Children's social work statistics 2017-2018

The latest data on children and young people looked after, on the child protection register and in secure care.

This document is part of a collection

Background notes

1. Context and related publications

1.1. This publication includes data on children and young people who were looked after, on the child protection register or in secure care accommodation between 1 August 2017 and 31 July 2018. Children most commonly become looked after or placed on the child protection register following a referral to the Children's Reporter. The majority of referrals to the Children's Reporter are on care and protection grounds, although a small proportion are on offence grounds. Young people are placed in secure care either as an outcome of the criminal justice system or through a referral to the Children's Reporter. Figures on referrals to the Children's Reporter are published by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA):

Figures on referrals of young people from the criminal justice system to the social work system are published here:

1.2. This publication collates demographic data on children who were looked after during 2017-18. In June 2019, Education Outcomes for Looked After Children statistics 2017-18 will be published on a subset of these children - those whose Scottish Candidate Numbers have been supplied to Scottish Government. The education outcomes publication will be available here:

1.3. The annual Civil Law Statistics published by the Scottish Government includes a table which gives the number of petitions for adoption made through the courts. These figures include looked after children who are adopted from care as well as children who are outwith the care system. The Civil Law Statistics in Scotland are available here:

Cross-UK comparability

1.4. It is possible to draw comparisons between the looked after children, child protection and secure care accommodation statistics of the four UK countries. However it should be borne in mind that there are differences in legislation, the children's social work systems and the definitions of categories that will affect these figures.

1.5. Work has been undertaken between the Scottish Government and administrations from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to document clearly the differences between each administration's looked after children statistics and to scope out the feasibility and need for a comparable dataset. Further developments from this work have been published on the Scottish Government children's statistics web site at:

1.6. Work was commissioned by the Department for Education to document clearly the differences between each administration's child protection statistics. Further developments from this work have been published on the Scottish Government Children's Statistics web site at:

Equivalent data across the UK

1.7. Looked after statistics:



Northern Ireland:

1.8. Child protection statistics:



Northern Ireland:

1.9. Official/national statistics are not produced on secure accommodation in Northern Ireland. However, there is one secure unit which when at full capacity can house sixteen 11 to 18 year olds. The latest national statistics on children accommodated in secure children's homes in England and Wales were released on 1 June 2018 and can be found at:-

2. Data sources and coverage

2.1. The looked after children data in this publication were collected at an individual level from local authorities. Data were collected on all children/young people who were looked after between 1 August 2017 and 31 July 2018, on every episode of being looked after which occurred at some point in the reporting period, every placement that took place during these episodes, and every legal reason for which a child was looked after. Statistics were also collected at an individual-level for those eligible for aftercare.

2.2. All child protection information in this publication were collected at an individual level from local authorities. Information is submitted for each investigation and case conference held as well as demographic information for each child.

2.3. The child protection statistics survey covered the period 1 August 2017 to 31 July 2018. If a member of the public or professional report concern about a child, a referral will be made to an agency such as the local authority social work team. If they decide that the child is at risk of significant harm, an investigation will be undertaken.

2.4. Data for looked after children and child protection was collected for the period 1 August 2017 to 31 July 2018 from all local authorities in Scotland, except from Glasgow City. To estimate national figures for 2017-18, the 2016-17 figures for Glasgow City have been used along with the 2017-18 figures for all other local authorities.

2.5. The secure care statistics in this publication were collected from five secure care units which were open at 1 August 2017.

2.6. The secure care accommodation census covered 1 August 2017 to 31 July 2018. The data collected at the unit level covers the number of places. Individual-level information was collected on the characteristics of the young person, medical care, admissions and discharges in secure care accommodation.

2.7. The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) can provide information on staffing and vacancies of secure accommodation services, where a secure unit has provided that information to the Care Inspectorate, although this is not necessarily published. The data is an annual snapshot of the workforce on 31 December each year. If you require further information on staffing and vacancies on the other data held for secure accommodation services, you can visit the SSSC's workforce data site at: or contact

3. Definitions and notation

3.1. The survey forms, data specifications and guidance notes for the statistics presented in this publication are available on the Scottish Government website. The data specifications include the standard validation checks undertaken to quality assure these data.

