3.7 Migrant and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children: Guidance




This guidance should be read alongside the Department for Education’s guidance, Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children (July 2014).


Where a young unaccompanied asylum seeker or migrant child becomes Looked After, the usual procedures relating to Looked After children also apply.



Although the terms asylum seeker and refugee are sometimes used interchangeably, the definition of one’s status within the asylum process is important as this affects the rights and entitlements of the person. The following definitions have been taken from the Refugee Council unless otherwise indicated.


Asylum seeker: An asylum seeker is someone who has lodged an application for protection on the basis of the Refugee Convention or Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


Refugee: A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”. In the UK, refugee status is awarded to someone the Home Office recognises as a refugee as described in the Refugee Convention. A person given refugee status is normally granted leave to remain in the UK for five years, and at the end of that period can apply for indefinite leave to remain.


Unaccompanied children seeking asylum: Unaccompanied children seeking asylum are children, i.e. aged under 18 years, who have applied for asylum in their own right, who are outside their country of origin and are separated from their parents, or from their previous legal/customary primary care giver.


Refused asylum seeker: A refused asylum seeker is someone who has had their application for asylum refused. Where an application for asylum has been refused there may be an opportunity to appeal against the decision. Where opportunities for appeal have been exhausted a refused asylum seeker is compelled to leave the country, either through voluntarily returning home or through forced deportation. For some refused asylum seekers it may not be safe or practical for them to return until conditions in their country change.


Indefinite leave to remain (ILR): ILR or permanent residency (PR) is an immigration status granted to a person who does not hold the right of abode in the UK, but who has been admitted to the UK without any time limit on his or her stay and who is free to take up employment or study, without restriction.


Migrant: The simplest definition of a migrant, based on the dictionary definition, is someone who moves from one country to another in order to live and often to work. An economic migrant is specifically someone who has moved to another country in order to work. Most often, migrants choose to move in order to improve their life, education or to be nearer to family. Although the terms are often confused or used interchangeably, migrants are not the same as refugees and asylum seekers and it is important to understand the difference between them.


Migrant children usually come to the UK as part of a family. When addressing any safeguarding concerns, processionals should respond in the same way as for any other child by following standard procedures. However, professionals should be aware of potential additional considerations. For example, translators or interpreters may be required where English is not the first language of the child/family. In addition, the impact of migration on a child may be something that contributes to their ongoing needs and may need to be considered as part of assessment processes. Professionals should also be alert to challenges that may arise where a family has a complex immigration process or does not have leave to remain in the UK.

Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC)


UASC are asylum-seeking children under the age of 18 who are not living with their parent, relative or guardian in the UK. In most cases, UASC will be referred to local authorities by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) shortly after they arrive in the UK.


Agencies should adopt the same approach to assessing the needs of UASC as they use to assess other children in need in their area (see Neglect Guidance). The child will not have a parent, relative or other suitable adult carer in the UK, and is likely to have to be accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.


The child’s immigration status should not affect the quality of care, support and services that are provided as a result of the assessment of need. Immigration status will, however, have a bearing on the child’s future and very careful thought should therefore be given to the range of services provided to those children that are not granted asylum or long-term leave to remain in the UK – with a view to making sure that these children are equipped for life in their countries of origin, as well as the UK. These considerations should be reflected in the child’s care (or their pathway plan for those aged 16 or over), which will be subject to the same statutory review process, chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer, appropriate for other Looked After children.


In assessing the needs of UASC and providing effective care, local authorities will normally need to build close links with the UKBA ’case owner’ responsible for resolving the child’s immigration status. This should extend to sharing key information necessary to safeguard the child’s welfare, including:

  • information relevant to the assessment of the child’s identity and age (given that most UASC may not have reliable documentary evidence of their age and identity)
  • information that might be relevant to the immigration decision made in respect of the child (where, for example, the child has complex medical needs or is suffering from trauma)
  • information about any efforts to trace family members in the country of origin (many UASC will have lost contact with family members because of the circumstances of their journey to the UK).

Local authority responsibility for unaccompanied children


Local authorities have a number of responsibilities for unaccompanied children in their care. These responsibilities include:

  • corporate guardianship
  • allocation of a named social worker to each unaccompanied child
  • provision of suitable accommodation
  • immigration legal advice – unaccompanied children require support in dealing with immigration questions or proceedings, and this requires specialist input
  • supporting the unaccompanied child’s asylum application – it is particularly important that the local authority works alongside the child’s case manager at the UK Boarder Agency
  • a health plan should include an Initial Health Assessment, including assessment of physical, emotional and mental health
  • a personal education plan should be produced – if English is not the first language of the child, the education plan should include access to English language skills training, as well as opportunities to develop literacy in skills in the child’s mother tongue
  • rights of care leavers – immigration status does not affect the obligation on local authority to provide support to young people who are leaving care; unaccompanied children are entitled to the same care leaver’s support as any indigenous looked after child, as outlined in the Children’s Act 1989.

