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Refugees and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children


An unaccompanied asylum seeking child is defined by the Immigration Rules as one who is under 18 years of age when the claim is submitted, is claiming in their own right, has been separated from both parents and is not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so.

Being unaccompanied is not necessarily a permanent status and may change, particularly if the child has family members in the UK.

This page is concerned with children who arrive into the UK: 

  • in the care of adults who, whilst they were their carers, had no parental responsibility for them
  • in the care of adults who had no documents to demonstrate a relationship with the child
  • alone
  • in the care of agents

How unaccompanied migrant children are referred to the local authority and what happens

Children will either be found having arrived in the area and be seeking asylum or their responsibility will transfer from another local authority:

Newly arrived children

  • Will need to be referred to the LA through MASH in the usual way.

  • A Section 47 investigation and trafficking assessment should be started by MASH to consider their safety.

  • They will need a safe place to live and may speak little English.

Children transferring from other Local Authorities

  • May have been in the country for days, weeks or months and are transferring to the LA due to high numbers in other LA’s.

  • Their placement is likely to remain the same but responsibility for the Social Work and payment will transfer to the new authority.

Children living in one area but the responsibility of other Local Authorities

  • Local Authorities sometimes place looked after children outside of their boundary due to a shortage of placements in their area.

  • Some of the looked after children placed on the island by other LA’s are unaccompanied migrant children.

  • The Isle of Wight are responsible for some unaccompanied children who we have placed in other parts of the UK, as placements could not be found for them on the Island.

Those working with unaccompanied migrant children

  • All unaccompanied migrant children will have a social worker and will be looked after children.

  • As Looked after children they will all have an Independent Reviewing Officer and regular reviews.

  • All unaccompanied migrant children will be part of the virtual school and will have a Personal Education Plan.

  • All unaccompanied migrant children will need to have a LAC Health Assessment within the first few weeks of coming into the country and being looked after which will consider both physical and emotional wellbeing.

Considerations when working with unaccompanied migrant children

  • Consider the use of an interpreter especially for complex discussions.
  • Ensure you understand a child’s specific needs and ask them about their normal just as you would for all children – what would they usually eat for lunch, do they eat particular foods, would they like to attend a place of worship, do they pray etc.
  • Be mindful of the trauma they have experienced and take discussions at their pace.
  • Follow their cues, they may find some people more difficult to trust than others, due to their experience. For example some children are scared of uniformed police officers as the police in their own country may have been corrupt.


  • Unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery, including trafficking, can be some of the most vulnerable children in the country.
  • Unaccompanied children are alone, in an unfamiliar country and may be surrounded by people unable to speak their first language. Modern slavery includes human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.
  • Exploitation takes a number of forms, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced criminality, begging, organ harvesting and domestic servitude and victims may come from all walks of life.
  • Any safeguarding concerns should be referred to MASH or a child’s Social Worker as for all other children.

Further information