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


This paper provides an overview of social services[1] provided to children and families in Scotland. [2] It forms one of an initial collection of contextual papers, setting out key sources of information about social care and related areas in Scotland, linking to the National Care Service Consultation proposals published in August 2021. Information on key national trends in those services is also provided. This includes provision trends, population profiles of children to whom these services are provided, and the workforce.

Official and National statistics are available for:

  • Child Protection
  • Children's Hearings Duties (including the Principal Reporter)
  • Looked after children
  • Secure Care Accommodation

This is one of a collection of papers produced to inform draft legislation for the NCS. The collection consists of the following 6 papers on adult social care:

And papers on:

1.1 Sources

The data sources and reporting periods for this paper are summarised below. For consistency and ease of reporting, these will be referred to as whole years (e.g., 2021).

Body: Scottish Government

Data source: Children's Social Work Statistics

Reporting period: 01 August 2020 to 31 July 2021

Body: Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SRCA)

Data source: SCRA Official Statistics

Reporting period: 01 April 2020 to 31 March 2021

Body: Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC)

Data Source: Children's Services Workforce Tables, Local Authority Post Types Tables, Report on 2020 Workforce Data

Reporting period: as at 31 December 2019, as at first Monday in December 2020, as at 31 December 2020

Body: Care Inspectorate

Data Source: Fostering and adoption statistical bulletin

Reporting period: 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020

1.2 Context

Social services are provided to children and their families when additional support is needed or when children are at risk.

Section 22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 places a duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need and, where consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of children within their families. Every local authority in Scotland provides social services to fulfil these statutory duties.

Social work services may become involved with a family through different routes. A family member may request a social work service. It is more common that they will be referred by someone they know, usually a professional such as a health visitor, doctor, teacher, youth worker, or community police officer. This will usually be done with the person's permission. Anyone who considers that a child is being harmed or is at risk of suffering harm (usually a professional such as those above) may refer the child for assessment of whether a formal child protection service is necessary. Exceptionally, this can be done without seeking the parents' or an older child's agreement, though professionals will usually try to explain why they consider that this is necessary and the steps a social worker might take.

Children and young people receiving social work services can be aged from 0 (or even pre-birth) to 18 years. If a young person has been looked after by the 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 are very varied but usually the parents and/or children, or the whole family, may 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 and poverty has a pervasive impact on families.


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

For queries relating to this publication contact: 

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