Children’s Social Work Statistics 2022-23 – Looked After Children

Looked After Children Statistics for Scotland for 2022 to 2023 that cover data on children who are looked after, young people in continuing care, and young people eligible for aftercare services.

Background notes


Referral to the Reporter

Children are referred to the Children's Reporter if it is considered that they may need compulsory legal measures of protection, guidance, treatment or control. Most referrals come from partner agencies, such as the police, social work, and education. Additionally, parents, family members, carers or members of the public can make a referral.

Investigations and Children’s Hearings

The Reporter will investigate the referral and decide whether to convene a Children's Hearing or discharge the case. The Children’s Hearing is a legal tribunal which considers and makes decisions on the welfare of the child or young person, taking into account their circumstances including any offending behaviour. The Hearing will decide what's in the best interest of the child and whether compulsory measures of supervision are necessary and, if so, which ones.

Community setting placements

At home with parents

A child becomes looked after at home when the Children's Hearings system imposes a Supervision Requirement with no condition of residence. A child looked after at home continues to live at their normal residence (usually the family home) but receives regular visits from social workers to ensure that the objectives of the home Supervision Order are being met. There are two main instances in which this happens:

  • as a starting point for planned intervention, where the balance of risk indicates that it is not essential to remove the child from the care of their parents, but that the situation must be monitored;
  • where children are returning home after being looked after away from home, where some risks still remain and home supervision aims to help reunite the family.

Kinship care

Kinship care is when a child is looked after by their extended family or close friends if they cannot remain with their birth parents. Under the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009, a kinship carer is defined as "a person who is related to the child (through blood, marriage or civil partnership) or a person with whom the child has a pre-existing relationship". Kinship care includes both (1) looked after children who have been placed with kinship carers by the local authority; and (2) non-looked after children who live in an informal kinship care arrangement (these children may be subject to an order under Section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 or may be living in a completely private arrangement with extended family, with no local authority involvement).

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. In such circumstances, the child would no longer be looked after.

Foster Care

When a child cannot be cared for by their birth parents, or by kinship carers they can be cared for by an approved foster family. Any adult can apply to become a foster carer by sending an application to their local authority or to a voluntary or independent provider registered with the Care Inspectorate. Foster care can be a temporary arrangement that can end when a child returns to their birth parents, or is adopted. Other placements can be long term if this is in the best interests of the child. Foster cares can be (1) provided by local authority, or (2) purchased by a local authority.

With prospective adopters

This refers to children living with their prospective adopters, during the formal legal process in which all the rights and responsibilities relating to a child are transferred to the adoptive parents. 

In other community

This could be any other placement in the community, such as for example, supported accommodation. 

Residential care placements

Placements in residential accommodation settings offer children, usually of secondary school age, a safe place to live together with other children away from home. They provide accommodation, support and, in some cases, education. Residential care settings include local authority and voluntary homes/hostels, residential schools, secure care accommodation, crisis care and other types of residential settings.

Care plan

When children become looked after, a care plan is produced by the local authority. The care plan includes 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.

Pathway plans

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.

Comparability over time

Data on looked after children is collected from local authority social work management information systems. There can be a delay between an event affecting the child and the data being updated on local authority management information systems. Therefore, the figures published may be subject to future revision.  The Scottish Government and partner Local Authorities have been improving data flows and the need for revision is less likely.

From 2012-13, 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). The quality of this information has, consequently, improved.

The only 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’.

Continuing Care

Continuing Care refers to section 67 of The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 which inserted a new section 26A in The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to enable young people born after 1 April 1999, who are at least age sixteen and whose final placement is in foster, kinship or residential care to be eligible to remain in their current care placement, as was being provided by the local authority at the time the young person ceases to be looked after, until they turn 21.

Eligible for aftercare

Since April 2015, aftercare eligibility was extended to cover all care leavers up to, and including, people aged 25 years (where it previously only covered up to their 21st birthday). There are two types of aftercare:

  • Compulsorily supported – a young person who ceased to be looked after on or after their sixteenth birthday but who is currently under the age of nineteen; and
  • Discretionarily supported – a young person to whom a local authority has agreed, via a written assessment of need, to provide advice, guidance and assistance who is nineteen years of age or older but not yet twenty-six years of age.

Disability and additional support needs

Prior to 2011/12 data was collected on ‘disability’, however, because the categories in use did not match with definition of disability in the Equalities Act (2010), between 2011/12 to 2014/15 publications, 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 comparable over time.

From 2016/17 onwards, a new disability question was included. The question is a 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 means that disability data/categories are not comparable prior to 2016. Work is underway to find a unified set of disability criteria to provide more detail and to meet user needs.  

Further data including equalities and disability breakdowns in available in the supporting documents.

Data quality and revisions

The survey templates, data specifications, and guidance notes for the statistics presented in this publication are available on the Scottish Exchange of Data (ScotXed) website. The data specifications include standard validation checks undertaken for quality assurance.

Data included in this publication come from administrative data held by local authorities and secure care accommodation services units. As this information is used to monitor and manage these sectors it should be robust and accurate.

Automated validation checks are undertaken at the point the data are submitted. These validations are outlined in the relevant Scottish Exchange of Data (ScotXed) data specifications documents. Second level validation checks are then undertaken by the Children and Families Statistics as part of the quality assurance process. These procedures include: trend analysis, comparing against other available sources, and checking outliers with data providers. The data providers are then asked to confirm and sign off their data. In cases where concerns about data quality outweigh the value of having an estimated figure publicly available, we would not publish that particular information.

Where data need to be revised due to the resubmission of data for a particular year, or to correct errors, the timing will be announced on our website and by email to those who have registered an interest in our statistics. The impact of revisions will be clearly explained in our published reports.

Related publications




Northern Ireland

Children’s Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland 2022/23



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