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National Age Assessment Board launches despite opposition from campaigners

The new board comprised of specialist social workers will support local authorities and the Home Office to resolve age disputes by conducting age assessments, with the government promising to bring in controversial ‘scientific methods’ at a later date.

03/04/23

National Age Assessment Board launches despite opposition from campaigners

The Home Office has announced the launch of a new National Age Assessment Board to verify the age of asylum seekers arriving in the UK.

The Home Office says the board will bring together a hub of specialist social workers to support local authorities and the Home Office to resolve age disputes by conducting age assessments.

It says the board will set the national standard for age assessments, acting as a centralised team for local authorities and providing expert advice and training to improve the consistency and quality of how age assessments are carried out, the government says.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said cases of asylum-seeking adults pretending to be children “presents a serious safeguarding risk”.

“It is vital we use every tool at our disposal to weed out people falsely claiming to be children so we can prevent abuse of our services and protect children in the UK.”

The controversial launch comes more than a year after plans were originally proposed to introduce so-called ‘scientific methods’ to assess asylum seekers’ ages. Experts at the time questioned the rhetoric of focusing on the danger of adults being assessed as children, rather than the safeguarding concerns about children wrongly being assessed as adults. Campaigners also said that the plans were unethical and ineffective, with no accurate way to determine precise chronological age available at present.

The Home Office says the board will begin by carrying out full Merton-compliant age assessments upon referral from local authorities or on behalf of the Home Office, and “will also use scientific methods once these are brought in.”

The board will begin with a phased rollout in two regions in the UK – London and the West Midlands – before branching out regionally and nationally later this year once recruitment has concluded, which will see around 40 social workers in post.

In opposition to the plans, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) last month urged its members and all social workers to boycott applying for or taking up roles on the board citing concerns over social work values competing with political influence.

“BASW has concerns that, since the NAAB is part of the Home Office and therefore accountable to the Home Secretary, this could lead to age assessment work being influenced by political priorities such as reducing immigration, with worrying implications for child welfare,” the association said in a statement.

BASW Chief Executive, Ruth Allen added: “The Home Office directly employing social workers to carry out age assessments of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is a risk to professional objectivity and could compromise the judgment of social workers.”

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