Where a child or other vulnerable person is to be interviewed, it is generally accepted that they should have the opportunity to have an appropriate adult present during the interview. The role of the appropriate adult was first set out in the context of criminal law and is defined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) guidance. This guidance specifically states that the appropriate adult is not simply an observer.
In the age assessment context, the courts have found that a child should have the opportunity to have an appropriate adult present.
In an age assessment, the role of the appropriate adult is:
- To make sure that the child understands what is happening to them and why
- To support and advise the child, including asking for breaks if the child needs a break to consult with the appropriate adult, to seek legal advice from their legal representative, or if the child is tired, distressed or ill
- To observe whether the social workers are acting properly and fairly and to intervene if they are not
- To assist with communication between the child and the social workers in a constructive and appropriate manner
- To ensure that the child understands their rights, including the right to seek legal advice before continuing further with the interview.
Any independent adult known to the child can act as an appropriate adult in the age assessment process. Some children will have an advocate, either provided through the local authority or through a voluntary sector organisation, who is likely to be a suitable person if the child is happy with them attending in this role. In some local authorities, the local authority provides an independent adult, but the child should have a choice if they are not happy with that person.
An appropriate adult must be independent of the local authority, have the relevant skills and training to undertake their role, and be experienced in working with children and young people. They need to be clear and confident about their role, have the skills to support the child or young person in the interview(s) and challenge social workers if they feel the interview is not being conducted appropriately.
An appropriate adult should advocate on behalf of the child or young person, represent their best interests and ensure that the child or young person’s welfare needs are met during the interview process.
Case law has held that the young person should have the opportunity to have an appropriate adult present at the age assessment. If the role and function is explained to them, it is likely that most young people would wish to have an appropriate adult present.
If a young person says they do not want an appropriate adult present, it may be because they are not happy with the person who has been selected. For example, some young people may not want to have to discuss their past experiences in front of certain adults such as their foster carers or others.