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Children's Social Work Statistics, Scotland 2020-21

Children's Social Work Statistics for Scotland for 2020 to 2021, including data on children and young people looked after, on the child protection register and in secure care accommodation.

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Looked After Children

13,255 children were looked after – an 8% decrease from the previous year (14,458).

↓ The number of Looked After Children has decreased from 16,231 in 2011, and the lowest this figure has been since 2006.

Placement type

There are several types of placements in which children and young people can be looked after. In 2021, the majority of Looked After Children (90%) were placed in the community. This included 33% of children and young people who were placed with Kinship Carers, 24% placed with Foster Carers provided by local authorities, and 22% were looked after at home. In addition to this, 10% of Looked After Children were placed with Foster Carers purchased by local authorities.

A smaller proportion of Looked After Children (10%) were placed in residential accommodation, including 4% placed in a local authority home.

Table 1.1: Number of Looked After Children at 31 July, in each type of placement
2011 2020 2021
In the community 14,770 13,022 11,969
At home with parents 5,476 3,563 2,859
With Kinship Carers: friends/relatives 3,910 4,456 4,399
With Foster Carers provided by LA 3,871 3,315 3,160
With Foster Carers purchased by LA 1,197 1,429 1,307
With prospective adopters 267 185 156
In other community 49 74 88
Residential accommodation 1,461 1,436 1,286
In local authority home 615 556 525
In voluntary home 88 130 96
In residential school 460 329 323
In secure accommodation 86 59 38
Crisis care 13 0 0
In other residential [1] 199 362 304
Total looked after children 16,231 14,458 13,255

[1] The bulk of the ‘other residential’ placements are private/independent residential placements for young people with complex needs.

Changes over time

Broadly, the number of Looked After Children has declined over the past decade (Chart 1a). In 2021, the number of children placed at home with parents (2,859) was around half that of 2011 (5,476; Table 1.1). The number of looked after children placed in the community, away from home, has decreased slightly between 2011 (9,294) and 2021 (9,110).

Chart 1a: Looked After Children per 1,000 children under 18, by type of accommodation, 1987-2021
Although these patterns fluctuate from year to year, broadly, this shows that:
 The overall number of Looked After Children declined over the past decade,
 The total number of Looked After Children placed at home with parents declined over the past decade, The total number of Looked After Children placed with kinship carers increased over the past decade, The total number of Looked After Children placed with foster carers/prospective adopters decreased over the past decade.

Care plans for Looked After Children

95% of children who were looked after had a current care plan, a 1 percentage point reduction from the previous year.

Of those looked after at home, 94% had a current care plan, and of those looked after away from home, 95% had a current care plan (Table 1.2). These figures were comparable for children placed with Kinship Carers (95%), Foster Carers (95%), in Residential Care (94%), and for those placed with prospective adopters/other community placements (93%).

Table 1.2: Looked After Children with and without a current care plan, at 31 July 2021 [1]
At home Away from home Away from home - breakdown by category Total
With Kinship Carers: friends/relatives With Foster Carers With prospective adopters/ other community In Residential Care
With a current care plan 2,686 9,873 4,193 4,240 227 1,213 12,559
Without a current care plan 173 523 206 227 17 73 696
Total 2,859 10,396 4,399 4,467 244 1,286 13,255
With a current care plan 94% 95% 95% 95% 93% 94% 95%
Without a current care plan 6% 5% 5% 5% 7% 6% 5%
Total % 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

[1] Some children without a current care plan may have one in progress on this date; local recording may differ with regard to when a care plan is recorded as being in place.

Children starting and ceasing to be looked after

↓ The number of children starting to be looked after was down by 22% since the previous year.

↑ The number of children ceasing to be looked after was up by 16% since the previous year.

Between 2013 and 2019, the number of children ceasing to be looked after was consistently greater than those starting to be looked after (Chart 1b). This pattern changed in 2020, when slightly more children started to become looked after than ceasing to be looked after. In 2021 this pattern changed again, with substantially fewer children starting to be looked after than ceasing to be looked after.

Chart 1b - Number of children starting and ceasing to become looked after at 31 July, 2003-2021

Comparisons with previous year

Monthly breakdowns of the number of children starting and ceasing to be looked after in 2020 and in 2021 are provided in Chart 2. There was a steep decrease in the first full month of the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2020) in the number of children starting and ceasing to be looked after. Between April 2020 and July 2020, more children started to become looked after than ceased to be looked after. This pattern changed between August 2020 and July 2021, however, during which there were consistently more children ceasing to be looked after than starting to become looked after.

Chart 2: Number of children starting and ceasing to be looked after by month, 2019-20 and 2020-21

Episodes of care starting

2,738 episodes of care began in 2021 – a large decrease from 3,490 episodes in the previous year.

