Children Looked After
The total number of children looked after has fallen for the fifth year
The use of Permanence Orders is increasing as the use of Compulsory Supervision Orders declines
Adoptions of looked after children increased to its highest level on record
The number of children looked after at home continues to fall
This section presents data on children looked after during the period from 1 August 2016 to 31 July 2017. This will be referred to as 2017 for ease of reporting (with 2015-16 referred to as 2016 and so on). Local authorities have a responsibility to provide support to certain children and young people, known as 'looked after children'. A child may become looked after for a number of reasons; including neglect, abuse, complex disabilities which require specialist care, or involvement in the youth justice system.
At 31 July 2017, there were 14,897 looked after children - a decrease of 420 (around 3%) from 2016. This is the fifth consecutive year the numbers have decreased following a peak of 16,248 in 2012. The number of children ceasing to be looked after each year has been consistently more than the numbers becoming looked after, although both numbers have also been declining - see main tables 1.3 and 1.4.
Permanence Order data are presented in additional tables AT2.5a and b which presents three legal reasons ('Freed for Adoption', 'Permanence Order' and 'Permanence Order with authority to place for adoption') as 'legally secure permanence', and shows that together they have increased every year since collection began in 2012, and now stand at 2,064, a 4% increase on 2016.
There are several types of care setting in which looked after children or young people could be looked after, including at home (where a child is subject to a Compulsory Supervision Order and continues to live in their normal place of residence), foster care, residential unit or school, a secure unit, with prospective adopters, or in kinship care (where they are placed with friends or relatives).
Table 1.1 and Chart 1 show there is a continued decreasing trend in children being looked after at home with this group accounting for only 25% of the total in 2017 compared to 43% in 2007. Increasing numbers of children are being looked after away from home in community settings, in particular with foster carers (35% of the total). Foster care and kinship care are the most common settings for looked after children now. Numbers of children looked after in residential care settings have been fairly static over recent years at around 10% of the overall total.
Table 1.1: Number of children looked after by type of accommodation (1)
(1) Information on the number of children looked after by
accommodation type is available back to 1971 in main table 1.1a of
the spreadsheet version of the associated downloadable publication
(2) 'In other community' is a category that captures those people in community placements outside those listed, such as supported accommodation.
(3) The bulk of the 'other residential' placements are private/independent residential placements for young people with complex needs.
Chart 1: Children looked after per 1,000 children under 18 by type of accommodation, 1987-2017
When children become looked after, a care plan should be produced. The care plan should include detailed information about the child's care, education and health needs, as well as the responsibilities of the local authority, the parents and the child. A care plan is considered 'current' if it has been produced or reviewed in the past 12 months.
Table 1.2: Children looked after with and without a current care plan, at 31 July 2017 (1)
|At home||Away from home||Away from home - breakdown by category||Total|
|With Kinship Carers: friends/relatives||With Foster Carers||With prospective adopters/other community||In Residential Care|
|With a current care plan||3,509||10,595||3,711||5,178||229||1,477||14,104|
|Without a current care plan||257||536||427||74||3||32||793|
|With a current care plan||93%||95%||90%||99%||99%||98%||95%|
|Without a current care plan||7%||5%||10%||1%||1%||2%||5%|
(1) Local authorities vary in their recording of care plans being in place, so some children without a current care plan may in fact have one in progress on this date.
Table 1.2 shows that 95% of the 14,897 children who were looked after at the end of July 2017 had a current care plan, a 1% increase on 2016. There was little difference between children looked after at home and away from home.
Children starting and ceasing to be looked after
The reduction in total numbers being looked after is simply because more people are leaving care than starting. A child will be counted more than once in each set of figures if they have started being looked after and/or ceased being looked after more than once during the reporting year.
As shown in table 1.3, 4,186 episodes of care began between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2017. Table 1.3 shows a 2% increase from 2016 and a 20% decrease from 2007.
Table 1.3: Number of children starting to be looked after by age (1)
(1) Table excludes planned series of short term placements.
(2) The 18-21 category in this table may include a small number of looked after young people who were over 21 years.
