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2.10 Looked After Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children


This policy relates to the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) and trafficked children. It includes guidance from the Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on the Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children (2014). Where there are concerns about children being trafficked from overseas the London Child Protection Procedures, Safeguarding Children Practice Guidance must also be followed.


Modern Slavery Act 2015


Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, November 2017


In February 2023 the chapter was amended to include information from the National Transfer Scheme Protocol for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.

This chapter is currently under review.


  1. Introduction
  2. Referral Process for UASC
  3. Claiming Asylum 
  4. Assessment Process
  5. Referral to the National Referral Mechanism
  6. Care Planning
  7. Protection
  8. Planning Transition to Adulthood
  9. Immigration Status and Transition Planning
  10. Age Assessment Guidance

1. Introduction

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) and child victims of human trafficking are some of the most vulnerable children in the country. Unaccompanied children are often alone, in an unfamiliar country and are likely to be surrounded by people unable to speak their first language. Trafficked children can be at risk of returning to their traffickers and of further exploitation for sex, forced labour, domestic servitude, criminal activities etc. Both groups may have experienced emotional trauma in their country of birth, in their journey to the UK or through their treatment by adults in the UK. They are likely to be uncertain or unaware of who to trust and of their rights. They may be unaware and have no experience of their right to have a childhood.

In February 2022, the Home Office announced that participation in the National Transfer Scheme is to become mandatory for all councils with responsibility for Children's Services. The Home Office will take into account a range of factors when deciding the number of children that will be allocated to a specific local authority including the proportion of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

The local authority providing for their care has a duty to protect and support these highly vulnerable children. Their experiences and circumstances often mean that unaccompanied and trafficked children often have complex needs in addition to those faced by looked after children more generally. The special support required to address these needs must begin as soon as the child becomes looked after by the local authority. Support is most effective when provided through a stable, safe and continuous relationship with the child.

2. Referral Process for UASC

  1. UASC can present at Children’s Service Contact team, at Elwood Street, or through a local solicitor or via the Croydon Rota referral system. If a young person presents at Upper Street, the social worker should contact business support in CLA on 8672 who will allocate the case to the team on duty;
  2. If the young person presents elsewhere arrangements should be made for the young person to be brought to Elwood Street;
  3. If the young person is 16+ and is in the UK to claim asylum, and has not come to Islington via the Croydon Rota referral system, s/he should be sent to the Home Office before 1pm using an escort from the fostering sessional service–that the young person will be returned. Alert Croydon by email:;
  4. If it is too late in the day, contact the placement team for an overnight placement. Undertake a risk assessment if the young person’s presentation appears much older;
  5. Arrange for the young person to be taken to the Home Office the following day. Provide a letter of introduction to both young person and the escort. Pay for transport costs and lunch for the young person;
  6. If under 16 years of age, the young person becomes our responsibility and will need to be accommodated under Section 20. Inform the Operational Manager Children Looked After (CLA);
  7. Send email alerts to the placement team, S&QA, Virtual school (if within school age) and Health;
  8. Make the young person a looked after child on ICS;
  9. Because so little is often known about such children, assessment of his/her situation and presentation of the child/young person is particularly important. Information about their country of origin, family situation etc. can be very helpful in making a decision about the most appropriate accommodation;
  10. In terms of safe practice the first choice should always be to place such children and young people in foster care, unless there are doubts about the claimed age or from your assessment of the situation, you feel that placing them in a family could present risks or your assessment indicates semi-independent accommodation suitable as the young person has the skills with support to manage appropriately and safely in such an environment;
  11. The case will be allocated and arrangements made for a placement agreement meeting and for the young person to be interviewed whilst undertaking a single assessment with an appropriate interpreter;
  12. Use available interpreting services;
  13. No assumptions should be made about the child’s language skills. Where interpreters are required, they should be appropriately trained to understand the particular issues the child may face. In particular, “trafficking” as a concept may not translate literally or easily, and may need to be expressed in a different way to ensure the child fully comprehends their situation. Care should be taken and appropriate checks made to ensure that the interpreter is not linked in any way with those who may have been involved in their trafficking or exploitation.

Rota referral from Croydon: 16+ clients who have already made a claim

A referral will be sent to the team administrators via the rota system. A transport form should be completed with details of when the child is to be brought to Elwood - this should be done within 5 working days.

