Lead academic, social work expert Dr Helen Whincup from the University of Stirling, said: “This is the first research project to investigate decision-making, permanence, progress, outcomes and belonging for all Scotland’s children who became looked after when they were aged five years old and under.
“Our findings highlight that prior to becoming looked after away from home, family life was difficult for these children, and some had experienced multiple ‘types’ of maltreatment.”
Half of the 433 children were under a year old when they became looked after away from home, including almost a third (32%) who were under six weeks old. One in five of the children (21%) were less than seven days old.
Dr Linda Cusworth from Lancaster University led the data analysis on this strand. She added: “The decision to remove children from their parents was generally based on significant maltreatment, together with the experience of multiple problems - including parental substance misuse, domestic violence and mental health problems. Often these factors came within the context of poverty and housing issues.”
Professor Nina Biehal from University of York, who co-directed the study commented: “The nature and severity of the maltreatment experienced by these children before they entered care suggests that thresholds for removing them from their parents are high.”
Researchers also found that parents had often also experienced difficult and disrupted childhoods. The report showed 62% of mothers and 33% of fathers of children on a pathway to adoption had experienced neglect as a child themselves.
Dr Whincup added: “The finding that neglect features in the childhoods of such a large proportion of these parents emphasises the need for early, proactive and sensitive support services to be available to parents.”
The wider study also found that two to three years after becoming looked after away from home, children had levels of emotional and behavioural problems two to three times higher than seen in the general population of children, however the support accessed by carers varied.
Kinship carers – grandparents or other extended family members - reported receiving far less support than foster carers or adoptive parents.
Robin Duncan, Director of AFA Scotland, stated: “I am delighted to see this research come to fruition and commend the researchers for analysing such a phenomenal amount of data about children’s experience of abuse and neglect; this should now guide how support to vulnerable children and their families is provided”.