National Care Service - children's social services: overview

Overview of social services provided to children and families in Scotland. It forms one of a collection of contextual papers about social care and related areas in Scotland, linking to the National Care Service consultation.

This document is part of a collection

Key facts

Children and Families

  • Children receiving social services can be aged from 0 (or pre-birth) to 18. For some young people who have been looked after by a local authority, a social work or social worker-led service may continue up to the age of 26.
  • The reasons why social work involvement may be necessary vary, but usually the parents, children and/or whole family will be experiencing a combination of practical, emotional, and relationship difficulties.
  • Children and parents in all income groups and with a wide range of disabilities, emotional and relationship difficulties may be assessed as in need of a social work service. However, families from areas of higher deprivation are more likely to receive statutory social work services.

Child Protection

  • During 2021, 570 Child Protection Orders were granted in emergency/high risk situations, with more orders granted for very young children.
  • 4,397 initial and pre-birth Case Conferences were held – 76% of which resulted in a registration to the Child Protection Register.
  • As at 31 July 2021, 2,104 children were on the Child Protection Register – the lowest this figure has been since 2002.

Looked after children

  • As at 31 July 2021, 13,255 children were looked after – the lowest this figure has been since 2006.
  • The most common types of placements for looked after children were: at home with parents, kinship care, and with foster carers.


  • In 2020, the overall headcount for children's social services was 15,830 – a 5% increase since 2015.
  • The two largest subsectors in children's social services were residential child care (55%) and fieldwork services (37%).


For queries relating to a child at risk of harm please contact the appropriate local authority directly.

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