Scope & Challenge

As of 31 July 2016, there were 15,317 looked after children and young people in Scotland, a small decrease of 86 young people from the previous year.

​There are several types of placements that looked after children or young people could be in, including being at home (subject to a Supervision Requirement), in foster care, in residential care or in a kinship placement, where they are placed with friends or relatives.  

Children's social work statistics showed, in the year to July 31 2016, foster care was the most common type of accommodation for looked after young people, accounting for more than a third (35%), while 10% were in residential care. The number of adoptions of looked after children reached its highest recorded level, with 8% of children leaving care adopted.

The figures also showed a rise in the use of permanence orders, under which the sheriff court can transfer the right to decide where a child lives to the local authority. The use of such orders has increased every year since 2012, and now stands at 1,971, up 12% from 2015.

Children and young people become looked after for many reasons.  Often they experience a chaotic family background, where they may have been exposed to substance misuse, domestic abuse, neglect and other issues from a very early age.

For many looked after young people, their experiences and outcomes will be better than if they had remained outwith the care system. 

However, this is not always the case and the transition out of the care system is where we consistently see poor outcomes, where young people are left feeling isolated and unsupported. 

For most young people today, the transition into independence takes place gradually, and with ongoing support from family and friends. 

For young people making the transition out of the care system, things can be very different.  Their journey tends to happen much more quickly and at a far earlier age, and this can feel very pressured.  It can be a lonely experience, and one for which they may be ill-prepared. It is also often made more difficult because of earlier negative family experiences and serious disruptions throughout their young lives. 

While many care leavers do well despite the difficulties they face, as a group, they do experience poorer outcomes such as:

  • much higher rates of early death, including higher rates of suicide
  • worse mental health and physical well-being
  • poorer access to continuing education or training
  • greater unemployment and homelessness
  • an increased likelihood of involvement in or exposure to criminal activity

What is clearly needed is support that goes beyond their initial transition out of the care system and that continues well into young adulthood.

We want to play a significant role making sure that this support is put in place, and enabling young people themselves to have a strong voice about matters that affect them.  We have already supported young people in the shaping of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, which extended of the age at which care leavers continue to receive support from local authorities up to 26, and enabled looked after young people aged 16 – 21 years to remain in their care placement until ready to leave.

We will continue to look at the persistent inequality faced by care experienced young people and work with them – and those who they trust and represent them – to ensure that this cycle is broken, now and for the future. 

We are committed to working with care experienced young people, care leavers, practitioners and other professionals in Scotland so that when young people leave care, they have positive life chances and outcomes just like other young people.