CARAS Head of Casework Molly Abraham (also a qualified social worker) wrote a series of tweets for Social Workers without Borders on some recent changes related to age assessment. CARAS supports many young people facing this aspect of the hostile environment.

There have been a lot of changes regarding age assessment over the past two weeks, these will undoubtedly lead to increased safeguarding risks for young people. It’s really important that front-line social workers are aware of these so here is our summary:

Until 14th January when a person said they were a child the Home Office had to take this into consideration unless they felt sure the person’s ‘appearance and demeanour’ suggested they were ‘significantly over 25’. This has been the case since a hard-fought policy change in 2019.

Where Home Office officials thought a person was an adult but were unsure they were over 25, they could refer them to social workers, employed by the Home Office, who completed ‘short-form’ age assessments, often lasting less than an hour. These assessments did not have any of the normal safeguards developed for doing age assessments and often happened before people had a chance to recover from their journey.

Many, many young people underwent these assessments, 238 occurred over three months in the summer of 2021 alone.

These ‘short-form’ assessments were ruled unlawful by the high court on the 19th January.

In response to this, the Home Office withdrew its guidance for short-form assessments and Home Office employed Social Workers are no longer doing these assessments at the port.

Cynically, it also changed its policy to say Home Office officials could treat someone as an adult if they felt sure their ‘appearance and demeanor’ suggested they were significantly over 18.

This has been done even though the Joint Council of Human Rights just this week released a report advising the gov’t of ‘the severe consequence of mistakenly treating a child as an adult’ that a ‘lowering of the threshold would increase the risk of wrongly identifying a child as an adult’ and that it is ‘imperative that the threshold test minimises as far as possible the risk’


Organisations working with young refugees have already been reporting that they are seeing significant numbers of children who have been deemed to be over 18 by the Home Office, without age assessments are done, living in adult home office accommodation.

The lowering of the threshold (from 25 to 18) means that many more children will be wrongly assessed as adults on appearance alone, by Home Office officials, and put into unsafe adult accommodation with no support, no safeguarding and no access to services such as education.

For social workers, especially those in MASH teams, it may mean an increase in referrals to children’s services in areas with Home Office accommodation, as these children become known to voluntary organisations.

If you see this in your local authority consider this – it is NOT that more people are ‘claiming’ to be children – it is that the safeguards that meant children were given the benefit of the doubt at the border have been ripped away.

Molly Abraham
Head of Casework Services