Children Looked After
- The total number of children looked after has fallen for the seventh consecutive year.
- The number of children starting to become looked after decreased, compared with 2018.
- The number of children ceasing to be looked after decreased, compared with 2018.
This section presents data on looked after children from 1 August 2018 to 31 July 2019. This is referred to as 2019 for ease of reporting, with 2017-18 referred to as 2018, and so on. Local authorities have a responsibility to provide support to certain children and young people, known as 'looked after children'. A child may become looked after for a number of reasons; including neglect, abuse, complex disabilities requiring specialist care, or involvement in the youth justice system.
At 31 July 2019, there were 14,262 looked after children - a decrease of 292 (2%) from 2018. This is the seventh consecutive year the numbers have decreased following a peak of 16,248 in 2012. The number of children ceasing to be looked after each year has been consistently more than the numbers becoming looked after over this period, as is shown in the attached publication tables 1.3 and 1.4.
There are several types of care setting in which looked after children or young people could be looked after, including at home (where a child is subject to a Compulsory Supervision Order and continues to live in their usual place of residence), foster care, residential unit or school, a secure unit, with prospective adopters, or in kinship care (where they are placed with friends or relatives).
Table 1.1 and Chart 1 show the proportion of children being looked after at home has decreased over the last decade, with 25% of the total in this group in 2019 compared to 39% in 2009. Increasing proportions of children are being looked after away from home in community settings, in particular with foster carers (34% of the total in 2019 compared with 29% in 2009). Kinship care (29% of 2019 placements) was the second most common setting type for looked after children in 2019. Children looked after in residential care settings remain static at around 10% of the overall total.
|In the community||13,707||13,042||12,814|
|At home with parents||5,924||3,789||3,569|
|With Kinship Carers: friends/relatives||2,993||4,073||4,175|
|With Foster Carers provided by LA||3,594||3,453||3,335|
|With Foster Carers purchased by LA||905||1,491||1,463|
|With prospective adopters||242||186||212|
|In other community||49||50||60|
|In local authority home||611||599||581|
|In voluntary home||138||122||127|
|In residential school||598||383||344|
|In secure accommodation||102||57||63|
|In other residential (1)||113||351||333|
|Total looked after children||15,287||14,554||14,262|
(1) Information on the number of children looked after by accommodation type is available back to 1988 in chart 1 data of the spreadsheet version of the associated downloadable publication tables
(2) 'In other community' is a category that captures those people in community placements outside those listed, such as supported accommodation.
(3) The bulk of the 'other residential' placements are private/independent residential placements for young people with complex needs.
When children become looked after, a care plan should be produced. The care plan should include detailed information about the child's care, education and health needs, as well as the responsibilities of the local authority, the parents and the child. A care plan is considered 'current' if it has been produced or reviewed in the past 12 months.
Table 1.2a shows that 94% of the 14,262 children who were looked after at the end of July 2019 had a current care plan, down 3 percentage points from 2018. Of those looked after by kinship carers, 91% had a current care plan. This compares with 95-96% for other placement types for those looked after away from home.
|At home||Away from home||Away from home - breakdown by category||Total|
|With Kinship Carers: friends/relatives||With Foster Carers||With prospective adopters/ other community||In Residential Care|
|With a current care plan||3,404||10,033||3,804||4,588||259||1,382||13,437|
|Without a current care plan||165||660||371||210||13||66||825|
|With a current care plan||95%||94%||91%||96%||95%||95%||94%|
|Without a current care plan||5%||6%||9%||4%||5%||5%||6%|
(1) Some children without a current care plan may have one in progress on this date; local recording may differ with regard to when a care plan is recorded as being in place.
Children starting and ceasing to be looked after
The reduction in total numbers being looked after is because more people are leaving care than starting.
As shown in table 1.3, 3,824 episodes of care began between 1 August 2018 and 31 July 2019. This represents a 4% decrease from the 3,979 episodes of care beginning in 2018.
(1) A child may start to be looked after more than once in a year and so may be counted more than once.
Table 1.3 also shows that over the last 10 years children have started episodes of care at younger ages. In 2009, 34% of children starting episodes of care were under five years of age. By 2019 this had risen to 38%, although this is a decline from a peak of 41% in 2014. Fifteen percent of children starting episodes of care were less than one year old, increasing from 12% in 2009.
There were slightly more boys than girls starting episodes of care in 2019 - 52% boys compared with 48% girls, (the Scotland-wide population of under 18s was 51% male in 2019). The gender split of those starting episodes of care has remained stable over the last 10 years.
