Born into care in Scotland: circumstances, recurrence and pathways

The report was commissioned as it is important to understand more about the circumstances in which removal of babies shortly after birth takes place in Scotland, and the work undertaken with parents to prevent separation where possible, and the children’s pathways and permanence outcomes.


1. In Scotland, children can be looked after away from home (with foster carers, kinship carers or in residential care) or at home with parents.

2. Care proceedings in England and Wales are issued under Section 31 of the Children Act 1989, when a child is assessed as suffering, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm.

3. Other reports in the series have considered the maternity characteristics and health vulnerabilities of mothers in care proceedings in Wales (Griffiths et al., 2021, 2020) and the impact of area-level deprivation on rates of infants entering care proceedings in Wales (Doebler et al., 2021).

Grounded in systematic research with eight local authorities and corresponding health trusts in England and Wales (Mason et al., 2022a), draft guidelines have been developed to help improve practice when the state acts to safeguard a baby at birth (Mason et al., 2022b). For more details, see the project page on the Centre for Child and Family Justice Centre website.

4. Information available on the project website.

5. The Kilbrandon Report (Scottish Home and Health Department, 1964) was published in 1964 by an expert committee convened to 'consider the provisions of the law of Scotland relating to the treatment of juvenile delinquents and juveniles in need of care or protection or beyond parental control'.

6. GIRFEC supports families by making sure children and young people can receive the right help, at the right time, from the right people. The aim is to help them grow up feeling loved, safe and respected so that they can realise their full potential.

7. The terminology changed in the 2021 Child Protection Guidance, with Child Protection Planning Meeting (CPPM) being used in preference to CPCC. As this study was undertaken prior to 2021, the original language is used here.

8. The CMS was replaced by a new digital system, Core Systems and Applications Solution (CSAS) was rolled out in July 2020.

9. Annual data on the number of live births is available from National Records Scotland.

10. See the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2020 website for full details.

11. These figures are for children becoming looked after for the first time. Thus, if a child had two episodes of care, only the first is counted here.

12. Due to the approach taken by the SAIL Databank, where harmonised Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru data was accessed, to de-identify date of birth, it was only possible to categorise newborn cases for infants who were less than two weeks old. The substantive difference is small, and the trends are similar regarding the high proportion of infant cases issued close to birth.

13. The slight decline shown in the trend line is not statistically significant.

14. Figures for England and Wales are taken from Pattinson et al., 2021, and refer to care proceedings issued with two weeks of birth.

15. To test for statistical significance, Poisson regression of the number of newborns becoming looked after away from home via CHS, offset by the number of live births, against country, time in years since 2013/14 and the interaction between time and country was carried out. The results showed that Scotland had statistically significantly lower rates than England and Wales overall. Whilst in England and Wales there was a statistically significant increase in rates over time, in Scotland there was no statistically significant change in rates over time. Regression coefficients: intercept -5.97, England 0.18, Wales 0.50, time -0.03, England : time 0.11 and Wales: time 0.13; standard errors 0.06, 0.06, 0.08, 0.02, 0.02 and 0.02; z-values -102.59, 3.04, 6.32, -1.78, 6.41 and 6.14; p-values <0.001, 0.002, <0.001, 0.075, <0.001, <0.001 and <0.001, respectively.

16. These figures relate to the risk of recurrence for all mothers, following care proceedings concerning a child or children of any age, not just mothers appearing in court with an infant. From a child perspective, later work found that around half of newborns in care proceedings (47% in England and 49% in Wales) were 'subsequent infants', that is born to mothers who had previously appeared in care proceedings regarding an older sibling (Alrouh et al., 2019; Broadhurst et al., 2018)

17. The terminology changed in the 2021 Child Protection Guidance, with Child Protection Planning Meeting (CPPM) being used in preference to CPCC. As this study was undertaken prior to 2021, the original language is used here.

18. Some of the infants were born prematurely so calculations based on date of birth will be slightly different to those based on weeks of gestation.

19. If a child is looked after away from home under Section 25 for less than six (continuous) months a parent can remove their child at any point, thereafter parents must give two weeks' notice of their intention.

20. The Scottish Government (2015) defines four legal routes to permanence:

"Returning or remaining at home with or after support, where family functioning has stabilised, and the parent(s) can provide a safe, sustainable home which supports the wellbeing of the child. This may require on-going support for the family.

Permanence through a Permanence Order.

A Section 11 order (for parental responsibilities and rights, residence or guardianship) under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. From April 2016, where kinship carers have such an order it will be known as a kinship care order under Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Adoption, where the child has the potential to become a full member of another family."

21. Due to the complexity of children's pathways we did not collect details of all placement moves, so cannot say when children were reunified.

22. Stand Up for Siblings is a Scotland-wide partnership aimed at improving and changing legislation, policy and practice.

23. See the PACE website for more details.



Back to top