The age distribution of children becoming looked after has remained broadly stable since 2011 (Table 1.3a).

Table 1.3a: Number of children starting to be looked after by age [1],[2 ]
Age Number Percentage
2011 2020 2021 2011 2020 2021
Under 1 701 531 442 15% 15% 16%
1-4 1,127 815 599 24% 23% 22%
5-11 1,485 1,060 907 31% 30% 33%
12-15 1,389 922 695 29% 26% 25%
16-17 44 158 94 1% 5% 3%
18-21[3] 0 * * 0% * *
Not known 0 * * 0% * *
Total 4,746 3,490 2,738 100% 100% 100%

[1] A child may start to be looked after more than once in a year and so may be counted more than once.

[2] Table cells containing * have been suppressed to maintain confidentiality.

In 2021, 53% of children starting to become looked after were male, and 47% were female. Compared to the previous year, this reflects a decrease in the disparity between males (55%) and females (45%) starting to become looked after (Table 1.3b).

Table 1.3b: Number of children starting to be looked after by sex [1],[2 ]
Sex Number Percentage
2011 2020 2021 2011 2020 2021
Male 2,436 1,904 1,454 51% 55% 53%
Female 2,310 1,586 1,283 49% 45% 47%
Total 4,746 3,490 2,738 100% 100% 100%

[1] A child may start to be looked after more than once in a year and so may be counted more than once.

[2] For a very small number of children Male or Female sex was not specified. To maintain their confidentiality they have been counted in the Male category.

Episodes of care ceasing

3,856 episodes of care ceased in 2021 – an increase from 3,325 episodes in the previous year.

4% of children ceasing to be looked after had been looked after for under 6 weeks – the lowest this figure has been (since 2003).

Compared with 2011, a higher proportion of children ceasing to be looked after had been looked after for five years or longer – up from 13% in 2011 to 21% in 2021 (Table 1.4). Meanwhile the proportion of children looked after for a shorter period of time, especially for between 6 months and under 1 year, decreased (from 16% in 2011 to 10% 2021).

Table 1.4: Number of children ceasing be looked after by length of time looked after [1]
Length of time looked after Number Percentage
2011 2020 2021 2011 2020 2021
Under 6 weeks 299 264 172 6% 8% 4%
6 weeks to under 6 months 348 301 270 8% 9% 7%
6 months to under 1 year 717 400 372 16% 12% 10%
1 year to under 3 years 1,880 1,184 1,497 41% 36% 39%
3 years to under 5 years 748 496 729 16% 15% 19%
5 years and over 619 680 816 13% 20% 21%
Not known 0 0 0 0% 0% 0%
Total 4,611 3,325 3,856 100% 100% 100%

[1] A child may cease to be looked after more than once in a year and so may be counted more than once.

Destination of children ceasing to be looked after

The recorded destinations of children ceasing to be looked after are shown in Table 1.5.

56% of children ceasing to be looked after in 2021 had a recorded destination of at home with their biological parents – a 4% point decrease since 2011 (60%).

14% of children ceasing to be looked after in 2021 went to stay with their friends/relatives.

2% of children ceased to be looked after with a Kinship Care Order – a figure which has remained relatively stable since 2018 (3%), when this information was first included in these statistics.

6% of children ceased to be looked after due to being adopted – a figure which has remained stable since 2011 (6%). The majority of children who were adopted (66%) were below the age of 5 years.

↑ Overall, there was an increase in children who were in Kinship Care when they ceased to be looked after, from 13% in 2011 to 16% in 2021.

Table 1.5: Children ceasing to be looked after, by destination [1]
Destination Number Percentage
2011 2020 2021 2011 2020 2021
Home with (biological) parents 2,766 1,807 2,166 60% 54% 56%
Kinship Carers (friends/relatives) 603 481 532 13% 14% 14%
Kinship Care Order[2] - 53 84 - 2% 2%
Former Foster Carers 55 85 47 1% 3% 1%
Continuing Care[2] - 229 267 - 7% 7%
Adoption 264 192 224 6% 6% 6%
Supported accommodation / own tenancy 285 245 244 6% 7% 6%
Other[3] 225 202 276 5% 6% 7%
Not known 413 31 16 9% 1% 0%
Total 4,611 3,325 3,856 100% 100% 100%

[1] This excludes planned series of short term placements. A child may cease to be looked after more than once during the year and will be counted once for each episode of care ending.

[2] New destination categories of 'Continuing Care' and 'Kinship Care Order' were added in 2018. Previously, children who left care for 'Continuing Care' were mostly recorded in the ‘Foster Carers’ destination category, while those whole left care under a 'Kinship Care Order' were mostly recorded in the ‘Kinship Carers (friends/relatives)’ category.

