BERGER E., FRIEDRICH M., KAYA M.: Psychosocial Age Assessment. In: Ressource Book for Enforcement Officers on Good Practices in Combating Child Trafficking. Intern. Org. for Migration, Vienna 2006








Psychosocial age assessment is one of the aspects of the age assessment, that is exercised in the case when there is an uncertainty about the age of person during an administrative decision-making process , mostly in context of migration. Thereto the UNHCR established guidelines (1997[1]):


If an age assessment of the child’s age is necessary the following considerations should be noted:

A) Such an assessment should take into account not only the physical appearance of the child but also his/her psychological maturity.

B) When scientific procedures are used in order to determine the age of the child, margins of error should be allowed. Such methods must be safe and respect human dignity.

C) The child should be given the benefit of the doubt if the exact age is uncertain.”



Those guidelines which were in the past years established on an international level and under the UHNCR lead are the pre-conditions of the implementation of the age assessments, in particular of the psychosocial age assessment.







The psychosocial age assessment has two aims:

 a) an improvement of accuracy of age determination

 b) a determination of the actual psychosocial maturity and of the needs which require support.



The concept of the age determination originates from an idea  of a homogeneous maturation and development process, which affects equally all dimensions of human development and all individuals. This assumption is to be basically contradicted with:

a)     The development of an individual is a heterogeneous process, which includes biological and psychosocial dimensions;


b)     The parameter of biological development (as in bones, dental growth and/or sexual characteristics) can be collected with scientific methods; however their assignment to a specific age section is associated with a scientific and practical relevant inaccuracy factor[2];


c)  All of the dimensions mentioned above of development (biological and psychosocial) could be influenced and modified by ethnic and bio-geographical factors;


d) The psychosocial dimensions of development are the factors which suggest a need for support of affected person.


In the summary of an Expert Meeting in Vienna (2000), these aspects were concluded as follows: “The legal issue relates always to the

chronological age (the actual age); but there are juristic excursions from this rule: in situations where the discrepancies between different dimensions of age make the lower age a basis for decision, i.e. in the area of criminal responsibility when  a delayed maturity underlies, furthermore, in child legislation with regard to the compliance of treatment, and also in the civil law. There, where a high need for  protection of children is postulated , all above mentioned age dimensions are considered, and a psychosocial maturity is seen in the context of the chronological age. In the practice frequently applied methods assess the biological age whereas, with some possibility (as described above), is possible to determine the real, chronological age. The psychosocial age is through employment of methods from the developmental psychology only determinable when the language barriers and culture differences are removed (KONSENSUSKONFERENZ 2000[3]).


Therefore,  the psychosocial age assessment, and all other specific age assessment methods  as well, yield always only estimated values, and in doubt, they should be interpreted in favor of the affected person.




The psychosocial age assessment should answer the following questions:


Which support needs the relevant person in:


o       Housing

o       Daily structure (work, education, free time)




The methods which are to be applied originate form the inventory of clinical child and adolescent psychiatry as well as from the inventory of developmental psychology which enfolds the INTERVIEW and OBSERVATION OF BEHAVIOUR , and , therefore, are to be seen as a ‘diagnostic process’.

Two, one and half hour long  interviews (in a span of approx. 1 week) are applicable  - if substantial disturbing factors such as traumatic reaction, cultural shock, etc. are excluded - for an orientation about the questions posed above as well as to improve the age assessment; we call them a “clearing interview”.




o       Interaction during assessment (2)

o       Social history and family composition (3)

o       Development considerations, especially activities roles (4)

o       Educational History (5)

o       Independence and self care skills (6)




In the daily life in the clearing center, the supplementary observations could be made in following areas:




Maturity is a process, that extends over a longer time period, and in different areas of development in a variable tempo (inhomogeneous and heterochronic). Therefore there is no defined time point to define “immaturity” and “maturity”.  In fact,  it’s necessary to describe the actual maturity state and following needs for support or autonomy needs in specific areas. For these purposes the maturity status is evaluated in a  4 area scheme: physical, intellectual, emotional and social criteria.


All following parameters of psychosocial development refer to a global timely classification solely for our cultural area, with the presumption of an “average” development. In real terms, all these developmental steps  depend on ethnical and individual-biographical terms.



All the criteria inhere that there are two investigations at two different point of time, a mother language communication , and consideration of the ethnical cultural area.


The application of the structured test procedures (psychological test) can- if the culture- specific and language aspects are considered - give complementary information. However the uncertainties mentioned above should not be discarded during the evaluation.


The presented maturity criteria contain no corner stone for the age assessment in the relevant time span until 18, but they are components for the assessment  of  needs for support and care in terms of an “needs- diagnostic”; an increased degree of support and assistance ( for the juvenile) is to be granted by all means if:



[1] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Guidelines on Policies and Procedures on Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, February 1997, p. 5


[2] vgl. Royal College of Pediatrics: Der Irrtumsspielraum beträgt in der relevanten Altersgruppe von 15 – 18 Jahren – je nach Methode - etwa 1,5-5 Jahre.

[3] Experten- Konsensuskonferenz „Medizinische Methoden zur Altersbestimmung im administrativen Kontext“ März 2000, Wien