Agenda item

Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers: Introductory Report


The Strategic Lead Looked After Children and Aftercare introduced the report and stated that Thurrock Council had a responsibility to UASC as part of the Looked After Children and care-leavers service. She explained that each local authority in the UK was allocated to take UASC equal to 0.07% of their total population by the government, which equated to 31 children in Thurrock. She highlighted that the actual number of children accepted into Thurrock could fluctuate above and below this number depending on a variety of factors. She stated that UASC travelled from their home countries, such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, without a responsible adult and were under the age of 18 applying for asylum. She stated that sometimes children travelled on their own, or with a sibling, and were often trafficked. She stated that the team had to assess whether a UASC had been trafficked or were refugees.

The Strategic Lead Looked After Children and Aftercare commented that there were numerous points of entry for UASC in Thurrock, although the preferred point of entry was in Dover. She stated that this meant Council’s in Kent took a disproportionately large number of UASCs, and had led to the government introducing the National Transfer Scheme, that meant UASC could be allocated to a different part of the country to their point of entry, and ensured all Councils were meeting their allocation target. She stated that accepting an UASC was not a statutory duty for a local authority, and required cooperation between different local authorities.

The Strategic Lead Looked After Children and Aftercare explained that when a child entered the UK they were required to provide their age. She stated that this could often be difficult as some children did not know their date of birth, or would lie to make themselves younger than their actual age. She stated that if there was debate surrounding their age, or they looked over 25, then an age assessment would be undertaken by an accredited person following Home Officer guidance. She stated that younger UASC were often trafficked for MDS, and Thurrock worked closely with the police to ensure best practice was being followed and all safeguarding criterion were met. She stated that Thurrock’s social work team would work quickly to build trust and rapport with a trafficked child who could be vulnerable to further trafficking issues.

Councillor Anderson questioned the current process regarding age assessments, and if this was due to be updated in the future. The Strategic Lead Looked After Children and Aftercare responded that all UASC would be treated as children unless clearly over 18. She explained that immigration workers would have a conversation with the UASC, for example would ask questions about their schooling or work history to determine their age. She stated that if a UASC was determined to be older than 18 then they would not be accommodated and would work with immigration officials. Councillor Anderson questioned if there would be future reform, for example the use of dental x-rays to determine a person’s age. The Strategic Lead Looked After Children and Aftercare replied that there were no proposed changes, but a new Bill was being taken through Parliament that related to older migrants. She explained that a consultation was taking place on the new Bill, but that it was a contentious area. She highlighted that only experienced social workers would undertake age assessments and the interviews were highly technical. She commented that there was currently some pushback regarding using dental x-rays to determine age, as this could be subject to a legal challenge. She stated that every age assessment went through two layers of social work expertise and a risk assessment was carried out on every UASC.

Councillor Ralph questioned how effective the team were at tracking missing UASC. The Strategic Lead Looked After Children and Aftercare replied that missing UASC were tracked through regular UASC meetings, but the responsibility to find a missing person was with the police. She stated that the team would make sure all the necessary agencies, such as the police, the Home Office, and immigration were aware if any UASC went missing.

The Chair stated due to the time limit of the venue, the rest of the discussion on the item would need to be deferred to the next appropriate Committee meeting.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Noted the work of officers in relation to Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) presenting to Thurrock.

2. Are aware Corporate Parenting Responsibilities extend to (UASC)