[3] ‘Other’ includes residential care, homeless, in custody and other destination.

Aftercare services

Aftercare services refer to local authorities’ duty to provide advice, guidance, and assistance for young people who, at the point of leaving care, have reached 16 years of age. As such, the current section refers to ‘young people/person’ rather than ‘children/child’.

↓ The proportion of young people with a pathway plan at the time they ceased to be looked after was 71% – down from 79% in the previous year.

↓ The proportion of young people with a pathway co-ordinator at the time they ceased to be looked after was 56% – down from 70% in the previous year.

Pathway plans and co-ordinators

Young people whose final placement was ‘at home’ were less likely to have a pathway plan or a pathway coordinator, than those who had been placed ‘away from home’ (Table 1.6).

Table 1.6: Pathway plans and nominated pathway co-ordinators of young people who were at least 16 years of age on the date they ceased to be looked after during 2020-21 [1],[2]
Number looked after Percentage looked after
at home away from home Total at home away from home Total
With pathway plan 235 759 994 55% 78% 71%
Without pathway plan 193 218 411 45% 22% 29%
With pathway co-ordinator 214 574 788 50% 59% 56%
Without pathway co-ordinator 214 403 617 50% 41% 44%
Total 428 977 1,405 100% 100% 100%

[1] Figures include all episodes of ceasing to be looked after beyond 16 years of age (i.e. a young person may be counted more than once).

[2] It may be the case that some young people who don't have a relevant pathway plan/coordinator may be receiving similar support from adult services instead.

Table 1.6: Continued
Number looked after away from home (breakdown by category)
Kinship Carers: friends/relatives Foster Carers Prospective adopters/other community Residential Care
With pathway plan 185 238 64 272
Without pathway plan 97 51 11 59
With pathway co-ordinator 137 165 56 216
Without pathway co-ordinator 145 124 19 115
Total 282 289 75 331

Eligibility 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).

The highest proportion of eligible young people in receipt of aftercare services were those aged 19-21 years (58%). The lowest proportion of children in receipt of aftercare services were those aged 16 years (46%).

7,323 young people were eligible for aftercare services – a 2% increase since the previous year (7,198). Figures for those eligible for aftercare have risen substantially since 2016 (4,602).

54% of young people eligible were in receipt of aftercare services – a decrease from the previous year (57%).

Table 1.7: Number of young people eligible for aftercare services on 31 July 2021 by age [1]
Status 16 17 18 19-21 22+ Total
In receipt of aftercare 118 311 619 1,584 1,299 3,931
Not in receipt of aftercare 136 264 544 1,150 1,298 3,392
Total eligible for aftercare 254 575 1,163 2,734 2,597 7,323
In receipt of aftercare 46% 54% 53% 58% 50% 54%
Not in receipt of aftercare 54% 46% 47% 42% 50% 46%
Total eligible for aftercare 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

[1] Age on 31 July 2021

Continuing Care

Continuing Care is the continued provision of the accommodation and other assistance being provided by local authorities immediately before the young person ceased to be looked after. Only children who cease to be looked after aged 16 years or over and were looked after away from home are eligible for Continuing Care.

534 young people were in Continuing Care at 31 July 2021 – a sharp rise from 88 recorded as being in Continuing Care at 31 July 2020. This increase may be partly explained by improvement in recording by local authorities.

During 2021, the number of young people recorded as ceasing to looked after with a destination of Continuing Care was 267 – an increase from 218 in the previous year.

Cross-UK comparisons

Scotland has the highest rate of Looked After Children (131 per 10,000 children) when compared to the other nations within the UK (Chart 3). It is followed by Wales (115 per 10,000), Northern Ireland (80 per 10,000), and England (67 per 10,000). Since 2016, all other UK countries, and in particular Wales, have seen a gradual increase in the rate of Looked After Children.

Chart 3: Cross- UK comparison of rate of Looked After Children per 10,000 children, 2004-2021 [1],[2],[4],[5]
Although these patterns fluctuate from year to year, broadly, this shows that: The overall number of Looked After Children in Scotland declined over the past decade. Since 2016, all other UK countries, and in particular Wales, have seen a gradual increase in the rate of Looked After Children.

[1] Scotland data used here is as at 31st March 2021 for comparability purposes with other UK countries. Please refer to Cross-UK comparability background notes for further information.

[2] England data source: Children looked after in England including adoptions 2021

[3] Wales data source: Children Looked After 2021

[4] Northern Ireland Source: Children's Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland 2020/21

[5] Rate per 10,000 calculates using NRS mid 2020 population estimates for those aged under 18 years.

Contact

Email: childrens.statistics@gov.scot

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