Under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, 'looked after children' are defined as those in the care of their local authority – sometimes referred to as a 'corporate parent'.

There are many reasons children may become looked after, including:

  • they face abuse or neglect at home
  • they have disabilities that require special care
  • they are unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, or who have been illegally trafficked into the UK
  • they have been involved in the youth justice system


We provide guidance for public bodies on their corporate parenting responsibilities.

We aim to ensure that all looked after children receive the support they need, whether they are:

We published the Getting it right for looked after children and young people strategy in 2015.

We are working to improve the experiences and outcomes of all looked after children by:


Our looked after children policy is part of Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) – our national approach to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of children and young people.

On 15 October 2016 the First Minister announced an independent root and branch review of the care system in Scotland. The Care Review will be driven and shaped by care experienced young people’s voices, stories and experiences. It will look at the underpinning legislation, practices, culture and ethos of the system to drive meaningful, sustainable change for children and young people in Scotland.

We also publish statistics for looked after children in Scotland.

How a child becomes looked after

Most looked after children fall into two categories:

  • Looked after at home – where the child or young person has been through the Children's Hearings system and is subject to a Supervision Requirement (regular contact with social services) with no condition of residence.


  • Looked after away from home – where the child or young person has either:
    • been through the Children's Hearings system and is subject to a Supervision Requirement with a condition of residence
    • is subject to an order made or authoritisation or warrant granted by virtue of chapter 2, 3 or 4 of Part 2 of the 1995 Act
    • is being provided with accommodation under Section 25 (a voluntary agreement)
    • is placed by a local authority which has made a permanence order under section 80 of the Adoption and Children Act 2007

In these cases the child or young person is cared for away from their normal place of residence, by foster or kinship carers, by prospective adopters, or in residential care homes, schools or secure units.


Bills and legislation

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 – introduces provisions to better ensure permanence planning for looked after children.

The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 – bring together the care planning services offered to children looked after at home, with the care provision required when children are separated from their birth parents. See 2011 Guidance on the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 in our website archive. 

Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 – modernises, improves and extends the adoption system in Scotland.

The Support and Assistance of Young People Leaving Care (Scotland) Regulations 2003 – deals with the provision of aftercare services for young people who have been looked after by local authorities.

The Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 1996 – concerns the use of secure accommodation for any child who is being looked after by a local authority, or for whom the local authority is responsible under Criminal Procedure legislation.

The Residential Establishments - Child Care (Scotland) Regulations 1996 – makes provision with respect to residential establishments in which a child who is looked after by a local authority under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 may be placed.

Children (Scotland) Act 1995 – sets out many of the duties, powers and responsibilities that Scottish local authorities hold in respect of their looked after children and care leavers.

Foster Children (Scotland) Act 1984 – consolidates certain enactments relating to foster children as they have effect in Scotland.

Foster Children (Private Fostering) (Scotland) Regulations 1985 – sets out regulations for private fostering in Scotland.


Email: looked_after_children@gov.scot

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