Toggle Contrast
Top of Page

7.8 Children from Abroad

Show amendments

This policy is currently under review


In March 2015, 8.5.13, Independent Family Returns Panel was added and the chapter was updated to reflect Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on the Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children (2014) in particular age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child and should not be a routine part of a local authority’s assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children.




Large numbers of children arrive into this country from overseas every day. Many do so legally in the care of their parents and raise no concerns for statutory agencies. However, recent evidence indicates that some children are arriving into the UK:

  • In the care of adults who have no Parental Responsibility for them;
  • In the care of adults who have no documents to demonstrate a relationship with the child;
  • Alone;
  • In the care of agents.

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


The possibility that some of these children are, in fact, Privately Fostered should be borne in mind.


A small number of these children may be exposed to the additional risk of commercial, sexual or domestic exploitation.


Immigration legislation impacts significantly on work under the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from abroad.


The regulations and legislation in this area of work are complex and subject to constant change through legal challenge etc. Social workers will usually require legal advice on individual cases.



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

  • Understand the issues which can make children from abroad particularly vulnerable;
  • Identify children from abroad who may be in need of protection;
  • Know what action to take in accordance with their responsibilities.

Whilst these procedures do touch on the wider safeguarding agenda, the focus is primarily on child protection, and on those children who are unaccompanied or who are accompanied or met by adults who have no documents to demonstrate their relationship with the child. See also Trafficked Children Procedure where there is concern about trafficking.



The 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 are:

  • 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 children in need unless assessment indicates that this is not the case;
  • Assessment of need should include a separate discussion with the child in a setting where, as far as possible, (s)he feels 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;
  • The need to actively seek out information from other sources;
  • An avoidance of 'interrogating' the child.

Status of Children who Arrive from Abroad


Children who arrive in the UK alone or who are left at a port of entry by an agent invariably have no right of entry and are unlawfully present. They are likely to be in a position to claim asylum and this should be arranged as soon as possible if appropriate. Such children are the responsibility of Children's Social Care to support until they are 18 years of age, under Section 17 or Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. If their asylum claim is not resolved before they reach 18 years old, support after that age is provided by the UK Visas and Immigration


Children who arrive in the UK with, or to be with carers without Parental Responsibility may have leave to enter or visas, or may be in the UK unlawfully. Children's Social Care may have responsibilities towards them under the Private Fostering Regulations. If the child is assessed to be in need, support can be provided by Children's Social Care for the child, and may also be provided for the family if otherwise the family would be destitute. If close relatives care for the child, the children will not come within the definition of Privately Fostered and private fostering regulations will not apply.


Some children who arrive in the UK with their parents belong to families of EEA nationals migrating into the UK. Such families cannot be supported by Children's Social Care except for the provision of return travel (and associated accommodation). If such families decide to stay and seek further help, Children's Social Care still has responsibilities towards any child who is in need, including the provision of accommodation for the child. Department of Work and Pension practice is to declare such families ordinarily resident after 3 months and to pay benefits. Housing Department practice is to consider housing after 6 months. Children's social care remains in the position that services may only be provided direct to the child alone.

Independent Family Returns Panel


Under s. 54A Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 (inserted by s.3 Immigration Act 2014), the Secretary of State must consult the Independent Family Returns Panel in each family returns case, on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children of the family, and in each case where the Secretary of State proposes to detain a family in pre-departure accommodation, on the suitability of so doing, having particular regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children of the family.

A family returns case is a case where a child who is living in the United Kingdom is to be removed from or required to leave the United Kingdom, together with their parent/carer. 

Pre-departure accommodation is a secure facility designed to be used as a last resort where families fail to co-operate with other options to leave the UK, such as the offer of assisted voluntary return.

The Panel may request information in order that any return plan for a particular family has taken into account any information held by other agencies that relates to safeguarding, welfare or child protection. In particular a social worker or manager from Children’s Social Work Services may be invited to contribute to the Panel.

Identification and Initial Action


Whenever any professional comes across a child who they believe has recently moved into this country, confirmation of the following basic information should be sought (in an unthreatening way as possible):

  • Child's identity and immigration status;
  • Carer's relationship with the child and her/his immigration status;
  • Child's health and education arrangements in this county.

If this information indicates that the child has come from overseas and is being cared for by an unrelated adult or one whose relationship is uncertain, Children's Social Care should be notified in order that an assessment can be undertaken.


The immigration status of a child and his/her family has implications for the statutory responsibilities towards the family. It governs what help, if any, can be provided to the family and how help can be offered to the child.


Where families are subject to immigration legislation that precludes support to the family many will disappear into the community and wait until benefits can be awarded to them. During this interim period the children may suffer particular hardship - e.g. live in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions and with no access to health or educational services. They are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because of their circumstances.

Establishing the Child's Identity and Age


Age is central to the assessment and affects the child's rights to services and the response by agencies. In addition it is important to establish age and development so that services are appropriate.