Table 1.3 also shows that over the last 10 years children have started episodes of care at younger ages. In 2007, 30% of children starting episodes of care were under five years of age. By 2017 this had risen to 39%, although this is a decline from a peak of 41% in 2014. A large proportion of the under-five group are the under-one year olds, and the numbers in this youngest group have increased by 57% since 2007, but have declined slightly since 2014. There has also been a corresponding decrease in the proportion of children aged 12-17 starting episodes of care since 2006.
There were slightly more boys than girls starting episodes of care in 2017 - 54% boys compared to 46% girls (Scotland's Census 2011 showed that the general population was 51% boys aged under 18). The number of boys starting episodes of care has been steady in recent years while the number of girls has been falling until this year, as shown in the spreadsheet version of main table 1.3. The trend reflects a long-term gender split where boys make up around 54% of children starting episodes of care.
Table 1.4 shows the number of children who ceased episodes of care by length of time looked after. There were 4,274 children who ceased episodes of care between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2017, an increase of 1% from 2016.
The total length of time children were looked after remained similar between 2016 and 2017. However in the longer-term, there are more children being looked after for more than five years, and fewer looked after for only a period of weeks. This is in line with the policy that children should remain looked after until a permanent placement is found.
Table 1.4: Number of children ceasing to be looked after, by length of time looked after (1)
(1) Excludes children who are on a planned series of short term placements. If a child ceases to be looked after more than once during the year they will be counted more than once.
Just as children are starting to be looked after at a younger age over the longer-term, children are also ceasing to be looked after at younger ages. The number of children ceasing to be looked after who were under the age of 12 was 42% in 2007 and is now 50%. However, most of the change occurred around 2010 and has seen little variation since. Fuller information can be found in the additional tables in AT1.12.
Table 1.5: Number of children ceasing to be looked after by destination (1)(3)
(1) Table excludes planned series of short term placements. A
child may cease to be looked after more than once during the year
and will be counted once for each episode of care ending. Some
totals do not exactly equal the sum of their component parts due to
the effects of rounding.
(2) "Other" includes residential care, homeless, in custody and other destination.
(3) Numbers from 2007 are not directly comparable to 2017 due to the large number of not known cases in that year. Not known cases in 2007 were from local authorities who did not provide data.
When a child ceases being looked after, a destination category is recorded (Table 1.5). Most children (54% in 2017) go home to their biological parents and 21% go to live in kinship care with friends or relatives. The percentage leaving care that go home has fallen consistently over the last five years. There is a long term increase in the number of children leaving care due to being adopted, and although the proportion of adoptions decreased slightly between 2014 and 2015, they increased to their highest level of 9% in 2017. The majority of adoptions (72%) are of children aged under five years old as seen in AT1.9. There is a much more even spread of ages of young people leaving care to go home or to live with friends and relatives. There has been an improvement in data quality over the past five years, as shown by the large decrease of the 'Not known' category in Table 1.5.
Local authorities have a duty to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who at the point of leaving care have reached 16 years of age. This is referred to as 'aftercare services'. Local authorities are required to carry out a pathway assessment for aftercare services for all currently looked after young people who are over the age of sixteen and every 'compulsorily supported person' (a care leaver who has not yet reached their nineteenth birthday). These young people should be provided with a pathway co-ordinator who assesses their needs and a pathway plan which outlines how the local authority plans to meet the needs of the young person. The pathway assessment should be done within three months of a young person becoming a compulsorily supported person but it is expected that all young people over age 16 will have had their pathway assessment, and will have a completed pathway plan in place as to their future before they cease to be looked after.
Of those young people who had reached 16 years of age at the time they ceased to be looked after during 1 August 2016 to 31 July 2017, 73% had a pathway plan and 75% had a pathway co‑ordinator (table 1.6), an increase from 64% and 72% in 2016. Where a young person's final placement type was 'at home' they were less likely to have a pathway plan or a pathway co-ordinator than if the final placement type was 'away from home'. Table 1.6 shows that, of children whose last placement was at home, 57% had a pathway plan and 60% a pathway coordinator, compared with 79% and 81% respectively of those whose final placement type was 'away from home'.
