What are the general trends?
Children looked after trend
There was a 49 per cent rise in the number of children looked after between 2001 (the year of the lowest number of being looked after this century) and 2012 to a peak of 16,248, with numbers declining in the last two years to 15,580 in 2014. The trend is mostly driven by changes in children looked after in community placements (Chart 1). Children who are looked after by local authorities can be accommodated in a community placement (e.g. at home with parents, with family/friends or foster carers/prospective adopters) or a residential placement (e.g. in a local authority or voluntary home, in a residential school or secure care accommodation).
Child protection trend
Since 2000 there has also been a less steep but steady 41 per cent increase in the number of children on the child protection register, with 2014 seeing the largest year-on-year increase since 2009. Of the 2,882 children who were on the child protection register at 31 July 2014, almost one in three (29 per cent) were also looked after at that point, similar to last year.
Across Scotland, 17.8 per thousand under 18s are looked after or on the child protection register, but there is variation across local authorities. The rate is highest in Glasgow (with 36.6 children per 1,000 under 18s) and lowest in Aberdeenshire, (with 8.7 per children per 1,000 under 18s). In general rates are higher in the West of Scotland and urban areas.
How do children come to be counted in these figures?
There are a number of routes by which a child may come to be looked after, on the child protection register or in secure care. Children may be referred to the Children's Reporter, become voluntarily looked after or come in through the criminal justice system. The diagram below gives a high-level illustration of the main routes by which a child can become looked after, on the child protection register or in secure care. See background note 1.1 for more information.
What are the trends in other children's social work data?
Between 2004 to 2014 - a period in which the number of children who are looked after or on the child protection register has increased by 36 per cent - the number of children and young people referred to the Reporter decreased by close to 60 per cent. The decrease is the result of falls in both the number of offence and non-offence referrals. Offence referrals now only account for 14 per cent all referrals, down from 33 per cent in 2003/04. As with the looked after and child protection statistics, younger children make up an increasing proportion of referrals.
How do the SCRA figures compare with the findings in this publication?
The fall in referrals to the Reporter is likely due to pre-referral screening across many areas of the country leading to a reduction in referrals received by the Reporter where compulsory measures are not deemed necessary and a proportionate increase in referrals where they are deemed necessary.
The historic increase in the number of children who are looked after or on the child protection register at a time when referrals are falling means that the smaller number of referrals being received by the Reporter are potentially of a more complex nature and are more likely to end up being looked after or on the child protection register than in previous years. The continuing decline in numbers of children who are both looked after and on the child protection register seen since 2012 is likely to be linked to the fall in referrals now starting to feed through to the later stages of the social work system.
Email: Ian Volante