Online documentation

Looked after:

Child protection:

Secure care accommodation:

Children Looked After

3.2 Looked after child - The definition of a looked after child is in section 17(6) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, as amended by Schedule 2, para 9(4) of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007. Information on this definition is available here:

3.2. Supervision Requirement/Compulsory Supervision Order - A children's hearing is a lay tribunal which considers and makes decisions on the welfare of the child or young person before them, taking into account the circumstances including any offending behaviour. The hearing decides on the measures of supervision which are in the best interests of the child or young person. If the hearing concludes compulsory measures of supervision are needed, it will make a Supervision Requirement or a Compulsory Supervision Order which will determine the type of placement for the child. In most cases the child will continue to live at home but will be under the supervision of a social worker. In some cases the hearing will decide that the child should live away from home with relatives or other carers.

3.3. Permanence order - This is an order that the sheriff court can make for the protection and supervision of children. By default, parents have a right for their child to live with them and control where the child lives. A Permanence order, which can only be applied for by the local authority, transfers this right to the local authority. Other parental rights and responsibilities can be shared between the local authority, birth parents and carers of the child (e.g. foster or kinship carers).

3.4. Types of placement

  • At home with parent(s): at home with parent(s) or 'relevant person(s)' as defined in Section 200 of the Children's Hearings Act 2011
  • With friends/relatives: placed with friends or relatives who are not approved foster carers. Also referred to as 'kinship care'.
  • With foster carers provided by the local authority
  • With foster carers purchased by the local authority
  • With prospective adopters
  • Other community: such as supported accommodation, hospital (e.g. at birth)
  • Local authority home: in local authority children's home/hostel, local authority home/hostel for children with learning disabilities, local authority home/hostel for physically disabled children
  • Voluntary home: in voluntary children's home/hostel which may be specifically for children with learning disabilities or for physically disabled children
  • Residential school: in local authority or voluntary residential school (home/hostel), private school or independent school
  • Secure accommodation
  • Crisis care: in women's refuge, local authority/voluntary hostel for offenders or for drug/alcohol abusers
  • Other residential: a known residential setting but does not fit with one of the above

3.5. There is information on the process by which children come to be looked after and legislation governing this on the Scottish Government website:

Child Protection

3.6. Child Protection Case Conference (CPCC) - a meeting where the risk of harm or neglect of a child is addressed. There are four types of CPCC:


Who is it for

Potential outcome


a child not currently on the child protection register

  • Child is registered or
  • Child is not registered


an unborn child

  • Child is registered or
  • Child is not registered


a child already on the child protection register either receiving a regular case review, or where there are significant recent changes in the child or family situation

  • Child remains on register or
  • Child is de-registered


a child already on the child protection register moving between local authorities

  • Child is de-registered or
  • Child remains on register

3.7. Registrations - The children who were the subject of a child protection case conference and were subsequently added to the child protection register between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2018.

3.8. Deregistrations - Children who were subject to a transfer or review conference and subsequently removed from the child protection register between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2018.

3.9. The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland, published in 2010 and refreshed in 2014, is available here:

Secure care accommodation

3.10. Secure accommodation legal framework - The children's hearings system has responsibility for dealing with most children and young people under 16 who commit offences or who are in need of care and protection. In some cases children's hearings have responsibility for young people under 18 where the young person is under the supervision of the hearing when he or she reaches 16 and the supervision requirement is extended.

3.11. For children who commit very grave crimes (the circumstances are set out in the relevant Lord Advocate's guidelines), the option remains for them to be jointly reported to the children's reporter and the procurator fiscal and together, they will decide whether prosecution through the court is appropriate. The court may then sentence, or return the young person to the hearing to be dealt with.

