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.

This document is part of a collection

Background notes

1. Context and related publications

1.1. Children most commonly become Looked After following a referral to the Children’s Reporter. The majority of referrals to the Reporter are on care and protection grounds, although a small proportion are on offence grounds. Child protection procedures are initiated when police, social work or health professionals determine that a child may have been significantly harmed or may be at risk of significant harm. Young people are placed in Secure Care Accommodation 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 as part of SCRA’s Official Statistics. The most recent figures on referrals of young people from the criminal justice system to the social work system are published as part of the Criminal justice social work statistics: 2020 – 2021.

1.2. Education Outcomes for Looked After Children statistics are produced on a subset of children who are looked after – those whose Scottish Candidate Numbers have been supplied to Scottish Government. The latest Education Outcomes for Looked After Children Statistics are for 2019-20.

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 out with the care system. These statistics are available on p.19 of the Civil Justice Statistics in Scotland 2019-20.

2. The Scottish Government published Covid-19 Supplementary National Child Protection Guidance on 31 March 2020 to respond to the issues identified by local areas and support evolving approaches. In addition to this, Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 provisions were also developed to improve capacity and flexibility of local child protection processes and prioritisation of children at greatest risk.

3. Cross-UK comparability

3.1. Although it is possible to draw comparisons between these statistics of the four UK countries, it should be noted that there are differences in legislation, children’s Social Work systems and definitions of categories that will affect these figures.

3.2. While Scotland’s data collection year runs from 1 August to 31 July, the collection year in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland runs from 1 April to 31 March. To allow for cross-UK comparisons, the Scotland figures below are as at the 31st March where relevant

3.3. The Scottish Government has undertaken work with 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 can be found on UK Comparability of Children's Social Services Statistics.

3.4. 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 can be found on UK Comparability of Children's Social Services Statistics.

3.5. Equivalent data across the UK is presented in the table below:


Looked After Children Statistics

Children looked after in England including adoptions 2021

Child Protection Statistics

Characteristics of children in need 2021

Secure Care Accommodation Statistics

Children accommodated in secure children's homes: 31 March 2021


Looked After Children Statistics

Children Looked After 2021

Child Protection Statistics

Children on the child protection register

Secure Care Accommodation Statistics

Children accommodated in secure children's homes: 31 March 2021

Northern Ireland

Looked After Children Statistics

Children's Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland 2020/21

Child Protection Statistics

Children's Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland 2020/21

Secure Care Accommodation Statistics

Official/ National Statistics are not produced. However, there is one Secure Unit which, when at full capacity, can house sixteen 11-18 year olds.

4. Data sources and coverage

4.1. 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 2020 and 31 July 2021.

4.2. The Looked After Children data was collected at an individual level from local authorities. Data were collected on all children/young people who were looked after between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021, on every episode of being looked after which occurred at some point in this 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 who are eligible for aftercare.

4.3. The Child Protection data was 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. Detailed individual data has been collected since 2012-13. Prior to this, data was collected as aggregate summarised data. If a member of the public or a professional report concern about a child, a referral will be made to an agency such as the local authority social work team. If it is decided that the child is at risk of significant harm, an investigation will be undertaken. In 2010-11 and previous years, aggregate information was collected on the referrals that were initiated during the period (so numbers starting). From 2011-12 information has been collected on child protection investigations which ended during the collection period. Information on Child Protection Referrals has not been collected since 2010-11.

4.4. The Secure Care Accommodation statistics in this publication were collected from five secure care units which were open from 1 August 2020 till 31 July 2021. 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.

4.5. The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) can provide information on staffing and vacancies of services, where a Secure Care Accommodation has provided that information to the Care Inspectorate, although this is not necessarily published. Their 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 Care Accommodation services, you can visit the Scottish Social Services Council Data website or contact:

5. Definitions and notations

5.1. The survey forms, data specifications and guidance notes for the statistics presented in this publication are available on the Scottish Government’s Scottish Exchange of Data website. The data specifications include standard validation checks undertaken for quality assurance. Online documentation can be found for each of the specific data collections: Looked After Children, Child Protection, and Secure Care Accommodation.

Looked After Children

5.2. Under the Children (Scotland ) Act 1995 , 'Looked After Children' are defined as those in the care of their local authority – sometimes referred to as a 'corporate parent'.

