Poor practice left an unaccompanied child asylum seeker without care and vulnerable to abuse for 15 months when she was wrongly believed to be over 18, according to a report from the Local Government Ombudsman published last week (1 April).
The report states that Liverpool City Council allowed inexperienced social workers with no specific training to assess the age of the girl. The girl who had arrived alone in the UK from Cameroon and claimed asylum as a child, was judged to be over 18 and left without care or support from the local authority for 15 months.
She was later re-assessed by a different council who found her to be 16, and this was shown to be accurate from documents later obtained from her country. By this time she was pregnant and receiving therapy for sexual abuse and having been subjected to witchcraft practices. Liverpool Council has agreed to pay the girl £5,000 and review a sample of 10 per cent of its age assessments of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The Refugee Council is greatly concerned that in many similar age dispute cases the safety of asylum seeking children is often overlooked.
Judith Dennis, Policy Adviser for Unaccompanied Children at the Refugee Council says:
“It is unacceptable that decisions made put a very vulnerable child in danger due to poor practice. We are greatly concerned that the safety of children is all too often disregarded in this way when local authorities judge them to be over 18, and as a result wrongly treat them as adults.
“This case emphasises the need for strong statutory guidance for social workers on age assessments, alongside stringent training on this process. It is also clear there is a serious need for an independent, multi-agency body to conduct assessments, or at the very least to review the results of local authority assessments when complaints are made against them.
“Most importantly, children in this situation must be given the benefit of the doubt. To ensure children’s safety is prioritised unaccompanied children must be treated as children first, and asylum seekers second.”