Business support in CLA 3 needs to then alert a Finance Officer, by email with the name and Home Office reference number of the young person.

Out of hours

If the child present out of hours, (i.e. evenings, weekends) the Local Authority is expected to accommodate them and accompany them the following working day to UKBA in Croydon.

3. Claiming Asylum

Arrange an appointment for the young person with an immigration solicitor if the young person’s aim is to make an asylum claim / humanitarian claim.

Social workers should use the solicitor, Michael Hanley ( at Immigration Law (Wilson Solicitors). This solicitor has been recommended by Islington’s Legal department and is a specialist in immigration.

If there is any delay in locating a solicitor, the social worker needs to complete a Home Office claim form with information from the assessment and forward this to the Home Office who will send an appointment through the post for the young person to present to make a claim.

The young person must have an appropriate adult when attending the Home Office at all times. If the foster carer is unable to attend, the child’ social worker.

4. Assessment Process

The assessment conducted as the first step in the care planning process must be made with reference to the child’s needs as an unaccompanied or trafficked child. This means that particular account must be taken through the assessment of any specific needs the child has i.e. their experiences in their country of origin (conflict, abuse, persecution), their journey to the UK, abuse from traffickers or exploitation as a consequence of being trafficked.

Where a child has been trafficked, the assessment should be carried out immediately, as the opportunity to intervene may be very narrow. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 48 hours. Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any assessment takes place and considering the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately. The location of the child should not be divulged to any enquirers until their identity and relationship with the child has been established (if necessary, with the help of police and immigration services). Click here for the Child Protection Practice Guidance.

The assessment should ascertain any particular psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child. Research suggests that around 95% of all victim of trafficking will have experienced some form of abuse as a result of their trafficking experience. The consequences of these experiences can be severe and traumatic. They should be noted, along with any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them. As with any child, the assessment should also cover the child’s needs in relation to their health, disability, education, religious persuasion, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background.

The assessment should establish that the child fully understands their situation and how they will be supported. This includes ensuring they understand the risks they may face, particularly from traffickers. An assessment of their continued vulnerability to the influence or control of their traffickers and the risks of them going missing from care should be recorded and kept under review.

The assessment should also establish whether the child knows where they are (for example, children trafficked from overseas may have been told by their traffickers that they are in a country other than the UK). For unaccompanied children and children trafficked from overseas, the assessment should understand the child’s reasons for coming to the UK. The roles of those involved in their care should be explained. In particular, where border and immigration officials are involved it should be made clear that they have a separate role from those who provide for their care.

The local authority’s duties to looked after children under the Children Act 1989 apply equally to unaccompanied or trafficked children who are looked after. This includes the duties to return a looked after child to their family, and to promote contact between the child and their parents. Planning for permanence should therefore include consideration of re-unification with the child’s birth family where appropriate and where possible.

In deciding whether it is appropriate to initiate contact with an unaccompanied child’s family, child protection considerations will be paramount. The child’s family may have been complicit in trafficking, exploiting or subjecting the child to forms of persecution such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage or involvement in armed conflict. The wishes and feelings of the child will be important in establishing the steps to take when undertaking family tracing.

Regulation 6 of the Asylum Seekers (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005 places a positive duty on the Secretary of State for the Home Department to endeavour to trace the members of a child’s family as soon as possible after they make their claim for asylum, while ensuring those enquires are conducted in a way that does not jeopardise the safety of the child or their family. The Home Office will liaise with the authority where and when they believe it is appropriate to initiate tracing efforts beyond the collection of information from the child and UK governmental records. Children should always be informed, if family tracing is being undertaken or commissioned on their behalf.

Unaccompanied and trafficked children may have experienced or witnessed extreme trauma which is difficult for them to recount. Throughout the child’s assessment, steps should be taken to minimise distress caused by asking children to repeat information they may already have provided, for example, to border officials, police or social care staff assessing their child safeguarding needs.

5. Referral to the National Referral Mechanism

In accordance with the requirements of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the UK has a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for identifying and recording victims of trafficking; ensuring that they receive appropriate support wherever they are in the UK (though the NRM does not itself provide that support). In cases where a child displays indicators that they may have been trafficked, whether from overseas or within the UK, social workers or other front line professionals should refer the case to the relevant competent authority by sending the child’s NRM referral form to the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC).