5.3. Supervision Requirement/Compulsory Supervision OrderA 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 their 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.

5.4. Permanence order – This is an order that the sheriff court can make for the protection 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 of residence to the local authority. In making a permanence order the court can, as it considers appropriate, to promote and safeguard the child’s health, development and welfare, also make ancillary orders which:

  • give other parental rights and responsibilities to the local authority or other person(s), and /or
  • remove parental rights and responsibilities from the child’s parents.

A permanence order may also specify arrangements for contact between the child and any other person the court considers appropriate and in the best interests of the child.

5.5. Types of placements

In the community

  • 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. 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

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.

  • Kinship Care: 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:
    • looked after children who have been placed with kinship carers by the local authority
    • 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.
  • 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:
    • Provided by local authority
    • Purchased by local authority
  • Adoption: a 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 accommodation

  • Residential care homes offer young people, 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 (though in most cases, the child is educated at a school nearby).

5.6. 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.

5.7. For more information on the process by which children come be Looked After, and associated legislation pleased visit Looked After Children section on the Scottish Government Website.

5.8. Continuing care – continuing care has been available to eligible care leavers from April 2015, enabling eligible young people aged 16 or older to stay in the same kinship, foster or residential care placements when they ceased to be looked after.

Child Protection

5.9. Child Protection Case Conference – a meeting where the risk of harm or neglect of a child is addressed.

Type - Initial

Who is it for

a child not currently on the Child Protection Register

Potential outcome

  • Child is registered or
  • Child is not registered
Type - Pre-birth

Who is it for

an unborn child

Potential outcome

  • Child is registered or
  • Child is not registered
Type - Review

Who is it for

a child already on the Child Protection Register either receiving a regular case review, or where there are significant recent changes with the child or family situation

Potential outcome

  • Child remains on register or
  • Child is deregistered
Type - Transfer

Who is it for

a child already on the Child Protection Register moving between local authorities

Potential outcome

  • Child is deregistered or
  • Child remains on register

5.10. Registrations – when children who were the subject to a Case Conference and were subsequently added to the Child Protection Register between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021.

5.11. De-registrations – when children who were the subject to a Transfer or Review Conference and were subsequently removed from the Child Protection Register between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021.

5.12. For more information on the Child Protection process, and associated legislation please visit: National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2014. More recent guidance is available on National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021.

Secure Care Accommodation

5.13. 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.

5.14. 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 who, together, 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.

5.15. 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.

5.16. A young person convicted of an offence in court can be sentenced to detention in Secure Care 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.

5.17. Before a child or young person can be placed in Secure Care 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:

5.18. 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

5.19. the child is likely to engage in self harming conduct

5.20. the child is likely to cause injury to another person.

5.21. 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 2019-20 and age at 31 July 2020 are the actual ages for all young people.

5.22. Ethnicity and Religion – Data was collected on ethnicity and religion of young people in Secure Care Accommodation, but we are unable to publish this due to the small numbers and data confidentiality issues.

5.23. Emergency/short-term 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 reported having an emergency bed: Rossie Secure Accommodation Services; Good Shepherd Centre; Kibble Education and Care Centre; and St. Mary's Kenmure. St Mary's Kenmure also has 3 short-term beds which, for ease, these beds are referred to as emergency in the report.

Disability and Additional Support Needs

5.24. Prior to 2011, data was collected on ‘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 included in all three data collections. The question is 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 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 information is available in the online documentation listed at the beginning of the Definitions and notations section 4.1.


5.25. 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.


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

6. Data quality and revisions

6.1. The data for all three parts of this publication 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.

6.2. Automated validation checks are undertaken at the point the data are submitted. These validations are outlined in the relevant data specifications. Further information is available in the online documentation listed at the beginning of the Definitions and notations section 4.1.

6.3. 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 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 Accommodation 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.

6.4. 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.

7. Comparability over time

Looked After Children

7.1. 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 the subject of future revision. However, Scottish Government and partner Local Authorities have been improving data flows and the need for revision is less likely.

7.2. 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). The quality of this information has, consequently, improved.

7.3. 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’.

Child Protection

7.4. Since 2012-13, the Child Protection data has been collected at an individual level.. It has been normal practice that, during the collection process, local authorities are given the option to revise their data for the previous year. This report reflects those updates provided by local authorities for 2019-20.

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

Secure Care Accommodation

7.6. 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.



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