Unaccompanied children very rarely have possession of any documents to confirm their age or identity and physical appearance may not necessarily reflect her/his age.Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on the Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children (2014) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, they are presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with Article 10(3) of the European Convention on action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. Age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child. Age assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority’s assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children.


Here an assessment of age is conducted, it must be Merton Compliant. Assessment of age is a complex task, often relying on professional judgement and discretion. The advice of a paediatrician with experience in considering age may be needed to assist in the context of a holistic assessment. Such assessment may be compounded by issues of disability. Moreover, many societies do not place a high level of importance upon age and it may also be calculated in different ways. Some young people may genuinely not know their age and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks may exceed or fall short of our expectations of a child of the same age in this country.

Parental Responsibility


In some cultures child rearing is a shared responsibility between relatives and members of the community. Adults may bring children to this country whom they have cared for most of their lives, but who may be unrelated or 'distantly' related and for whom they do not have 'Parental Responsibility'.


An adult whose own immigration status is unresolved cannot apply for a Child Arrangements Order to secure a child for whom (s)he is caring.


Children, whose parents' whereabouts are not known, have no access to their parents for consent when making important choices about their life. Whilst their parents still have Parental Responsibility they have no way of exercising it.


Children who do not have someone with Parental Responsibility caring for them can still attend school, and schools should be pragmatic in allowing the carer to make most decisions normally made by the parent. Such children are entitled to health care and have a right to be registered with a GP. If there are difficulties in accessing a GP, the local Patient's Services should be contacted to assist.


Emergency life-saving treatment should be given if required. Should the child need medical treatment such as surgery or invasive treatment in a non life-threatening situation, the need for consent would become an issue and legal advice required.


Carers / parents are not eligible to claim benefits for their child unless they have both been granted some form of 'leave to remain' in this country by the Home Office.

How to Seek Information from Abroad


Seeking information from abroad should be a routine part of assessing the situation of an unaccompanied child. Professionals from all key agencies should request information from their equivalent agencies in the country/ies) in which a child has lived, in order to gain as full as possible a picture of the child's preceding circumstances.


It is worth noting that agencies abroad tend to respond quicker to e-mail requests / faxed requests than by letter and the internet may provide a quick source of information to locate appropriate services abroad (see National Contacts for possible sources of information).



Any unaccompanied child or child accompanied by someone who does not have Parental Responsibility should receive a Child and Family Assessment in order to determine whether they are a child in need of services, including the need for protection.


Such children should be assessed as a matter of urgency as they may be very geographically mobile and their vulnerabilities may be greater. All agencies should enable the child to be quickly linked into universal services, which can begin to address educational and health needs.


Assessment of children from abroad can use the Assessment Framework, provided that it is recognised that the assessment has to address the barriers that arise from cultural, linguistic and religious differences and particular sensitivities arising from their own individual experiences. The needs of the child have to be considered based on an account given by the child or family about a situation which the professional has not witnessed, experienced and is often presented in a different language. An interpreter in the child's first language must be employed and care taken to ensure the interpreter knows the correct dialect. If also professionally trained, the interpreter may be a source of information about traditions, politics and history of the originating area. They may be able to advise on issues like the interpretation of body language and emotional expression.


The first task of the initial contact is engagement. Open questions are most helpful, with a clear emphasis on reassurance and simple explanations of the role and reasons for assessment.


Particular sensitivities which may be present include:

  • Concerns around immigration status and fear of repatriation;
  • Anxiety raised by yet another professional asking similar questions to ones previously asked and not understanding why an assessment needs to be carried out;
  • Lack of understanding of the separate role of Children's Social Care and that it is not an extension of the Police;
  • Previous experience of being asked questions under threat or torture, or seeing that happen to someone else;
  • Past Trauma: previous living situation and the journey itself;
  • Past Regime: experiences can impact upon the child's mental and physical health - this experience can make current concerns about minor injury or poor living conditions seem trivial and this mismatch may add to the fear and uncertainty;
  • The shock of arrival: the alien culture, system and language can affect the mood, behaviour and presentation.

In such circumstances reluctance to divulge information, fear, confusion or memory loss can easily be mistaken for lack of co-operation, deliberate withholding of information or untruthfulness. The Assessment should take account of any particular psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child, and any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them.


Within the first contact with the child and carer(s), it is vital not to presume that the child's views are the same as their carer, or that the views and needs of each child are the same. Seeing each child alone is crucial, particularly to check out the stated relationships with the person accompanying them.


The ethnicity, culture, customs and identity of the child, must be a focus whilst keeping the child central to the assessment. The pace of the interviewing of a child should aim to be at the pace appropriate to the child, although the need to ensure that the child is safe may become paramount in some circumstances.

The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.

 In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.