Where a referral/assessment identifies that a young unaccompanied asylum seeker is in need of services, the child/young person should be provided with information about the services available to them from the local authority and other agencies.


A child in this situation is likely to be a long way from home and family, and feel isolated from their peers, especially if English is not their first language. An independent visitor could help bridge this gap and offer informal support. The child should be offered an independent visitor, ensuring they understand the role the independent visitor could play in providing support and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any independent visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs of unaccompanied children.


The child will also be given assistance to register with a GP and dentist, and enrol in a local school or college. An interpreter should be booked to accompany the young person to appointments with the GP, where necessary.


Where a child’s needs are for independent or semi-independent accommodation, and the social care manager agrees, assistance should be given with completion of the necessary housing application.


Where the assessment identifies that a young unaccompanied asylum seeker needs to be Looked After, all the procedures in relation to care plans, health care plans, personal education plans and placement plans must be completed.


All young unaccompanied asylum seekers who are eligible for a service will be entitled to financial assistance which must first be authorised by the social care manager. The social worker should arrange for payment of the relevant amounts in accordance with the local authority's detailed financial procedures.


Travel cards or warrants will be issued to unaccompanied young asylum seekers in relation to appointments at the Home Office.


In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.


Further information is available from the Department for Education.

Education Plan


The education plan should include a clear education pathway for securing high-quality education provision in school or other education setting, and details of the particular support the child may need, for example, where the child has a special educational need. With children for whom English is not their first language, this may also include support both to learn English and to develop literacy skills in their mother tongue.


In order to plan appropriately for the future of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, it will be necessary for their social worker or personal adviser to seek up-to-date information on the progress of their asylum case from the UK. It should not be assumed that a child will remain permanently in the UK unless and until they have been granted British nationality, refugee status or indefinite leave to remain. Opportunities available in the country of origin should be addressed in the care or pathway plan review to prepare for the eventuality that the child may decide to, or be required to, return to their country of origin.


Where there are safeguarding concerns relating to the care and welfare of UASC, these must be investigated in line with the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board procedures, in the same way as any other Looked After child.

Entitlement to healthcare


Entitlement to healthcare varies depending on age, and on the status of someone’s asylum application. The healthcare to which unaccompanied children are entitled is listed below.

  • Primary care: Universal access without charge.
  • Prescription charges: All unaccompanied children aged under 16 years are exempt from prescription charges following completion of a HC2 certificate. Unaccompanied children aged 16–19 years can also access exemption from prescription charges through initial completion of a HC1 certificate by the local authority.
  • Dental services: As per prescription charges.
  • Assessment of eyesight: As per prescription charges.
  • Secondary care: For any person who has an ongoing asylum application, or has been granted refugee status, entitlement to NHS secondary care is the same as for a UK citizen, i.e. full access without charge. It is common practice in the UK that the final decision on an asylum application in an unaccompanied child is deferred until the child is aged 17.5 years. Therefore the majority of unaccompanied children will have full access to secondary care pending a decision on their asylum application.
  • Maternity care: Unaccompanied children are entitled to free antenatal, maternity and postnatal care, where this is necessary. If an asylum application has been refused maternity care qualifies as ‘immediately necessary’, and therefore should be provided to all women who require this regardless of ability to pay.

Age Assessment


Age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that they are a child. Age assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority’s assessment of unaccompanied children. Where age assessments are conducted, they must be Merton compliant.


Age assessments cannot be concluded with absolute certainty as there is not any current method that can determine age with 100% accuracy. The only exception to that is if there is definitive documentary evidence, such as a clear history of birth, school records, or other documentation which you accept as valid and authentic. Where definitive evidence is not available, the benefit of the doubt should be granted to children and young people presenting as such. In borderline cases, it may not be suitable to place older young people in foster placements with children.


The assessment of age is a complex task, which usually involves a face-to-face meeting and often relies on professional judgement and discretion. Such assessment may be compounded by issues of disability. Some young people may genuinely not know their age and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks may exceed or fall short of our expectations of a child of the same age in this country.


When conducting age assessments, social workers should be aware of possible indicators of human trafficking or any other safeguarding issues, and take appropriate action to safeguard a child or young person if this is identified during the interviews. It is also important to remember that the age assessment process is separate from determining an asylum application; it is not the role of the social worker to determine a child or young person’s immigration status.


Further information is available from the ADCS.

Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance

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