For more information on referring to the NRM, see The National Referral Mechanism (ECPAT). Referral forms are available at Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery, they also provide a comprehensive list of indicators of children who may have been trafficked.

Further guidance can be obtained from the CSE, Missing and Child Trafficking Coordinator.

6. Care Planning

If a child is an unaccompanied asylum seeking child or there is reason to believe they are a victim of human trafficking, this must be recorded on their care plan. The plan should include a description of how the child’s needs, in relation to being unaccompanied or trafficked, will be met. This is to ensure that everyone involved in providing the child’s care is aware of their circumstances and enable them to respond appropriately to any needs resulting from it. The plan should also note key stages relevant to the child’s evolving asylum or immigration status.

Unaccompanied and trafficked children subject to immigration control will need access to specialised legal advice and support. This will be in relation to immigration and asylum applications, decisions or court proceedings. If they have been trafficked, it may also be in relation to criminal proceedings or compensation claims. The plan should note that legal support is required and how it will be provided. The child’s social worker or carer should arrange for them to be accompanied in all meetings with legal professionals. If external legal support is required or you require further advice on child trafficking and asylum law, please contact the Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC) on 08081077057 or at

As with any looked after child, a health plan and a personal education plan should be produced as part of the overall care plan. The health plan should cover the children’s state of health including physical, emotional and mental health. This should include detail of how any psychological issues will be addressed. For example, these may result from the child’s experiences in their country of origin, on their journey to the UK or at the hands of traffickers in the UK. The health plan should also take into account any developmental or learning difficulties.

Traffickers may have sought to control the child by telling them that their family will come to harm if they do not co-operate. Trafficked children should be provided with on-going support to help them cope with the emotional impact of this kind of coercion. A referral to a specialist mental health assessment and treatment should be considered (Contact the CSE, Missing and Child Trafficking Coordinator for service options and contact details). The health plan should set out the objectives, actions, timescales and responsibilities, arising from the health assessment.

The education plan should include a clear education pathway for securing high quality education provision in school or other education setting and details of particular support the child may need, for example, where the child has a special educational need. With children for whom English is not their first language, this should also include support both to learn English and to develop literacy skills in their mother tongue.

7. Protection

Steps to build a stable and trusting relationship with any child are important to planning for their protection. Children need to be told and feel that they are safe and be supported and enabled to keep themselves safe. Unaccompanied children need to know they will not be removed from the UK before their 18th birthday, and that they would put themselves at risk of harm if they absconded. As part of planning for their protection, the child should be asked about what would help them to feel safe. Involving the child in this way can help them regain a sense of control over their lives. It can also help to build the relationships that can form a protective factor, reducing the risk of the child going missing.

Taking steps that may be perceived by the child as punitive could put them at more risk of going missing. Efforts to protect the child should not replicate those that may have been used by traffickers to control the child. Involving the child in the development of their protection plan can help reduce anxiety and increase their understanding of the support around them.

Placement decisions should take account of protecting the child from any continued risk from traffickers, along with the heightened risk of going missing. An out of area placement might in some cases be appropriate to put distance between the child and where the traffickers expect them to be. Specialist accommodation should be considered, for example, in settings which specialise in dealing with victims of trafficking.

Older children in particular may appear independent but can still lack the skills to keep themselves safe from their traffickers. While it is important that children do not feel they are subject to punitive measures, steps to keep trafficked children safe in their care setting could include, amongst others:

  • Temporarily removing mobile phones to prevent traffickers making contact with children, making sure that you put in place other methods for the child to stay in touch with friends or family if required;
  • Encouraging children to memorise a phone number so that, if they do go missing from care but then find they are at risk, they can contact the local authority or carer;
  • Encouraging safe internet use and where possible, monitoring the child’s online access and use;
  • The assessment of the need for supervision for the child whilst he/she leaves the care setting for the first 4-12 weeks in placement ensuring the child’s room does not allow for easy exit, for example, is on an upper floor;
  • Utilising focus and participation groups that provide mentors and support from young people that have exited trafficking so that they can talk to trafficked children newly taken into care about the risks they face;
  • All residential home staff or foster carers caring for unaccompanied or trafficked children must be aware of any particular risks of them going missing, or of any continued risk to the child from their traffickers. They must also be fully aware of the child’s past experiences and any psychological issues they face. This may include the potential negative impact of protection measures which replicate methods previously used by their traffickers to control the child.