Table 1.4 shows the number of episodes of care which ceased by length of time looked after. There were 4,068 episodes of care which ceased between 1 August 2018 and 31 July 2019, a decrease of 6% from the previous year.
The length of time for which children ceasing to be looked after had been looked after remained similar between 2018 and 2019. However, when compared with 2009, there are a higher proportion of children who had been looked after for more than five years, and a lower proportion who had been looked after for under six months.
|Length of time looked after||Number||Percentage|
|Under 6 weeks||409||219||259||9||5||6|
|6 weeks to under 6 months||333||326||321||8||8||8|
|6 months to under 1 year||767||594||543||17||14||13|
|1 year to under 3 years||1,718||1,545||1,474||39||36||36|
|3 years to under 5 years||652||675||643||15||16||16|
|5 years and over||515||968||828||12||22||20|
(1) A child may cease to be looked after more than once during the year and will be counted once for each episode of care ending.
When a child ceases being looked after, a destination is recorded (Table 1.5). This is the second year that the destinations of Kinship Care Order and Continuing Care were recorded. A Kinship Care Order is a court order that confers all or part of parental responsibilities and rights to a friend or relative of the child and can be a trigger for receipt of kinship care assistance. More information on Continuing Care is available in the Continuing Care section.
Most children (58% in 2019) go home to their biological parents and 16% go to live in kinship care with friends or relatives or leave care through a Kinship Care Order when they cease to be looked after. The proportion of children leaving care due to being adopted was 7% in 2019, the same level as in 2018. The majority of adoptions (63%) are of children aged under five years old, as shown in Additional Table 1.9. There is a much more even spread of ages of young people leaving care to go home or to live with friends and relatives.
|Destination after leaving care||Number||Percentge|
|Home with (biological) parents||2,797||2,367||2,365||64%||55%||58%|
|Kinship carers: Friends/relatives(1)||499||571||563||11%||13%||14%|
|Kinship Care Order(2)||-||113||70||-||3%||2%|
|Former foster carers(1)||71||116||110||2%||3%||3%|
|Supported accommodation / own tenancy||225||235||223||5%||5%||5%|
(1) A child may cease to be looked after more than once during the year and will be counted once for each episode of care ending.
(2) New destination categories of 'continuing care' and 'kinship care order' were added in 2018. Children who left care for these destinations in previous years were mostly recorded in the friends/relatives category for 'kinship care order' and the former foster carers category for 'continuing care', which partly explains the decrease in these 2 categories in 2018.
(3) "Other" includes residential care, homeless, in custody and other destination.
Local authorities have a duty to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who at the point of leaving care have reached 16 years of age. This is referred to as 'aftercare services'. Local authorities are required to carry out a pathway assessment for aftercare services for all currently looked after young people who are over the age of sixteen and every 'compulsorily supported person' (a care leaver who has not yet reached their nineteenth birthday). These young people should be provided with a pathway co-ordinator who assesses their needs and a pathway plan which outlines how the local authority plans to meet the needs of the young person. The pathway assessment should be done within three months of a young person becoming a compulsorily supported person but it is expected that all young people over age 16 will have had their pathway assessment, and will have a completed pathway plan in place as to their future before they cease to be looked after.
Of those young people who had reached 16 years of age at the time they ceased to be looked after during 1 August 2018 to 31 July 2019, 71% (down from 73% in 2018) had a pathway plan and 60% had a pathway co‑ordinator (Table 1.6), a decrease from 68% in 2018. Where a young person's final placement type was 'at home' they were less likely to have a pathway plan or a pathway co-ordinator than if the final placement type was 'away from home'. Of children whose last placement was at home, 64% had a pathway plan and 51% a pathway coordinator, compared with 75% and 64% respectively of those whose final placement type was 'away from home'.
|Number||Percentage||Away from home - breakdown by category|
|Looked after at home||Looked after away from home||Total||Looked after at home||Looked after away from home||Total||With Kinship Carers: friends/relatives||With Foster Carers||With prospective adopters/ other community||In Residential Care|
|With a pathway plan at discharge||249||692||941||64%||75%||71%||132||252||38||270|
|Without a pathway plan at discharge||141||236||377||36%||25%||29%||105||57||9||65|
|With a nominated pathway co-ordinator at discharge||198||592||790||51%||64%||60%||122||202||30||238|
|Without a nominated pathway co-ordinator at discharge||192||336||528||49%||36%||40%||115||107||17||97|
(1) Figures include all episodes of ceasing to be looked after beyond 16 years of age (i.e. a child may be counted more than once).
