Permanently Progressing?

Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland is the first study in Scotland to investigate decision making, permanence, progress, outcomes and belonging for 1,836 children who became ‘looked after’ at home, or were placed away from their birth parents when they were aged five and under in 2012-2013. Phase One ran from 2014-18, and was the first phase in a longitudinal study following the children into adolescence and beyond.

Phase One involved a team from the Universities of StirlingYork, and Lancaster in collaboration with Adoption and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland.

Phase Two of the study, Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children: Middle childhood starts in December 2020 and completes in September 2024. It involves a team from the Universities of Stirling and Lancaster in collaboration with Adoption and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland.

For up-to-date information about Phase 2, including information leaflets and annual summaries, and for all Phase 1 reports visit the Permanently Progressing website.



Nuffield Foundation logo

Phase Two is being jointly funded by a philanthropic donor and the Nuffield Foundation.

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit

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Research team

Dr Helen Whincup: (Principal Investigator). Helen is a Senior Lecturer at University of Stirling, teaching primarily on the post-qualifying Masters in Applied Professional Studies (Child Welfare and Protection) and the Professional Supervision module. She is a qualified social worker with a practice background in children and families work, and practice and personal experience of adoption.

Professor Nina Biehal: (Co Principal Investigator). Nina is a professor of social work at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York, and was formerly a social worker. She has led a number of studies of outcomes for children who are fostered, adopted, in residential care or reunified with their parents. She has also completed studies of child protection, including research on abuse in foster and residential care and a comparative study of child protection systems in three countries.

Dr Linda Cusworth: (Co-Investigator). Linda is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University.  She is an experienced quantitative social researcher, and has worked as a researcher in child wellbeing, child protection and family justice for around 15 years. She has a passion for the use of administrative data and linked data in family justice research.

Dr Maggie Grant: (Research Fellow). Maggie has worked in adoption and fostering research for 10 years. She is a Research Associate and Co-Founder at Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland, and was seconded to University of Stirling as part of the Permanently Progressing research team.

Dr Alison Hennessy: (Lecturer). Alison is an educational researcher with a strong interest in the education of looked after children.  She became a lecturer in education at University of Stirling in 2018, when she also became the newest member of the Permanently Progressing team.  Alison contributed to quantitative data analysis for the study.

Jade Hooper: (Research Assistant). Jade is a Research Assistant and PhD Candidate based in the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Stirling. She previously worked on a large, UK four-nation Nuffield Foundation funded project investigating child welfare inequalities and has experience in quantitative research and methodologies and the handling of sensitive administrative data. Jade was involved with the quantitative analysis of the Children Looked After Statistics and the Scottish Children's Reporter Administrative data.

Project updates

Project update June 2019

Phase One of the study ran from October 2014 to December 2018. It investigated decision making, permanence, progress, outcomes and belonging for a large cohort (1,836 children) of all children in Scotland who became looked after in 2012-13, when they were aged five or under. Using national data from the Children Looked After Statistics (CLAS) we analysed children’s progress over four years (2012-2016). The study is the first to compare pathways and outcomes for such a large cohort of young children in Scotland. It is designed to be the first phase in a longitudinal study tracking children’s progress into adolescence and beyond.

Phase One of the study has five strands, with a report and summary for each strand, published on 20 June 2019.

Pathways to Permanence for children who become looked after in Scotland (Pathways strand): This analysed the CLAS data for 1,836 children over four years. The report presents detailed information on their routes to permanence and the timescales.

Linking two administrative data sets about looked after children: Testing feasibility and enhancing understanding (Linkage strand): Data on children is collected by the Scottish Government (CLAS data) and by Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration (SCRA). For the first time this study linked CLAS and SCRA data on 1,000 children. The report describes the process and the findings.

Children looked after away from home aged five and under in Scotland: experiences, pathways and outcomes (Outcomes strand): This presents findings from detailed questionnaires (433 social workers and 166 carers) alongside the CLAS data. The report provide valuable information about the circumstances of children and their families before they were accommodated, their pathways, current status and current wellbeing.

Decision making for children (Decision making strand): 160 decision makers across Scotland (including social workers, members of Children’s Hearings and Reporters to the Children’s Hearing) were interviewed about their perspectives on decision making.

Perspectives on kinship care, foster care and adoption: the voices of children, carers and adoptive parents (Children and Carers strand): 20 carers and adoptive parents were interviewed, and 10 children aged 3-9 years participated in ‘play and talk’ about their experiences.

Information sheet for children

This gives information about each of the strands. There is also an audio recording of the information sheet.


Phase One reports

The study has five strands with a report and summary for each strand, published on 20 June 2019:

StrandFinal reportSummary
Pathways Pathways Strand Final report Pathways summary
:Linkage Linkage Strand Final report Linkage summary
Outcomes Outcomes Strand Final Report Outcomes summary
Decision Making Decision Making Strand Final Report Decision Making summary
Children and Carers Children, Carers and Adoptive Parents Final Report Children, Carers and Adoptive Parent summary

Information sheet for children

This gives information about each of the strands.

Previous updates