Advocacy and wider support

Throughout all assessment and care planning processes, children should have the opportunity to make their wishes and feelings known. All looked after children must be made aware of their entitlement to independent advocacy support. The local authority should facilitate this access where required. This entitlement is not just for when the child has a complaint, but includes where children need to make representations about their care and support. For unaccompanied and trafficked children, support from an independent advocate could help overcome cultural or language barriers so that they can express their wishes and feelings.

Unaccompanied children and children trafficked from overseas are likely to be a long way from home and family. Children trafficked within the UK that have been taken into care could feel isolated from their peers. An independent visitor could help bridge this gap and provide informal support. The child should be offered an independent visitor, ensuring that they understand the role the independent visitor could play in providing support. If they decline this offer, their reasons for doing so should be recorded. Any independent visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children. Supporting the child to access key services that specialise in the support of trafficked children is important; many services have participation, peer and focus groups that the child can attend and where they can meet other people.

A referral to a specialist therapeutic service should be considered for children whom have experienced exploitation and abuse through trafficking. Many services are free of charge, and will provide assessment and treatment alongside reports that may be useful in informing the care plan and/or to support the child’s NRM/Asylum claim (Contact the CSE, Missing and Child Trafficking Coordinator for service options and contact details).

In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) scheme run by Refugee Action: Choices on behalf of the Home Office. Most unaccompanied asylum seeking children will be eligible to apply for the Assisted Voluntary Returns Families and Children (AVRFC) programme.

Further information on all the schemes is available on the Choices website or via their free phone number: 0808 800 0007.

8. Planning Transition to Adulthood

A child’s immigration status has no bearing on a local authority’s duties to provide care leaving support. Unaccompanied children must be provided with the same support A child’s needs related to being an unaccompanied or trafficked child must be considered in the assessment of needs undertaken as part of the pathway planning process, and by the independent reviewing officer in any review of the pathway plan. For unaccompanied children or children trafficked from overseas, this may include issues relating to their immigration status. For trafficked children, including children trafficked within the UK, this may include assistance in continuing to keep themselves safe from risk of further exploitation or trafficking.

Transition planning will need to consider the challenges and issues facing any care leaver, such as education or preparing for independent living. Planning for a care leaver that has recently entered the UK from overseas may need to cover additional support in understanding the institutions and systems that they will need to deal with in the UK.

Unaccompanied children and children trafficked from overseas can be at particular risk of becoming isolated upon leaving care. When planning for transition, the local authority must ensure that language or cultural factors are taken into account to reduce this risk. A trafficked child may still be at risk of exploitation from their traffickers on leaving care. This risk should be considered, particularly with regard to arranging accommodation.

9. Immigration Status and Transition Planning

Planning transition to adulthood for unaccompanied children is a particularly complex process that needs to address their care needs in the context of wider asylum and immigration legislation and how these needs change over time. Pathway planning to support an unaccompanied child’s transition to adulthood should cover all areas that would be addressed within all care leaver’s plans as well as any additional needs arising from their specific immigration issues.

Planning may have to be based around short-term achievable goals whilst entitlement to remain in the UK is being determined. For the majority of unaccompanied children who do not have permanent immigration status, transition planning should initially take a dual or triple planning perspective, which, over time should be refined as the young person’s immigration status is resolved. Planning cannot pre-empt the outcome of any immigration decision and may be based on:

  • A transitional plan during the period of uncertainty when the care leaver is in the UK without permanent immigration status;
  • A longer-term perspective plan should the care leaver be granted long-term permission to stay in the UK (for example through the grant of Refugee Status);
  • A return to their country of origin at any appropriate point or at the end of the immigration consideration process, should that be necessary because the care leaver decides to leave the UK or is required to do so.

Claiming asylum can be a complex process. Social workers and personal advisors should work with the care leaver’s legal representative and the Home Office decision maker to ensure that the young person understands the process of claiming asylum, the possible outcomes and to provide them with necessary support.

