Care Experienced people are never just a number to us

We understand that statistics are important.  They can help understand trends and changes both over time and at points in time.  These statistics, whilst useful, refer to real lives; real experiences; real people.

We encourage you to look beyond and behind the numbers.

That’s why we believe in the power of voice – read our blog and policy work to find out more.

Care in Scotland

(Scottish Government, 2019*)

  • 14,738 children were ‘looked after’** on 31st July 2018, a decrease of 1% from 2016-17, and the sixth consecutive year of decline.
  • 2% of children in Scotland were being looked after by local authorities or on the child protection register on July 31st 2018.
  • Over the last 10 years, children are entering care at an earlier age. In 2008, 32% of children starting episodes of care were under five years of age. By 2018 this had risen to 37%, although this is a decline from a peak of 41% in 2014. A large proportion of the under-five group are the under-one year olds, and the proportion in this youngest group has increased from 10% in 2008 to 16% in 2018.
  • Foster care remains the most common type of care for looked after children:
    • 34% – Foster care
    • 28% – Kinship care
    • 26% – looked after at home
    • 10% – residential care
    • 1% – with prospective adopters
  • The proportion of children looked after at home has decreased over the last decade, with an estimated 26% in this group in 2018, compared to 43% in 2008.
  • There were an average of 81 young people in secure care accommodation throughout 2017-18, an increase of 5 from 76 young people in the previous year.
  • In secure care, there was an 18% decline in the average number of residents from within Scotland and an increase of 89% in the average number of residents from outside Scotland (mostly from England).
  • The number of adoptions of looked after children has generally increased since 2005, and 9% of children (367) leaving care were adopted in 2016-17, which is the highest recorded level.
  • Permanence Orders have increased every year since 2012, and now stand at 2,064 a 4% increase on 2016.
  • 80 young people were in secure care at the end of July 2017. The average number of young people residing in secure care during 2016-17 was 76, a decrease of 11% from 85 residents in the previous year. There are now only 84 secure places available in total in Scotland. Emergency bed usage has increased by 56%, and is well above the long-term average.
  • The main reasons children and young people go into care is for their own care and protection. In 2016/17 only 20% of children and young people were referred to the Children’s Hearing System based on offence grounds, whereas 88% were referred on care and protection grounds (SCRA, 2017).

Leaving care

(Scottish Government, 2019*)

  • Of the total number of young people eligible for aftercare support, 38% did not receive it.

Leaving care destinations:

  • 57% – Home with biological parents
  • 15% – With kinship carers
  • 7% – Adoption
  • 7% – Other (includes residential care, homeless, in custody among other destinations)
  • 6% – Supported accommodation /own tenancy
  • 3% – Kinship Care Orders
  • 3% – Continuing Care***
  • 2% – Former foster carers
  • 0% – Unknown (a total of 19 care leavers, compared to 13 in 2018 stats)

Continuing Care:

  • A total of 4,412 young people were recorded as ceasing to be looked after in 2017/18. Within this category for the first time, Continuing Care placements were recorded and only 4.72% of those young people were recorded as being in Continuing Care in 2017/18 (a total of 208 young people). Some local authorities did not provide any data on numbers of young people in Continuing Care for 2017/18 and this data is underdeveloped.