Assessment of the child's developmental needs should take into account:

  • Health, behaviour and social presentation can be affected by trauma and loss;
  • Famine and poverty can have an impact upon development;
  • Wider health needs of child and carer may need to be considered, including HIV, Hepatitis B and C and TB;
  • Meaning of education to this child;
  • Self care skills cannot be compared to a child of the same age in this country and may be competent in some areas and not others due to their individual experiences e.g. if they looked after themselves on the journey; previously worked or involved in armed conflict; loss of a parent can enhance or deprive a child of certain skills; surviving extreme adversity can result in a child who is either deeply troubled or both resourceful and resilient;
  • Identity issues: what is their sense of themselves, their family, community, tribe, race, history?
  • Physical appearance can be affected by life experience, trauma, lack of nourishment;
  • Perceptions of what constitutes disability are relative and attitudes towards disabled children may be very different;
  • Impact of racism on the child's self image and circumstances.

The assessment of parenting capacity should take into account:

  • Impact of war, famine and persecution on mobility: the stability of the family unit might be more important to the child than stability of place;
  • The fact that a child seems to have been given up by a parent may not imply rejection, as the motive may have been to keep the child safe or seek better life chances;
  • Talking about parents / family can be stressful and painful - as can not being given the chance to do so regularly;
  • Importance of the extended family / community;
  • Possibility of contacting a parent who is living abroad - this needs to be actively pursued;
  • Lack of toys for a child may indicate poverty or different cultural norms rather than poor parenting capacity to provide stimulation;
  • The corrosive impact of racism on parenting capacity;
  • The additional issues of parenting a child possibly conceived through rape - including dealing with the negative response of a partner or with the stress of keeping it secret from him.

Where a child is being cared for by carers who do not have clear Parental Responsibility it is important to establish:

  • The carers' ID, immigration status and any previous contact with this or other local authorities / agencies in UK and abroad;
  • How they know the child and exact relationship with parents including details /names about individual family members and how carer knows that child is member of family described;
  • The town or city of origin of the child and a description of the child's family home / surroundings/environment;
  • Why the child has come to this country and any contact with carer prior to arrival in this country;
  • If child stayed with anyone else, or in another area in this country or abroad?
  • If the child's parents are alive or dead, and if alive, their whereabouts;
  • If and why parents sent their child to Britain, if aware the child is with carer, if requested this themselves is there anything in writing, any current contact with the child's parents and if so by what means;
  • Possibility of Children's Social Care contacting the child's parents;
  • Who brought the child into the country, who paid for their passage and which route/transport used;
  • Existence of any other friends or relatives in this country and contact details;
  • Available documentation pertaining to child's identity and nationality;
  • Any letter from Home Office stating individual is carer / guardian, and how decided;
  • Details of carer's own family circumstances;
  • Views of carer, any partner and children on caring for the child, impact on finances, level of responsibility they are prepared to take and for how long;
  • If child has own bedroom.

The possibility that some of these children are, in fact, Privately Fostered should be borne in mind.


The assessment of family and environmental factors should take into account:

  • The importance of economic and social hardship;
  • Family history and functioning may include the loss of previous high status as well as periods of destitution;
  • Different concepts of who are/have been important family members and what responsibility is normally assumed by the whole community, e.g. who a child should reasonably be left with.

Children in Need of Protection


Where assessment indicates that a child may be in need of protection, normal child protection procedures apply, but additional factors need to be taken into account including:

  • Perceptions of authority, the role of the police in particular, and the level of fear which may be generated;
  • Additional implications for a family where deportation is a real threat;
  • Balancing the impact of separation on a child with the likely history of separation / disruption;
  • Judgements about child care practices in the context of such different cultural backgrounds and experiences.

It has been increasingly recognised that children arriving in the UK from abroad are especially vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation (See Trafficked Children Procedure).


A number of factors identified by the Child and Family Assessment may indicate that a child has been trafficked:

  • The child may present as unaccompanied or semi accompanied;
  • The child may go missing;
  • Multiple use of the same address may indicate it is an 'unsafe house' or that it is being used as a sorting house;
  • Contracts, consent and financial inducement with parents may become apparent;
  • The child may hint at threats to family in their home country for non co-operation or disclosure;
  • There may be talk of financial bonds and withholding of documents;
  • Befriending of the vulnerable child;
  • False hopes of improvement in their lives (escaping war, famine, poverty or discrimination).

Children are also trafficked for the purpose of domestic labour. These children may be less obvious, and their use to the family may be more likely to be picked up during a private fostering assessment, or because someone notices that they are living at a house, but not in school etc.


Children, who enter the country, apparently as part of re-unification arrangements, can be particularly vulnerable to domestic exploitation.


As soon as it is identified that a child may be trafficked for either sexual or commercial exploitation, immediate action is required. Planning of the investigation must be undertaken within a Strategy Discussion to ensure that both the safety of this individual child and the investigation of organised criminal activity are addressed.


See Trafficked Children Procedure and Sexual Exploitation Procedure.

lscb-logo 01273 481544
wsscb-logo 0330 222 5296
bhlscb-logo 01273 292379

This page is correct as printed on Monday 17th of January 2022 04:00:00 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.