Tackling child poverty - progress report 2023-2024: annex B - focus report on other marginalised groups at risk of poverty

A focus report looking at other marginalised groups at risk of poverty. It provides an evidence review on barriers across the three drivers of poverty and available evidence on what works.

Care experienced

‘Care experienced’ is a broad term widely considered to encompass anyone who at any point in their life has been looked after in some way. This includes children currently looked after at home or away from home, those who have left care, or adults who at some point were looked after themselves.

For families who experience poverty, various social and economic factors can make it harder for parents to care for children, and mean they are more likely than others to be involved in the care system. Moreover, having a child taken into care can have immediate financial impacts on parents.

Experiences of poverty will be unique and vary depending on at what point in the care journey the person is at. For example, whether a person is born into care or experienced care later in their young life, whether a person has been through a child protection process, has been or is being looked after, or is in the process of transitioning out of care and into adulthood.

Figure 5: Visual summary of barriers and what works for those care experienced
Info graphic

Graphic text below:

What barriers do they face?

Income from employment

  • Improvements in educational outcomes but gaps between those care experienced and those who are not still exist.
  • Trauma, relationship breakdown and frequent placement changes can impact on ability to generate income through paid work

Cost of living

  • Experience of poverty, and other social and economic factors can make it harder for parents to care for children – making them more likely to experience care system
  • Once children in care, financial situation of parents can worsen making reunification harder

Inform from social security and benefits in-kind

  • Some financial support withdrawn once children in care and can take considerable time to restart when children return home
  • This can force families into an unintended loop of debt

What works?

  • Early intervention to minimise exposure to care system
  • When in care system – reducing time spent and careful management of transitions points
  • When out of care – strong social relationships and ongoing and consistent post-care support

Who are they?

There are no exact statistics on the number of people who are ‘care experienced’ overall. However, Scottish Government collects information on the number of children currently going through different stages of the system. The latest data shows since 2014 there has been a downward trend in the rate of children on the child protection register (which occurs when it is agreed at a child protection planning meeting that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect, and the family needs support from professional services in order to reduce the risk of harm) or being looked after.

Poverty can make some families experience the care system. For others, going through the care system makes them experience poverty. We know that:

  • Some parents of children in care will have had to navigate various financial and housing difficulties throughout their lives, which may include domestic abuse, parental mental health difficulties, substance misuse, and criminal histories.[102]
  • When children in care become parents, they also seem to be more likely to experience worse health outcomes. They are more likely to smoke, rate their own health as poor/fair, have a high level of depressive symptoms and feel like they never get what they want in life.[103],[104]
  • Parents who have experienced care at some point are more likely to have no or low qualifications, which can limit the income received through employment.103

What barriers and challenges do those care experienced face in relation to child poverty?

Losing a child into care is very traumatic for parents and wider family networks. It can bring feelings of shame and stigma, and have profound immediate and longer term impacts, including on mental and physical health, welfare, and housing entitlement. 102 Life circumstances in the care system context will amplify many of the barriers of poverty that many families were already experiencing.

Challenges faced when aiming to increase income through employment

Better education is generally seen as a route to higher paid employment in the future. In Scotland, educational outcomes for looked after children have significantly improved over the past 10 years. However, there are still large gaps compared with all pupils. Looked after school leavers are more likely to leave school earlier and do so with fewer qualifications.[105] For example in the 2021/22 school year, 78% of looked after school leavers achieved one or more qualification at SCQF level 4 or better, compared to 96% of all leavers. On a similar trend, 32% of school leavers looked after within the year left school in S4 or earlier, at more than double the rate of all school leavers (12%).

Once the child finishes their education and is out of the care system, a myriad of different challenges makes it particularly difficult for care leavers to increase their income through employment. A study from Australia examined barriers care leavers face to improving their education and employment. The main barriers included a need for extra support to overcome the impacts of trauma, relationship breakdown and frequent placement changes. These barriers are then combined or associated with ongoing life challenges for care leavers such as already living on a low income, mental health issues, and limited social networks.[106]

Challenges faced when aiming to reduce their cost of living

Living in poverty can add societal and economic pressures on parents to care for their children. For some families this means that they are more likely to then experience the care system. We know that those with care experience are more likely to live in poverty,[107] be food insecure,[108] and miss out on life experiences.[108]

A secure and stable home can make an important difference to care leavers. But housing alone is not what any young person needs to thrive. Research shows that receiving services and stable housing did not eliminate a young person’s struggles with employment, education, and mental health. Further, a setback in one domain can often undermine their ability to maintain housing. Key structural barriers included housing quality, and the location of and access to transport links.[109]

Challenges faced when aiming to increase income through social security

For families in precarious financial circumstances, having a child taken into care can have immediate financial impacts on parents. Particularly because some financial support, in the form of benefits, is withdrawn when children go into care and can take considerable time to restart when the children return home. This can start an unintended loop of debt that can impact on the future reunification of parents with their children.[110]

Research from Social Security Scotland found specific barriers faced by care experienced applicants when aiming to increase their income through social security:[26]

  • a complex and often unfamiliar benefit system
  • difficulty finding information
  • stigma built in the system
  • strong reliance of their sector organisations to help navigate the system

What do we know works to support those care experienced?

A wide range of evidence is clear on what works to support those care experienced to avoid poverty. In summary, evidence highlights:

  • Early intervention with families to prevent a need to enter the care system in the first place. Even though families are known to the services, the current scaffolding provided is not sufficient to keep families together while navigating difficult times or to avoid repeat removals.[102]
  • When in care, a wider family unit needs to be considered and siblings need to be supported to stay together where safe to do so.[102]
  • There is also a need a need to reduce the time spent in the care system and reduce the instability caused by experiencing multiple placements.[111]
  • A need to carefully manage transition points “into” and “out of” care.[112], [113] In practice this means better preparing care leavers for this transition by maintaining supports for longer and ensuring they do not reach a “cliff edge” where support is suddenly stopped; tailoring support to meet the specific needs of each care leaver; and grounding support in more comprehensive aftercare planning.
  • And once out of care, strong social relationships, and ongoing and consistent post-care support – from key workers, partners, friends, and former carers – could be a crucial enabler of life stability and help care leavers navigate life challenges. Consistency and continuity were highly valued and were described as helping care leavers build relationships of trust and gain access to support services.[106]


Email: TCPU@gov.scot

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