Cusworth L, Bieha N, Whincup H, Grant M & Hennessy A (2019) Children looked after away from home aged five and under in Scotland: experiences, pathways and outcomes. 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.
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 all children who became ‘looked after’ in 2012-2013 when they were aged five and under (n=1,836). Of those 1,836 children, 1,355 were looked after away from home, and 481 were looked after at home. The study included analysis of data from questionnaires completed by social workers, carers or adoptive parents, interviews and focus groups with decision-makers, interviews with carers and adoptive parents, and ‘play and talk’ sessions with children.
This briefing paper summarises key findings on the histories, progress and outcomes for a sample of the 1,355 children three to four years after they became looked after away from home. It draws on three sources of information: social worker survey data for 433 children, caregiver survey data for 166 children, and the Children Looked After Statistics (CLAS). It investigates the association between patterns of maltreatment, placement status, and children’s subsequent wellbeing, offering insights for policymakers and practitioners.
The children in this sample experienced significant levels of maltreatment before becoming looked after away from home. There is no evidence to demonstrate that the threshold to accommodate children aged five and under is low.
Alcohol and substance misuse, mental health difficulties and domestic violence frequently contributed to compromised parenting capacity. This was often within a context of multiple family difficulties.
Neglect was a significant feature of the childhood experiences of parents of children on an adoption pathway.
Key predictors of children’s later permanence status included disability, experience of maltreatment, the age at which they became looked after, and the childhood experiences of their parents.
Three to four years after becoming looked after away from home, children were reported to have rates of emotional and behavioural difficulties two to three times greater than their peers.
Children who were accommodated and placed with carers and adoptive parents earlier, and who remained there, were generally doing better at school and had more friends.
Levels of support for children in kinship care, foster care, and with adoptive parents varied, with kinship carers and the children in their care receiving less support.
care system; kinship care; foster care; adoption