Policy Document

Decision Making for Looked After Children in Scotland. Insights for policymakers and practitioners



Whincup H, Grant M, Burgess C & Biehal N (2019) Decision Making for Looked After Children 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/

Every year thousands of children in Scotland become looked after either at home or away from home. Many of those children will remain with or be reunified with their parents, but others will be placed permanently with kinship carers, foster carers or adoptive parents. The decisions made will have far-reaching consequences for children and their families, so it is important to understand what factors influence decision making processes. This briefing paper draws on findings from Phase One of the Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland research study (2014-2018). The study followed the progress of all children who became looked after in Scotland aged five or under in 2012-2013 (n=1,836) investigating decision making, pathways, and outcomes. This paper provides insights into the processes and pressures that influence decision making for looked after children in Scotland. It is produced at a time when systems are under review given that in 2017 the Scottish Government established the Independent Care Review, examining the underpinning legislation, practices, culture and ethos of Scotland’s care system. Key findings The legislative, policy and practice context for permanence decisions in Scotland is complex. The range of options offers flexibility to tailor decisions to a child’s needs but is potentially overwhelming. Decision making can be driven by processes and policies rather than a child’s specific needs. Use of legislation and guidance varies across Scotland, with differences in local practice. Making decisions is intellectually and emotionally challenging. The interface between local authorities, Children’s Hearings and courts was characterised as difficult and complicated; the focus can shift from the child to the dynamic between the systems and individuals involved. Decisions are influenced by capacity issues in terms of time, resources (including availability and number of carers or adoptive parents) and the skills and knowledge of professionals. The formalisation of kinship care has been a positive development, however, it does not meet the needs of all children and an emphasis on kinship care may exclude some children from other forms of permanence.

care system; kinship care; foster care; adoption; data linkage; decision making

Title of seriesPermanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland
Publication date30/09/2019
Publication date online30/09/2019
Publisher URLhttps://www.stir.ac.uk/…olicy-briefings/
Place of publicationStirling

People (2)


Dr Maggie Grant
Dr Maggie Grant

Research Fellow, Social Work

Dr Helen Whincup
Dr Helen Whincup

Senior Lecturer, Social Work

Research centres/groups