Foster care: glossary of placement descriptions

National placement descriptors for care planning, as created by the Foster Care Review Implementation short life working group.


Placement moves are highly disruptive for children, impacting negatively on their social, emotional and educational development. The Scottish Government is working with its local partners to ensure that all looked after children are secured in quality, permanent placements at the earliest opportunity. These placements should offer children greater stability and consistent, nurturing, long-term relationships which continue into adulthood.

To achieve this aim Scotland needs to have the right mix of foster carers, and effective decision making and review processes for children. Neither of these is possible without clarity about the types of placement children currently experience. The National Foster Care Review (commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2013) concluded that this required increased standardisation in how local authorities and fostering agencies describe the types of fostering placements they make available. A set of national 'placement descriptors', used consistently by all agencies, would enable local areas and the national Government to build up a detailed picture of foster care in Scotland, improve the way the Care Inspectorate reviews agencies prior to inspection, and facilitate better communication between the various agencies involved in delivering the Child's Plan, and with those involved in monitoring the placement (such as Children's Hearings Scotland). The Scottish Government accepted the recommendation of the National Foster Care Review, and a small working group was established to develop the placement descriptors.

This document sets out the placement descriptors, alongside some explanatory notes. It is the expectation of the Scottish Government and the Care Inspectorate that all current fostering placements are classified and recorded according to this typology. The correct descriptor should be used to define the placement type in all relevant statutory plans, including the care plan and Child's Plan. The Care Inspectorate will request information (through its Annual Return) about placements to be provided on the basis of the definitions below.


A placement secured by a Permanence Order.

For a child this means that the care planning process has concluded that they will thrive best if they are cared for away from home on a permanent basis. A Permanence Order, which is applied for by the local authority through the courts, can provide the local authority, child and their carer with the legal security, the stability and the time for strong relationship bonds and a sense of belonging to develop.


A placement which has been in place for longer than 24 months not secured by a Permanence Order. This should be an exceptional situation and an indicator that the placement requires close scrutiny. Agencies must differentiate between long-term placements where:

  • an Adoption order is being sought
  • a Permanence Order with authority to adopt is being sought
  • a Permanence Order is being sought
  • the child's care plan indicates that the placement will be maintained into adulthood (18+ years of age) without a Permanence Order being sought
  • the child's care plan indicates that alternative placements are being sought (including with birth family)
  • the child's care plan gives no indication of the placement's objective or expected duration and therefore requires close scrutiny


A placement which has been in place for less than 24 months, not secured by a Permanence Order. Agencies must differentiate between interim placements which are:

  • part of a concurrency plan
  • working towards rehabilitation with birth parents or other carers (not part of a concurrency plan)
  • working towards Permanence Order with a different foster carer
  • working towards Adoption Order or Permanence Order with current carer (see definition above)

For a child this means that the care planning process has concluded that they will benefit from spending some time being cared for away from home and there is a time-linked plan for rehabilitation with parents or an alternative care placement is being sought.


An unplanned placement made in an emergency, where no other placement type has been identified by the local authority. (Under the Looked After Children Regulations 2009, an emergency placement must be reviewed by a local authority within three days, and may be extended for a period not exceeding 12 weeks.)

For a child this will mean that there are immediate concerns for their safety and wellbeing and they require to be removed from their home environment as quickly as possible while the care planning process establishes the best option for the child.

Short Break

A placement which forms part of a planned series of short breaks (including emergency placements with a carer who is already providing planned short-break placements to the child or young person).

For a child this will mean that because of special circumstances they and their carer will benefits from therapeutic services or periods of respite.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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