Biehal N, Cusworth L, Hooper J, Whincup H & Shapira M (2019) Pathways to Permanence for children who become looked after in Scotland. Insights for policymakers and practitioners. University of Stirling. Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland. Stirling. https://www.stir.ac.uk/research/public-policy-hub/policy-briefings/
Statistics from 2018 (Scottish Government 2019) show that 14,738 children were looked after in Scotland (at 31st July 2018). Many children who become looked after away from home will return to their parents, but for some the decision is taken to permanently place them with kinship carers, long-term foster carers or adoptive parents. Until now little was known about children’s pathways through the looked after system in Scotland, the balance of voluntary and compulsory intervention, and how patterns of placement change over time.
Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland is increasing understanding by following the progress of all children who became looked after in Scotland aged five or under in 2012-2013 (n=1,836) and investigating decision making, permanence, progress, and outcomes over a four-year period (until 2016).
This briefing paper, drawing on findings from Phase One of the project, provides insights into the pathways and timescales to permanence for looked after children in Scotland, with implications for policymakers and practitioners.
There was a statistically significant association between levels of deprivation and local rates of children looked after. Local rates may also reflect variation in the approaches of local authorities, Children’s Hearings and local judiciary.
Almost half of children looked after away from home were initially looked after under Section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (known as ‘voluntary’ accommodation).
The majority of the children (87%) had a single continuous ‘episode’ of being looked after during the four-year period. However, an episode may include periods spent looked after at home and/or looked after away from home. As an episode may include placement moves, a ‘single episode’ does not necessarily mean the child experienced stability.
The most common destination for children ceasing to be looked after away from home was a return home. The number of children looked after in kinship or foster care fell over the four years, reflecting a rise in the number of children who returned to parents, were placed with kin on Section 11 Orders or were adopted.
Children who achieved permanence most quickly were those reunified with parents.
A total of 212 children looked after away from home had been adopted by the end of Year 4. The adoption process was slow, with few children adopted before Year 3, and for half of the adopted children the adoption did not take place until three to four years after they started to be looked after.
Children who were adopted or with prospective adopters by the end of the study were significantly younger when they started to be looked after away from home.
For children looked after at home, the time spent on a Compulsory Supervision Order spiked at 9-12 months. This may reflect a response to legal requirements, as the maximum time a CSO can be in place without being reviewed by a Children’s Hearing is one year, suggesting that decision making may, in some cases, be system-driven rather than needs-led.
For nearly one third of the children looked after away from home, there was no evidence that they were in a permanent placement three to four years after starting to be looked after.
care system; kinship care; foster care; adoption