What support can you get from your social worker if you are under 18?
Children’s Services in the area where you live have a duty to look after all young people in their area who are under 18 and who need help. This includes children who have nowhere to live in the UK and those with no parents to look after them.
It does not matter what your immigration status is. This means that even if you have not got permission to stay in the UK, you should still be looked after by Children’s Services.
When you first go to Children’s Services, a social worker will ask you questions so that they can find out what you will need help with in the UK. If you can’t understand everything they say in English, the social worker must get an interpreter.
You can go to the meeting with the social worker on your own but you are allowed to take an adult with you if you like. They should do an initial assessment within a week, and a more detailed one within 45 days. You should be given a copy of what they decide in your own language if you need it.
If you are on your own in the UK without your family you should get:
- Help with money/finances. It should be made clear to you how you will get this money, for example who will give it to you
- Other support and protection, for example, a social worker to help look after you
- Help getting suitable education.
When you are 16, your social worker and other people should help you to plan for your future and what will happen after you turn 18.
For more information, see: Leaving care support
What should you do if your support is not enough?
If you feel you are not getting the right kind of support it is possible to change it. For example, if you are in a hostel but are finding it difficult to prepare your own meals, you might prefer to be in a foster care family. You should tell your social worker if there is anything that you are unhappy about and your social worker should take your wishes and feelings into consideration.
If you have any problems, it might be helpful to talk to an advocate. You have a right to help from an advocate who is an independent adult who will help you explain your problem and want you want to happen, or if necessary make a complaint. If the complaint does not work and the problem gets worse, sometimes it might be necessary to get a solicitor to try to change things.
What should you do if your social worker does not believe your age?
Young people who come to the UK often have problems if the Home Office or their social worker does not believe what they say about how old they are. If the social worker has doubts, they will arrange a meeting with you called an age assessment.
In this meeting they will ask you questions to try to help them decide about your age. You are allowed to take an adult whom you trust to the meeting with you. If you can’t understand everything they say in English, the social worker must get an interpreter.
If your social worker says that they do not believe what you say about your age, you should try to explain how you know your age and answer any questions they have. If you have any evidence of your age, this will help, but you should talk to your immigration solicitor before you try to get any evidence from your country.
If the social worker continues to say that they do not believe you and you want to argue your case, you can get a solicitor to help you. You can get legal aid. The area of law is called community care so you need to try to find a community care solicitor.
Sometimes cases about how old young people are go to court. This can take a very long time, often many months or even more.
For more information, see: Legal Aid
What support can you get from Children’s Services if you are 18 or over?
If you come to the UK and are supported by Children’s Services while you are under 18, you might be entitled to leaving care support.
This means that you should still get advice, assistance and financial support if you need it until you are 21, or until you are 25 if you are in education or training. Depending on your immigration status, you may also be entitled to benefits, for example jobseekers allowance, housing benefit etc.
However, not everyone is entitled to leaving care support because it depends on your immigration status (whether you have permission to be in the UK or not, and what kind of permission you have). If your permission to be in the UK has run out, or if your asylum application has been refused, you may not be eligible for leaving care support and the Children’s Services might tell you that your support is ending. If you are in this situation, you can get advice by contacting the Migrant Children’s Project:
Phone: 0207 636 8505
For more information, see Leaving care support
If you arrive in the UK when you are 18 or over, you cannot get support from Children’s Services. Instead, if you are claiming asylum you might be able to get support from the Home Office. More information for asylum-seekers aged 18 and over is available here.