There are four principal possible outcomes of the asylum claim, outlined below.

  1. Granted Refugee Status (i.e. granted asylum). Leave to remain for five years;
  2. Refused asylum but granted Humanitarian Protection. Leave to remain for five years. This is most commonly granted when the person is at some risk of ‘ill-treatment’ in the particular country they left but does not meet the criteria of the Refugee Convention. This is a rare category for unaccompanied children;
  3. Refused asylum but granted Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) Leave. This is normally for 30 months or until the age of 17½, whichever is the shorter period. It enables the child to remain in the UK with immigration status. Before the child reaches that age, they can submit an in-time application for further leave to remain which will be considered;
  4. Refused asylum with no grant of leave. In this case the unaccompanied child must return to their country of origin. This is very unusual as the Home Office will not remove an unaccompanied child without safe and adequate reception arrangements being in place. Appeals and further applications should always be submitted where appropriate by the child's legal advisor.

Those found to require Refugee Status or, more rarely, Humanitarian Protection, are usually granted leave to remain for five years. Although it is not guaranteed that further leave to remain will be granted at the end of the five year period, it is certainly a human rights assessment before deciding to withdraw such support.

Social workers should use the solicitor, Michael Hanley ( at Wilsons Solicitors. This solicitor has been recommended by Islington’s Legal department and is a specialist in immigration.

10. Age Assessment Guidance

Many unaccompanied and trafficked children arrive in the UK without documentation or with fake documents. Where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that the person is a child, that person is 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. Where an age assessment is required, local authorities must adhere to standards established within case law. 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 authorities practice.

Guidance for completing age assessments

  • If an UASC presents at the office late in the day and there is no time to plan and conduct an age assessment then a placement needs to be found regardless. You have 21days to complete the age assessment.


  • When booking an interpreter please ensure they are trained to interpret for children and that they bring with them the conversion chart for the calendar dates;
  • In the event that you do not know and cannot ascertain the language spoken by the UASC, you can call Language Line to assist (discuss with a manager first). However Language Line is NOT TO BE USED for the assessment itself;
  • Interpreters must be present in person for the age assessment, not over the phone, and make a note of questions asked and answers given.

Appropriate Adults and legal advice

  • It is good practice to offer and encourage an UASC to make use of an appropriate adult during their Age Assessment. In Islington this role is carried out by the child’s foster carer;
  • Please ensure the agreement re: roles and responsibilities are signed and a copy given to all before the assessment starts;
  • It is helpful and good practice for the UASC to have legal advice before the Age Assessment, but not helpful to have solicitors at the assessment itself;

Age Assessment Checklist

  • Ensure your age assessment is Merton Compliant;
    • Age cannot be determined solely from appearance;
    • Ensure the purpose of the interview is explained to the UASC (record that this has been done);
    • Follow age assessment template guidelines and ensure that questions elicit background, family and educational circumstances and history, ethnic and cultural matters which may be relevant;
    • Keep some notes and ensure all the notes are copied and given to the UASC at the end of the assessment. They are also to be provided with a copy of the completed age assessment;
    • Be mindful of your lack of familiarity with the UASC’s background;
    • Make your own decision, do not adopt another’s decision e.g. that of the Home Office;
    • Questions of the burden of proof do not apply – UASC is to be given the benefit of the doubt;
    • Medical reports not necessary;
    • Reasons for the decision need to be given;
    • Ask the UASC if they would prefer a male or female assessor, if their wishes cannot be accommodated record what those wishes were and that they could not be accommodated;
  • To support or challenge the information given by the UASC you can research information about their country of origin. Only use reliable sites to gather this info e.g. Human Rights Watch reports, Amnesty International Reports, United States State Department Reports, UNHCR, COIR (Country of Origin Information Reports);
  • If there are info gaps from your assessment do not feel pressurised to make a decision, you can hold another interview. You have 21 days to complete an age assessment.

Sharing the assessment

  • DO NOT under any circumstances send a copy of the assessment to the Home Office (the young person can). If they contact you to ask for it then contact our legal department to inform them of the request;
  • The Home Office do need to be informed of the outcome of the assessment however. This single page is the final page of the Age Assessment template.