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Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

Every day children arrive in this country from overseas. Most of these children do so legally in the care of their parents and do not raise any concerns for statutory agencies. However, evidence indicates that a number of children are arriving into the UK:

  • In the care of adults who, whilst they may be their carers, have no Parental Responsibility for them;
  • In the care of adults who have no documents to demonstrate a relationship with the child;
  • Alone; or
  • In the care of agents.

Evidence shows that unaccompanied children or those accompanied by someone, who is not their parent, are particularly vulnerable. These children (and their carers) will need assistance to ensure that the child receives appropriate care and accesses health and education services.

A small number of children who arrive from abroad may be exposed to the additional risk of commercial, sexual or domestic exploitation. For further information please see Safeguarding Children who may have been trafficked and Safeguarding Children and Young People from Child Sexual Exploitation: Policy, Procedures and Guidance.

Many young people who arrive in the UK have their age disputed by the Home Office and Immigration Officials and Kirklees Childrens’ Services are then responsible for undertaking ‘age assessments’ by specially trained social workers. This serves to ensure that where, Immigration Officials have initially deemed that person to be an adult, there is a robust, statutory process to follow to ensure that  (a) there is well evidenced comprehensive assessment of whether that person is an adult or a child and (b) where that person is assessed as being a child he/she is placed in suitable accommodation and brought into the care of the local authority to ensure their needs are met.

Children who arrive in the UK seeking asylum have often endured a harrowing and lengthy journey. Life experiences in their own country often include exposure to violent and brutal regimes which has a significant impact on their emotional and physical wellbeing. Under child looked after procedures they are subject to a full health assessment to identify any unmet needs.

In common with asylum seeking adults, children are also subjected to the same process of claiming asylum and are supported by social workers to access this.

All children who become ‘looked after’ by the local authority are subject to a comprehensive child and family assessment. This provides a holistic consideration of their needs and ensures that where gaps are found they are addressed in a formal care plan.

Asylum seeking children often want to remain in contact with family members still living in their home country although sometimes this is not possible as they cannot be traced. Social workers liaise with voluntary organisations such as the Red Cross who are able to support young people in tracing and locating their family members.

In some instances asylum seeking children have other family members resident in the UK and where this is the case specific assessments are undertaken to determine whether these people could act as carer for them rather than becoming ‘looked after’

Where there is information to suggest that a child has been trafficked or is a victim of modern day slavery, consideration is always given to a referral to the NRM (National Referral Mechanism). Where a child is identified as a victim of this, childrens’ services work in partnership with the Child Trafficking Guardian (Barnados) to ensure they are kept safe and not re-victimised.


The purpose of this guidance is to assist staff in all agencies to:

  • Understand the issues which can make children from abroad particularly vulnerable;
  • Be able to identify children from abroad who may be In Need, including those who may be in need of protection;
  • Be confident of the action they should take in accordance with their responsibilities.


There are some key principles underpinning practice within all agencies in relation to unaccompanied children from abroad or those accompanied by someone who does not hold Parental Responsibility. These are:

  • Never lose sight of the fact that children from abroad are children first – this can often be forgotten in the face of legal and cultural complexities;
  • Children arriving from abroad who are unaccompanied or accompanied by someone who is not their parent, should be assumed to be a Child in Need unless assessment indicates that this is not the case. The assessment of need should include a separate discussion with the child in a setting where, as far as possible, they feel able to talk freely;
  • Assessing the needs of these children is only possible if their legal status, background experiences and culture are understood, including the culture shock of arrival in this country;
  • Workers must be prepared to actively seek out information from other sources;
  • When completing assessments, take care not to “interrogate” the child; and
  • Where interpreters are required, it is important that they are screened and trained.

Useful Information


Working together to welcome Asylum Seekers and Refugees into Kirklees: Directory of Services and Organisations Providing Support (in folder)

Lessons from Serious Case Reviews

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