Guidance for professionals helping children and young people

a project worker speaking to a teenage boy

Local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are ‘in need’ in their area under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. A child can be considered in need if they are:

  • Unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by a local authority.
  • Their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision of services.
  • They are disabled.

Children are always eligible for support

The duty to support children extends to parents or other family members if it is in the best interests of the child. This includes parents who are failed asylum seekers and no longer entitled to local authority support in their own right. Children are always eligible for support under the Children Act regardless of their immigration status.

If a person is eligible for support under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act then they or their dependents will be excluded for support under the Children Act.

However, if they cannot claim for this support they may be eligible for local authority support. If a young person is under 18 they should never be excluded from support and the local authority may also have a duty to continue to support them once they turn 18. A child whose parents are failed asylum seekers is still entitled to support under the Children Act.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children 

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are some of the most vulnerable children in the country. Unaccompanied children are alone, in an unfamiliar country and are likely to be surrounded by people unable to speak their first language.

They 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 of their right to have a childhood. 

The local authority providing for their care has a duty to protect and support these highly vulnerable children. Because of the circumstances they have faced, unaccompanied 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. It will be most effective where this support is provided through a stable, continuous relationship with the child. 

Local authorities are responsible for supporting children who are unaccompanied i.e. those who have arrived in the UK alone. If a child has been supported by a local authority as an unaccompanied minor they should continue to provide support after they turn 18 under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000. The local authority should carry out a needs assessment for support up to the age of 21 or 24 if they continue in education.

The Department for Education has set out statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children

Inappropriate caring responsibilities 

Any child who takes on inappropriate caring responsibilities is entitled to an assessment of needs from the local authority.

A local authority in England must assess whether a young carer within their area has needs for support and, if so, what those needs are. A local authority must act if it appears that the young carer may have needs for support, or they receive a request from the young carer or a parent of the young carer to assess the their needs for support.

Key points to remember

  • A referral for any young carer should automatically trigger an assessment or review of the needs of the person who is ill or disabled
  • Assessments for ill or disabled adults should always ask the question ‘are there any children or young people in the family who may be acting as carers?’
  • Always refer to the Whole Family Pathway for good practice guidance when assessing the needs of the whole family.

An assessment of family circumstances is essential. Young carers in refugee and asylum seeking families should not be expected to carry inappropriate levels of caring which have an adverse impact on their development and life chances. It should not be assumed that children should take on similar levels of caring responsibilities as adults.

Guidance from the Local Government Association

  • The Care Act and Whole-Family Approaches - Sets out best practice approaches to thinking 'whole family' in assessment, planning and review processes
  • No Wrong Doors: Working together to support young carers and their families - A resource to promote joint working between adult’s and children’s social care services and enhanced partnership working with health and third sector partnerships
  • Young Carers’ Needs Assessment - Provides supporting information for use in conjunction with the 'No wrong doors' template for a local memorandum of understanding on work with young carers.

Further support

There is more detailed guidance available related to: