1. We want Scotland to be the best place for all our children to grow up.
2. Tackling inequality is at the heart of the Scottish Government's commitment to creating a better country for all. The Programme for Government 2015-2016 focuses on four themes: a stronger and fairer Scotland; a strong, sustainable economy; protecting and reforming our public services; and strengthening our communities. The Scottish Government seeks to provide opportunities for all to flourish and to remove barriers which prevent people from achieving their full potential. Improving the life chances and outcomes for looked after children and young people is crucial if we are to tackle inequality. These children and young people face some of the biggest barriers to achieving their potential.
3. The publication of We Can and Must Do Better  in 2007 reflected a desire to see a step change in outcomes for looked after children. Since 2007 we have established the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland ( CELCIS), with funding of £2.7 million per annum; revised our adoption and permanence legislation; reformed the Children's Hearings System; and most recently passed the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 ("the 2014 Act").  The 2014 Act contains far-reaching provisions to improve the lives of looked after children and young people. It also puts Getting It Right For Every Child ( GIRFEC) on a statutory basis, providing the foundation for all our work with children and families.
4. We have seen signs of improvement. Attendance and attainment in school are improving and more looked after children are in positive destinations upon leaving school. There has also been an increase in the number of children achieving permanence through adoption or permanence orders. The rate of improvement is still not fast enough, however, and we are not yet seeing the systemic improvements that are needed to make a lasting difference to the lives of these children and young people.
5. This strategy is built on the principles of GIRFEC, reaffirms our commitment to improve outcomes for looked after children and lays out our vision for the future. It is not about a change of direction, but consolidates the aims that have become well understood within the sector over recent years, reaffirms ambitions and builds on work underway. The strategy reflects the things that young people, practitioners and carers have told us are important and rests on the best available evidence.
6. Our approach is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC) - which makes clear what children can expect from us and what our responsibilities are towards them. The UNCRC particularly sets out children's rights to care and protection where they are looked after or adopted, and their right to have their views heard.
7. At the heart of the strategy is the importance of relationships for our looked after children and young people. For children and young people the quality of relationships with carers, their birth families, social workers, other trusted adults and corporate parents is fundamental to their ability to develop and thrive. The priorities and activities outlined in this strategy reflect this.
8. The strategy has been developed with input from partners across the statutory and voluntary sectors and looked after children and young people. We are grateful for their engagement and contributions.
What do we know about our looked after children?
9. Over the last decade we have seen rising numbers of looked after children, peaking in 2012 and then starting to fall again. We have also seen changes in the way in which they are being accommodated, with more children being looked after by friends or relatives and fewer being looked after at home with parents. With an increased focus on early intervention, children have started to become looked after at younger ages. They are also ceasing to be looked after at younger ages. However, for children of all ages, the numbers of children looked after for more than three years doubled since 2004, which suggests permanence is not happening quickly enough for all children.
10. Research by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration ( SCRA)  , with a sample of 100 looked after children, identified that only 8% (7 children) achieved permanence within two years and 53% (44 children) took more than 4 years ( SCRA, 2011). We are seeing progress with Scotland's Adoption Register which has now been put on a statutory footing through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. In July 2015 there had been 200 matches made since the Register began operation in April 2011. Despite the progress there is still much more to do to ensure that more children achieve permanence and do so more quickly.
11. Looked after young people tend to leave school at younger ages than other young people. Partly because of this, they tend to have lower levels of educational qualifications and are less likely to go on to positive destinations after school than other young people. The attainment of looked after young people has significantly improved over the last three years, but the gap between looked after children and other children is still too wide - progress needs to be accelerated.
Key statistics