3.12. A young person who appears in court accused of an offence, where bail is not considered appropriate, can be remanded to the care of the local authority responsible for them under section 51 of the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act 1995. Local authorities are then responsible for placing that young person in secure care.

3.13. A young person convicted of an offence in court can be sentenced to detention in secure accommodation under section 205 or 208 of the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act 1995. In these cases, it is the responsibility of Scottish Ministers to place the sentenced young person in suitable accommodation.

3.14. Before a child or young person can be placed in secure accommodation through the children's hearings system, the children's panel must consider that the young person meets the legal criteria set out in The Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. The conditions are -

(a) that the child has previously absconded and is likely to abscond again and, if the child were to abscond, it is likely that the child's physical, mental, or moral welfare would be at risk;

(b) the child is likely to engage in self harming conduct;

(c) the child is likely to cause injury to another person.

3.15. Average number - The average number of young people in secure care accommodation over the year is calculated using the dates of admission and discharge for every child. Ages on admission, discharge during 2017-18 and age at 31 July 2018 are the actual ages for all young people.

3.16. Ethnicity and Religion - Data was collected on ethnicity and religion of young people in secure care and close support accommodation, but we are unable to publish this due to small numbers and data confidentiality issues.

3.17. Emergency beds - these can be used at short notice, for example, when a young person is admitted during the night as it is less disruptive for the other young people. The young person is usually admitted to the main facility the following day. Four units operated such a place (including the 3 respite beds at St. Mary's Kenmure).

3.18. Mothballed - The term mothballed was used when recommendation 6 from the Securing our Future Initiative report recommended the targeted closure of 12 beds to bring the capacity of each of the independent secure units down to 18 beds. Beds were mothballed for the first year with on-going review meaning provision was reduced although a group of key core staff were retained to provide emergency cover if there was ever a short term need to increase capacity.

Disability and additional support needs

3.19. Prior to 2011, data was presented as 'Disability', and, because the categories in use did not match with definitions in the Equalities Act, from 2011-12 until 2014-15, data was presented as 'additional support needs'. The statistics themselves did not change in any way - the content of the data and categories remained the same, so were still comparable over time. From 2016-17 onwards, a new disability question has been introduced for the child protection, children looked after and secure care accommodation data collections, and this reduced the question to a simple yes/no, but with a more stringent qualification - "does the young person have a mental or physical impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities?". This is not comparable to data prior to 2016. Work is underway to find a unified set of disability criteria to provide more detail and which meet user needs.

Further information is available in the online documentation listed in section 3.1.

Notation and rounding

3.20. The following notation is used in this publication

- Data not available

* In cases where information is presented on a small number of children, indicates that data have been suppressed to prevent disclosure of personal information.

3.21. The sum of the breakdowns in the tables may not sum to the total displayed due to rounding.

4. Data Quality and revisions

4.1. The data for all three parts of this publication - looked after children, child protection and secure care - come from administrative data held by local authorities and secure units. As this information is used to monitor and manage these sectors it should be robust and accurate.

4.2. Automated validation checks are undertaken at the point the data are submitted. These validations are outlined in the relevant data specifications (see Background note 3.1 for links).

4.3. The Children and Families statistics team undertake a range of validation checks on administrative data as part of the quality assurance process of preparing this national statistics publication. These procedures include; trend analysis, comparing against other available sources, and checking outliers with data providers. The data providers are then asked to confirm their data - for looked after children and child protection data this confirmation comes from local authorities, for secure care accommodation this confirmation comes from secure units. In cases where concerns about data quality outweigh the value of having an estimated figure publically available, we would not publish that particular information (e.g. legal reason data from the looked after children collection).

4.4. There is more information on the data quality of the administrative sources underlying this publication here:

Looked after - comparability over time

4.5. Looked after children statistics for years prior to 2008-09 used data supplied by local authorities aggregated at a local authority level. Since 2008‑09, there have been significant improvements in the quality of data reporting as a result of the new individualised collection methodology. This should be borne in mind when performing cross-year comparisons.