(2) It may be the case that some young people who don't have a relevant pathway plan/coordinator may be receiving similar support from adult services instead.
Table 1.7 shows the number of young people eligible for aftercare services by age and the percentage of these young people in receipt of aftercare on 31 July 2019.
From April 2015, aftercare eligibility has been extended to cover all care leavers up to and including people aged 25 where it previously only covered up to their 21st birthday. As this is an extension of the original policy, the data in this publication are unlikely to be a full report on the additional eligible age group. These data will continue to improve in quality in future publications as extension of support services to this group becomes more completely embedded. Figures have risen from 4,602 in 2016 to 6,650 in 2019 as a result of better reporting of the over-21 age group.
For young people eligible for aftercare, more than half have taken up these services in some way across all age groups, up to age 21. For the 22 and over age group, the majority are not receiving aftercare, which may be expected as many of this group may have moved onto adult services where required.
|In receipt of aftercare||207||407||647||1,684||923||3,868|
|Not in receipt of aftercare||159||222||404||791||1,206||2,782|
|Total eligible for aftercare||366||629||1,051||2,475||2,129||6,650|
|In receipt of aftercare||57%||65%||62%||68%||43%||58%|
|Not in receipt of aftercare||43%||35%||38%||32%||57%||42%|
|Total eligible for aftercare||100%||100%||100%||100%||100%||100%|
(1) Age on 31 July 2019.
Continuing Care is the continued provision of the accommodation and other assistance that was being provided by the local authority immediately before the young person ceased to be looked after. Only children who cease to be looked after aged 16 years or over and were looked after away from home are eligible for Continuing Care. Continuing Care has been available to eligible care leavers from April 2015, enabling eligible young people aged 16 or older to stay in the same kinship, foster or residential care placements when they ceased to be looked after.
The data in Table 1.5 shows that 167 children who ceased to be looked after between 1 August 2018 and 31 July 2019 received Continuing Care. The 'higher age' for continuing care eligibility has risen annually as part of a roll out strategy. This data, therefore, only includes those aged between 16 and 20. The data in Table 1.5 only includes those who entered Continuing Care when they left care in 2018-19. Continuing Care became fully operational in April 2020, allowing all eligible careleavers to remain in their care setting from age 16 until their 21st birthday.
In the eligible for aftercare collection there is additional information on the population in Continuing Care that can be used to supplement the data in Table 1.5. Table 1.8 shows that, in addition to the 167 young people recorded as ceasing to be looked after and staying in Continuing Care, there were an additional 119 eligible for aftercare in Continuing Care. Therefore, in total there were 286 young people recorded as being in Continuing Care in 2018-19.
|Recorded as ceasing to be looked after with a destination of Continuing Care||Recorded as being in Continuing Care and eligible for aftercare(2)||Total|
|Number of children||167||119||286|
(1) These figures are likely to be underestimates of the number in Continuing Care as some local authorities have been unable to return the category of data in this collection.
(2) There were 39 additional children recorded as being in Continuing Care and eligible for aftercare, but they were also included in the ceasing to be looked after with a destination of Continuing Care figures. They have been omitted from this column to avoid double counting.
Cross-UK looked after comparisons
The definition of "looked after children" varies across the countries within the UK, which makes cross-UK comparisons difficult. To improve comparability, the Scotland figure at 31 March has been used, rather than the published 31 July figure, as the other nations publish on this date.
Chart 2 gives Scottish figures including a breakdown for children looked after at home and away from home for comparability with the other nations. Scotland has a much higher number of children looked after at home than the rest of the UK, a placement which in Scotland requires a supervision order from the Children's Panel. Overall, Scotland had the highest rate of looked after children in 2019 at an 139 children per 10,000 under 18 population. The rate for only children looked after away from home in Scotland is no longer the highest in the UK at 104 per 10,000 under 18 population. This is slightly lower than the rate of looked after children in Wales (109 per 10,000). The rates in Northern Ireland (75 per 10,000) and England (65 per 10,000) are much lower.
Links to the cross-UK data underlying the chart can be found in Background Note 1.7. There is more information on the comparability of looked after children data across the UK at the bottom of the following link: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Children/socialservicestats
The data used to produce the charts and tables on looked after children in the publication are available in the supporting files accompanying the publication. There are also additional tables available in the supporting files. www.gov.scot/collections/childrens-social-work