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BASW statement: PEHR Committee reaffirm the Association’s age assessment advice for social work professionals

BASW’s Policy, Ethics and Human Rights (PEHR) Committee has reaffirmed the Association’s existing position statement with regard to the age determination of age-disputed young people. The review, prompted by recent developments, commended the position statement’s emphasis on multi-agency working to the profession.

Since the publication of this statement last year, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADAS) has also published Age Assessment Guidance directed at social workers, which seeks to set out best practice for social workers conducting age assessments.

Discussing the available guidance for professionals, BASW’s PEHR Committee Vice-Chair Beverley Prevatt-Goldstein, stated:

“There is a world of difference between multi-agency guidance and a multi-agency approach. A large number of agencies lending weight to the idea that social workers should go it alone does not turn this into best practice.

“Our position remains that best practice means social workers should not undertake age assessment alone.

“We have also noted that the Court of Appeal of England and Wales in November 2015 raised a query in regard to whether the existing guidance on the need for ‘two workers’ necessarily meant two social workers. We welcome the opening up of this debate and would offer the answer that ‘two social workers’ is not a safe approach.”

The PEHR Committee also noted recent commentary published by Community Care, and responded to by BASW England's Professional Officer Karen Goodman.

The commentary, in which Richard Ross calls into question the ‘benefit of the doubt’ principle, advocates that the benefit of the doubt about a service user's age should be given to the service user. This principle is held within BASW's existing position statement and the PEHR Committee further noted that this principle draws on best practice set out in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) Guidance on Child Asylum Claims.

The UNHCR Guidance goes so far as to refer to, “a liberal application of the benefit of the doubt” (paragraph 73), leading BASW’s PEHR Committee to reaffirm its position on this also.

PEHR Committee members took the opportunity to confirm the Association's on-going commitment to providing all necessary support and assistance to social workers that encounter difficulties when they seek to practice within the framework laid out by BASW’s ethical and best practice guidelines.

The Association plans to continue to actively promote its work on age determination with advice to its members as to the ethical and best practice response in this contested area.

Click here to review BASW’s advice for membership on age determination.