of the My Word Triangle at every stage encourages the consideration of the young person in their widest context, and supports the need to gather information from other sources.
Whilst an age assessment is separate from a more comprehensive needs assessment, some of the information required to assess age will also contribute to assessing need. Assessors should keep this in mind in order to minimise any duplication of processes. The primary task is that of assessing age but this can help inform assessments of need. The same knowledge, skills and understanding, which underpins good assessment practice with young people in need, is also required when working with young asylum seekers. This should however be supplemented with additional knowledge relating to:
- country and culture of origin
- effects of trauma
- the experiences of refugees
Who should undertake an age assessment
Local authorities will wish to ensure that the staff members allocated the task of conducting an age assessment have the appropriate knowledge and experience that equips them to carry out a competent and defensible assessment. Age assessments should be carried out by two workers acting together. A conclusion based on the assessment and views of one individual would be unlikely to be considered robust nor survive scrutiny.
It is the responsibility of the local authority to ensure that the assessors have the relevant knowledge, experience and skills for the task. At least one worker should be a qualified social worker registered with the Scottish Social Services Council who should assume the lead role in planning the overall assessment. Both workers should have experience of working with children and young people and undertaking needs assessments. Best practice would suggest that at least one should have experience and training relating to age assessment / working with asylum seekers. Where this proves difficult, local authorities should consider what arrangements can be put in place to support workers such as linking with another local authority with more practice experience. Selection of staff should also take account of gender and other issues which may be important to the young person (and potentially of heightened concern for young people who have previously experienced violence and/or sexual exploitation).
As with any other social work led assessment, roles in planning and undertaking the age assessment, including interviews should be agreed with the relevant manager. The roles and tasks of the two assessors can be divided and there should be flexibility in matching task to individual (for example the importance of the gender of the interviewer may not be immediately apparent) and assessors will be required to exercise judgement when deciding how to agree responsibilities. It may be useful to record the agreed roles and tasks of the two assessors in an assessment plan.
Some issues relating to staff selection may require balancing a range of competing factors. Such weighting is likely to involve considering the importance of staff selection in producing a robust assessment alongside practical matters of staff availability and time.
Both assessors should be present during interviews with the young person and when analysing the information gathered. The lead worker has responsibility for ensuring that the assessment is suitably planned. Both assessors have equal responsibility with regard to stating an opinion concerning the assessed age of the young person. Where there is disagreement between workers this should be noted in the assessment. If assessors disagree about the assessed age or experience a significant difficulty in conducting the assessment then they should draw this to the attention of the relevant manager and seek advice.
Case law indicates that it is best practice to offer an appropriate adult to sit in
with the young person during any interviews with assessors. If the young person chooses to have an appropriate adult present, then an appropriate adult should be present at all interviews with the young person.
This Guidance, consistent with the original version produced in 2012, defines an appropriate adult as a person, independent of the assessment process, that is able to:
- Observe the interview
- Ensure that the young person understands the key processes
- Ensure that the young person has an opportunity to respond to any information or opinions that may be incompatible with their own account
A person proposed to act as an appropriate adult must be deemed acceptable to the local authority and the young person and their legal representative. The local authority should consider whether it would be good practice to provide an outline description of the role and responsibilities of the appropriate adult to the young person and their legal representative. There may be benefit in preparing written material that can be given to the young person and explained through an interpreter if required. Assessors should ensure there is proper discussion about the role of the appropriate adult. Where an appropriate adult has agreed to take notes for the young person during the meeting, there should be an agreement that these are shared with the assessors for the purposes of contributing to the overall assessment.
If a young person declines to have an appropriate adult present then this and their stated reasons for their decision should be recorded.
Providing information to the young person and their rights and access to legal representation
Once a decision has been made that the young person is a child or that an age assessment requires to be undertaken, it is important to ensure that the young person is given information about their situation.
The young person should be made aware of their rights and in particular their right to access legal representation at the outset of the age assessment process. Good practice would be that this is considered in any verbal or written information given to the young person.
In terms of communicating with children and child friendly materials, the Guardianship Service (see Appendix 9) may be a source of support. ECPAT have also produced child friendly information materials through their ReACT project (see Appendix 10). Further consideration of what the young person should be told specifically about the age assessment process can be found in the Planning the Assessment section.
Age dispute cases will regularly involve young people who do not speak English or, where English is a second language, it is poorly understood and spoken. The quality of the assessment will therefore be significantly affected by how well interpretation and translation services are used. The Guidance assumes that local authorities will make proper advance arrangements concerning interpreters (including requirements relating to their suitability and selection) and support staff in their use.
It is possible that there will be exceptional circumstances where it proves very difficult to identify an interpreter fluent in the young person's language and in these cases it may be necessary to extend the assessment period so that all reasonable steps to obtain appropriate support can be taken.
Assessors should explicitly check whether an interpreter is required and that the young person understands that an interpreter can be provided. Both the offer and the response should be recorded.
It is important to be clear about the role of the interpreter. They are there to provide a translation service between the assessors and the young person. They should not provide any views or opinions regarding the information being provided by the young person. It is important to recognise the potential for an interpreter to be affected by interpreting for a young person who may have experienced highly traumatic events and which can impact on how they are translating.
Assessors should ensure that the interpreter has a proper understanding of the requirement for confidentiality and objectivity.
Assessments should include a minimum of two interviews, staged several days apart. Interviews should be planned to take account of the young person's needs and capabilities at these times. Consideration needs to be given to any religious or cultural issues which could impact on the timing of interviews eg. if the young person is fasting.
The assessment should aim to be conducted over a period of 28 days to allow the young person time to become accustomed to their surroundings and to develop some trust and sense of security. There may also be circumstances that require a longer assessment period. Reasons for this might include the ill health of a young person, trafficking enquiries, unexpected or unusually difficult communication problems or the possible existence of learning difficulties. Assessors should record the process and duration of interviews. Breaks will need to be factored into any interview.
The timescales involved in age assessments, coupled with very limited resources, present significant challenges. However for many local authorities it may be a relatively infrequent requirement and given the significance of age assessment for the young person at the centre it is important enough to justify high priority.
Considering a venue
Whilst workers will likely be restricted in their choice of venue for undertaking interviews, consideration should be given to the requirements of the location. The venue should be reasonably comfortable, with enough space and seating and access to toilet and drinks facilities. As with any interview which deals with personal information, the space should afford an appropriate level of privacy. Consideration should also to be given to what arrangements could be made in the event that the young person needs to take a break during any interview.
A police station would not usually be considered an appropriate venue for undertaking an age assessment. Where it is accepted that there is an age dispute, arrangements should be made for the young person to be provided with appropriate accommodation whilst an age assessment is undertaken.