Liverpool City Council failed to follow long-established guidance when social workers who had no specific training assessed the age of an unaccompanied asylum-seeking girl.
The Ombudsman said: “As a consequence of being assessed as an adult … a child of 15 suffered the injustice of being denied for more than 15 months the local authority care and support that she needed.”
‘Miss T’ (real names not given for legal reasons) was a citizen of the Cameroon. She arrived in Liverpool and claimed asylum as a child. The Home Office asked the Council to assess her for age. The Council’s age assessment of Miss T omitted important aspects and then failed to give adequate reasons for its decision that she was over 18 and so not entitled to support and services as a child in need.
A later, properly-conducted assessment by a different council assessed Miss T as being 16. This assessment was proven to be accurate by official papers subsequently obtained from her country of origin. By this time she had been without care services for over 15 months, was pregnant and receiving therapy for sexual abuse and having been subjected to witchcraft practices.
The Ombudsman found faults in the way that the Council conducted the assessment:
- Miss T’s ethnicity, culture and customs were not a key focus;
- the assessors did not consider whether a medical opinion might have been helpful when Miss T claimed to be under 15 and the assessors thought she could be as old as 23;
- no consideration was given to whether other professional input was needed;
- apparent inconsistencies in Miss T’s story appear to have influenced the judgement without her having the opportunity to clarify matters; and
- the assessors speculated about matters but did not ask Miss T for further information.
Miss T suffered the injustice of:
- loss of care services that she needed and was entitled to receive; and
- stress and uncertainly while she was a child in making appeals against decisions to deport her.
The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and was pleased that, in accordance with her recommendations, the Council agreed to pay Miss T £5,000 in recognition of this injustice and to review a sample of 10 per cent of its age assessments of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Remedy agreed with Council prior to publication: 24 March 2010