Table 1.6: Pathway plans and nominated pathway co-ordinators of young people who were at least 16 years of age on the date they ceased to be looked after during 2016-17 (1),(2)
|Looked after at home||Looked after away from home||Total||Looked after at home||Looked after away from home||Total|
|With a pathway plan at discharge||212||783||995||57||79||73|
|Without a pathway plan at discharge||160||208||368||43||21||27|
|With a nominated pathway co-ord at discharge||224||805||1,029||60||81||75|
|Without a nominated pathway co-ord at discharge||148||186||334||40||19||25|
(1) Figures include all episodes of ceasing to be looked after
beyond 16 years of age (
i.e. a child may be counted more than
(2) It may be the case that some young people who don't have a relevant pathway plan/coordinator may be receiving similar support from adult services instead.
Table 1.7 shows the proportion of young people eligible for aftercare services on 31 July 2017 by age and their economic activity. 'Economic activity' refers to the young person's engagement in education, employment, training, or another kind of activity such as seeking employment or caring for family.
Since April 2015, aftercare eligibility has been extended to cover all care leavers up to and including people aged 25 where it previously only covered up to the age of 21. As this is an extension of the original policy, the data in this publication are unlikely to be a full report on the additional eligible age group. These figures will continue to improve in quality in future publications as extension of support services to this group becomes more completely embedded. Figures have already risen from 4,602 in 2016 to 5,653 in 2017 as a result of better reporting of the over-21 age group.
There were 5,653 young people reported to be eligible for aftercare services on 31 July 2017, of whom 53% were known to be receiving aftercare. 47% of those receiving aftercare for whom current activity is known were in education, training or employment. This is a 3% decrease on 2016 (see also AT1.16).
For young people eligible for aftercare, more than half have taken up these services in some way. More of the 19 to 21 age group are not in education, training or employment, and more of this group are receiving aftercare compared to the other age groups. For the newly eligible over-21 age group, the majority are not receiving aftercare, which may be expected given that this is a relatively recent implementation, and many of this group may have moved onto adult services where required.
The proportion of aftercare-eligible individuals who are known to have never been homeless has risen from 52% last year to 54% this year.
Table 1.7: Percentage of young people eligible for aftercare services by age and economic activity, at 31 July 2017
|In education, training or employment||25||30||30||28||14||25|
|Not in education, training or employment||28||31||28||30||22||28|
|Not receiving aftercare||35||26||27||26||51||32|
|Of those in education, training or employment|
|- In higher education||19||18||26||20||21||21|
|- In education other than HE||46||32||18||21||14||22|
|- In training or employment||35||50||56||59||64||57|
|Of those not in education, training or employment|
|- due to short term illness||2||4||2||3||1||3|
|- due to long term illness or disability||4||3||6||9||8||7|
|- due to looking after family||5||6||6||9||10||8|
|- due to other circumstances||89||88||86||79||81||82|
Cross- UK looked after comparisons
The definition of "looked after children" varies across the countries within the UK which makes cross UK comparisons difficult. In Scotland, children placed at home require a supervision order from the children's panel, whereas in England and Wales, being looked after at home is an informal situation put in place by a social worker, often as an interim measure until a foster or kinship care placement can be found.
To improve comparability, the Scotland figure at 31 March has been used, rather than the published 31 July figure, as the other nations publish on this date.
Chart 2 gives Scottish figures both including and excluding children looked after at home. There appears to be some stability in the figures across the UK at the moment - all nations have rates that are relatively constant, and these contrast with increases seen around the start of this decade. The rate in Scotland appears to be continuing to decrease from its peak in 2011.
Chart 2: Cross- UK comparison of rate of looked after children per 10,000 children, 2004-2017
Links to the cross- UK data underlying Chart 3 can be found in Background Note 1.7. There is more information on the comparability of looked after children data across the UK: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Children/socialservicestats
There are additional tables on looked after children available at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Children/PubChildrenSocialWork