  • Latest figures show that Care Experienced school leavers continue to have lower attainment than other school leavers. In 2017/18 62% of all school leavers had 1 or more qualification at SCQF level 6 or better, whereas only 12% of school leavers who were in care for the full year and 11% who were in care for part of the year had qualifications at this level (Scottish Government, 2019*).
  • Care Experienced children and young people leave school earlier than their non-Care Experienced peers. In 2017/18 44% of children in care for the full year and 40% of those who were in care for part of the year left school in S4 or earlier, compared with just 11% of all school leavers (Scottish Government, 2019*).
  • Care Experienced children are less likely to be in positive destinations nine months after leaving school. Figures from 2017/18 show that 76% of children in care for the full year and 69% of children in care for part of the year, were in positive destinations. This is compared to 93% of all schools leavers (Scottish Government, 2019*).
  • New experimental stats released this year show the achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) levels for aspects of literacy (reading, writing, and listening and talking) and numeracy for an estimated 3,745 children and young people who were looked after in 2017/18. The figures show across all stages, that a lower proportion of Care Experienced children achieved the CfE level relevant to their stage compared with all pupils – especially in writing (Scottish Government, 2019*).
  • The rate of exclusions among Care Experienced children is much higher than in the general school population: 169 cases per 1,000 pupils in care for the full year, compared with 27 per 1,000 in the general school population in 2016/17. The more placement moves a child experiences in a year, the higher their likelihood of exclusion (Scottish Government, 2018).
  • Care Experienced children are automatically deemed to have additional support needs, unless otherwise assessed. Despite this, around half of Care Experienced children have not been assessed for a coordinated support plan, even though they are entitled in law (Govan Law Centre, 2015).
  • Across all levels of study at university and college, the number of Care Experienced entrants increased from 2,070 in 2016-17 to 2,545 in 2017-18 (SFC, 2019).
  • However, the figures also show that at all levels, Care Experienced students have lower rates of completing courses compared to all students at university and college. Between Care Experienced students and non-Care Experienced students, there is a difference of 5.3% for retention at university, and the largest gap is in successful completion of full-time further education courses at college where the gap is 15.6% (SFC, 2019). 


  • 9 months after leaving school, 30% of Care Experienced young people who were in care for part of the year are classed as unemployed, compared to 5% of their non-Care Experienced peers (Scottish Government, 2018).


  • A third of young offenders, and almost a third of the adult prison population, self-identify as being Care Experienced (SPS, 2016). Due to the need for prisoners to identify themselves as Care Experienced, these statistics fail to represent reality.
  • Some practitioners estimate that around 50% of the adult prison population may have care experience (HM Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, 2009).


  • In a study conducted in 2002, among young people aged 5–17 years who were looked after by local authorities in Scotland, 45% were assessed as having a mental health issue (Office for National Statistics, 2004).
  • It is estimated that one of the highest rates of youth smoking exists for care leavers at 67% (ScotPho, 2009).

The Future

  • 28% of young people leave care without a formal ‘pathway’ plan for what happens next, an increase of 1% from 2016-17 (Scottish Government, 2019*).
  • Formal statistics on statutory homelessness state that 6% of local authority homelessness applications in Scotland between 2017-18 were from people who have been looked after by a local authority at some point (Scottish Government, 2018). However, this figure relies both on self-declaration of care experience and does not include hidden homelessness numbers (those who are sofa surfing, sleeping rough or staying in unsuitable accommodation). Practitioners estimate that between 30-50% of individuals who are homeless could be Care Experienced.

* Glasgow City Council has not provided Scottish Government with updated education statistics or social work statistics for 2017/18 for the children in their care, meaning the figures released in the national education outcomes and social work statistics for 2019 includes Glasgow’s data from last year. We will update these figures if new data is provided.

** ‘looked after’ is the official terminology used by Scotland’s national and local government bodies to describe children and young people who are in the care of a local authority.

*** this statistic is supplemented by Scottish Government, with eligibility for aftercare data.


Govan Law Centre, 2015, GLC research reveals systemic failure of councils to meet education duties for ‘looked after’ children in Scotland.

HM Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, 2009, Annual Report: 2008-09, Scottish Government.

Office for National Statistics, 2004, The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in Scotland.

Scottish Children’s Reporter Association (SCRA), 2017, Statistical Analysis 2016/17, Ensuring positive futures for children & young people in Scotland.

Scottish Funding Council, 2019, Report on Widening Access 2017-18, SFC Statistical Publication.

Scottish Government, 2018, Education Outcomes for Looked After Children 2016/17.

Scottish Government, 2019, Education Outcomes for Looked After Children 2017/18.

Scottish Government, 2018, Homelessness in Scotland: 2017-18.

Scottish Government, 2019, Children’s Social Work Statistics 2017/18.

Scottish Prison Service (SPS), 2016, Prisoner’s Survey 2015 – Young People in Custody.

With thanks to Scottish Local Authorities, funding partners and donors who make our work possible.