Age assessments are carried out if a young person who is seeking asylum has their age disputed,: the young person states they are under 18 years old, and the Home Office or the local authority asked for support (including social services) says they think they are over 18 years old.
The young person’s age is important because it determines what support they are entitled to, and whether or not they can be detained, and even forcibly removed to their country of origin or usual residence.
Many young people cannot provide documentary evidence of their age and often have an approximate or unknown date of birth. Sometimes the age assessor tries to use physical evidence to prove age (including the attempted but abandoned controversial dental examinations), which is highly problematic because young people develop in different ways, in different parts of the world, depending on their individual experiences.
The way age assessments have been carried out (and indeed, the fact that they’ve been carried out at all, in some cases) has long been criticised by NGOs and others. You can read Coram Children’s Legal Centre 2013 report on this, which highlights how long, costly and damaging to children the age assessment process is. Read the report here.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has published best practice guidance to assist social workers in undertaking age assessments in England. The guidance was written by a group of specialist social workers and practitioners from local authorities and non-governmental refugee and legal sectors. You might find it useful to read this guidance if you think you haven’t (or someone you are supporting hasn’t) been age-assessed correctly. You can download the guidance here.
Read all about age assessments, and challenges to inappropriate or unlawful assessments, in the Migrant Children’s Project factsheet.
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