Groundbreaking agreement will increase understanding of the experiences of looked-after children in Scotland

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Researchers evaluating the experiences of looked-after children in Scotland have gained a more in-depth picture of their journeys – thanks to a groundbreaking agreement allowing them to link data from different sources.

The team, led by University of Stirling academic Dr Helen Whincup, has been given clearance to link and analyse data on looked-after children collected by both the Scottish Government - Children Looked After Statistics (CLAS), and Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA). 

It is the first time information from these two data sets has been linked, allowing researchers to build up a more comprehensive picture of children’s experiences as they progress through the system, including the timing of – and any delays in – decision-making, and the factors and timescales associated with children achieving a permanent placement.

Dr Whincup said: “Alongside the other strands of the study, this important data linkage enables us to build up a fuller picture of the experiences of looked-after children in Scotland, which is so vital when considering children’s needs and how best to respond.”

Each year, thousands of children in Scotland become looked-after at home, or in foster care, residential placements or with relatives, due to concerns about their welfare.

While many return to their parents, for some the decision is taken to permanently place them with relatives, unrelated foster carers, or adoptive parents. 

The research – a collaboration between the Universities of Stirling, York and Lancaster, together with the Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland – is being carried out as part of the Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland study.

The first phase of this study has used CLAS data to look at the pathways of the 1,836 children in Scotland who became looked-after at the age of five or under in 2012-13.

Analysis of this data has provided information about the number and type of placements, reunifications with birth parents and any subsequent re-entries to care, and other exits from care to adoptive parents or relatives.

However, decisions for a significant majority of these children are made within the Children’s Hearings System with the information collated separately – and using different identifiers – by SCRA. 

Following agreement with the Scottish Government and SCRA, the research team have collaborated with the Administrative Data Research Centre Scotland to create a new, linked anonymous data set, preventing identification of the children. 

The findings from analysis of this new data set will be presented at a one-day conference at the University of Stirling on Wednesday 19 September 2018.

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