4.6. Data collected on children in a current planned series of short-term placements were not collected from 2013/14 onwards - in consultation with local authorities and data users, it was seen to be little-used, and could therefore be dropped from the collection. Historical figures are still available from previous years' publications.

Looked after - data quality of specific variables

4.7. The data on looked after children is collected from local authority social work management information systems. There can be a delay between the data being updated on local authority management information systems and the event affecting the child occurring (e.g. a change of placement may not be updated on the system until sometime after). Therefore, the figures published here for looked after children may not present the exact correct numbers if the data received is later revised or updated at a later date. Scottish Government are currently investigating the feasibility of using new data to update the figures for previous years in order to resolve this issue.

4.8. From 2011-12, local authorities were requested to supply information on all legal reasons for a child being looked after (i.e. a child may have more than one legal reason at any time). While the quality of this information is improving, it is still not being consistently recorded across local authorities. Only information on the legal reasons in place at the 31st July has been published (Table 2.5 in the additional tables).

4.9. The only looked after field for which data is collected but not published is religion. This is due to data quality concerns as each year around two-thirds of children are recorded with religion as 'unknown'.

Child protection

4.10. In 2012-13 the child protection data were collected entirely at individual level. The added detail and complexity to the data have increased scope for small errors. During the 2017-18 collection process, it was possible for local authorities to revise their 2016-17 data. Data revisions This, coupled with the possibility of comparing data across two different years, has helped improve on the quality of individual data and the confidence in the accuracy of this.

4.11. Prior to 2011-12, some local authorities did not place 'unborn' children on the child protection register until the child was actually born. The revised National Guidance now states that 'unborn' children should be placed on the child protection register if this is required and not wait until the child is born.

Secure care accommodation

4.12. As the number of young people using secure care is very small, relative changes over time will show greater percentage changes than for data relating to children looked after or child protection.

Impact of the use of 2017 data for Glasgow City

4.13. In order to estimate national level figures for 2018, 2017 data has been used for Glasgow City along with 2018 data for the other 31 local authorities. This affects reporting of the scale of changes that have occurred since last year, since no change from last year has been assumed for Glasgow City. The potential impact of changes to the 2018 figures for Glasgow City on the headline national estimates for looked after children and child protection are evaluated below.

4.14. The estimate of the number of children looked after in Scotland on 31 July 2018 is 14,738, a 1% decrease on the 2017 figure of 14,897. The 2018 figure includes the estimated number of 2,827 children from Glasgow City who were on the child protection register at 31 July 2017. If Glasgow City's 2018 number has increased by 6% or more, then the national level figure for 2018 will no longer be an decrease on 2017.

4.15. The estimate of the number of children on the child protection register in Scotland on 31 July 2018 is 2,668, a 3% increase on the 2017 figure of 2,600. The 2018 figure includes the estimated number of 405 children from Glasgow City who were on the child protection register at 31 July 2017. If Glasgow City's 2018 number has decreased by 17% or more, then the national level figure for 2018 will no longer be an increase on 2017.

Secure Care - estimated number of nights emergency and short term beds used

4.16. Due to issues with the provision of data on emergency/short term bed usage, figures on the number of nights used at St. Mary's Kenmure have been estimated. The number of residents admitted to emergency/short term beds was provided, however the number of nights spent in those beds was not available.

4.17. In order to produce national figures for emergency/short term bed usage, the average number of nights that residents admitted to an emergency/short term bed spent in the other secure units was applied to the number of residents who used an emergency/short term bed at St. Mary's Kenmure.

4.18. The total number of nights that emergency/short term beds were used in secure units other than St. Mary's Kenmure was 185 nights. After applying this method, the final national estimated figure was 287 nights.

5. Enquiries

These data in this publication and additional tables on looked after children, child protection and secure care and close support accommodation are available at:

Email any requests for further analysis to:

Children and Families Statistics
26 March 2019



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