Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland: 2021 to 2022

Children's Social Work Statistics for Scotland for 2021 to 2022, including data on children on the child protection register, as well as children and young people looked after, in continuing care, eligible for aftercare, and in secure care accommodation.

Background notes

Child protection

Although child protection procedures may be considered for a person up to the age of 18, the vast majority of children included in the child protection figures are under 16 years.


Investigations are multi-agency assessments which take place when the child is at risk of significant harm. This enables core agencies to gather information to inform risk assessment and needs of the child, and the need for protective action.

Case Conferences

The Case Conference must decide whether the child is at risk of significant harm and requires a coordinated, multi-disciplinary Child Protection Plan. The purpose of the Case Conference is to support engagement of parents and all relevant agencies in assessment of risks and strengths, and in planning next steps which includes potential referral to the Principal Reporter. There are four types of Case Conferences:

Type Who is it for? Potential outcome
Initial Children not currently on the Register. Child is registered.
Child is not registered.
Pre-birth Unborn children. Child is registered.
Child is not registered.
Review Children already on the Register either receiving a regular case review, or where there are significant recent changes with the child or family situation. Child remains on register.
Child is de-registered.
Transfer Children already on the Register moving between local authorities. Child is de-registered.

Child Protection Register

Where a Child Protection Plan is required, the child’s name must be added to the Child Protection Register. All local authorities are responsible for maintaining a central Register for all children who are the subject of a Child Protection Plan. This includes an unborn baby that may be exposed to current or future risk.

Comparability over time

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 the preceding year.

Prior to 2011-12, some local authorities did not place ‘unborn’ children on the Register until the child was 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

Looked after children

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 settings

Placements in residential accommodation settings 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. 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 the age of 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 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.

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 a local authority's duty under section 26A of the Children and Young People (Scotland) 1995 Act to provide, subject to a Welfare Assessment, young people born after 1 April 1999 and who are at least aged sixteen and whose final 'looked after' placement is in foster, kinship or residential care with the same accommodation and other assistance as was being provided by the local authority, at the time the young person ceases to be looked after.


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
  • 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

Secure care 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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

  • 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
  • the child is likely to engage in self-harming conduct
  • the child is likely to cause injury to another person

Emergency beds

Emergency/short-term beds refers to those which 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.

Ethnicity and religion data

Please note that Ethnicity and Religion data was collected on young people in secure care, but we are unable to publish this due to the small numbers and data confidentiality issues.

Comparability over time

As the number of young people using secure care is relatively small, relative changes over time may show greater percentage changes than other types of trends.

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 in all three data collections. 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.

Cross UK comparability

Since 2011/12, Scotland’s data collection year runs from 1 August to 31 July, whilst the collection year in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland span 1 April to 31 March. The exception to this is number and rate of children on the Child Protection Register whereby between 2011 and 2014 figures were published on 31 July.  It should be note that UK nations operate under different legislative frameworks, and as such are not directly comparable. The Scottish Government has undertaken work with the other administrations 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. Work was also 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.


Child Protection Planning Meetings

We are aware of change in terminology from ‘Child Protection Case Conferences’ to ‘Child Protection Planning Meetings’ in line with the National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 . As this guidance was still in its’ implementation phase during data recording and collection, in this report we refer to ‘Case Conferences’ to reflect the terminology used during the time spanning this collection period.

Care experienced children

The Each and Every Child Initiative aims to change how we speak about care experience. We know that children and young people with care experience do not like the phrase 'looked after children'.  In this report, we use the current legal definition of ‘looked after children’ under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 – broadly defined as those in the care of their local authority.

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

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