The report was presented by Janet Simon, Strategic Lead of Children Looked After and outlined the Merton Age Assessment which was carried out on Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC). The assessment was undertaken when the age of an UASC was uncertain and was undertaken by two high level social workers. Paediatric and dental assessments were not to be relied on.
Councillor Spillman asked if there had been many cases of age concerns in which an assessment had to be carried out. Janet Simon answered that there had been 5 cases out of the 98 UASC that had arrived last year and found that some were adults which led to their detainment. Councillor Spillman was relieved to hear a low number of cases and hoped that the age assessments were carried out in an ethical manner.
Councillor Akinbohun queried whether the UASC inflow was high. In answer, Janet Simon said that there had been an influx during July 2018 to October 2018 but the inflow had slowed down in the last few months. Thurrock’s maximum capacity for UASC was 28 and they currently had 30. The Council had an agreement with the Eastern region in which other Local Authorities (LAs) would take some of the UASC to keep each Council’s capacity for UASC down.
On the nature of co-operation, Councillor Spillman questioned whether there were complications with other LAs. Explaining the Eastern region protocol, Janet Simon went on to say the agreement stated LAs would take some cases of UASC if they had not reached their maximum capacity themselves. Adding to this, Sheila Murphy, Assistant Director of Children and Families, said that there were some discussions and queries from LAs in regards to the age of UASC but of all the UASC that had arrived in Thurrock, nearly all had been received by other LAs following protocol. The protocol had been effective since its implementation in 2016. Councillor Spillman went on to question which LA in the Eastern region had the highest number of UASC to which Janet Simon replied that it was Thurrock Council.
Councillor Akinbohun asked if an age assessment had been challenged by other LAs taking in UASC from Thurrock. Confirming there had been challenges, Janet Simon went on to say that Thurrock Council would take the UASC back and reassess. There had also been a young person that had challenged the outcome of the assessment too. Councillor Akinbohun went on to ask who helped the young person to challenge their assessment and whether they received legal aid. Janet Simon explained that if a UASC was deemed to be an adult, they were detained and she believed there were specialist solicitors to help them.
Mentioning a conference, Councillor Akinbohun said she had heard that asylum seekers were given £30 a week to live on and she questioned whether that was enough for them. Janet Simon explained that UASC came into the system to be looked after. Over 18’s were treated as adults and she was unsure of the processes regarding adults as she worked with children.
Following on, Councillor Spillman questioned if adults were entitled to legal aid. Janet Simon was unsure but understood that many solicitors operated on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. However, she would check and feedback to the Committee.
That the Members of the Corporate Parenting Committee noted and provided comment upon the work of officers in relation to Merton Age Assessments of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.