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, 2021)

  • 14,458 children were ‘looked after’* on 31st July 2020, an increase of of 196 (1%) from 2019, and this is the first year of increase after seven consecutive years of decline.
  • The increase in total numbers being looked after is because fewer children or young people left care than started it – there was actually a 9% drop in number of children coming into care in 2019-20.
  • There is a direct link between the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lower number of children becoming looked after and ceasing to be looked after from April 2020 onwards.
  • Fewer than 2% of all children in Scotland were being looked after by local authorities or on the child protection register on July 31st 2020.
  • Foster care still remains as the most common type of care for looked after children, and numbers in kinship care continue to rise:
    • 33% – foster care
    • 31% – kinship care (friends/relatives)
    • 25% – looked after at home
    • 10% – residential care (includes secure care)
    • 1% – with prospective adopters
  • The proportion of children looked after at home has continued to decrease over the last decade, with an estimated 25% in this group in 2019-20, compared to 43% in 2008.
  • An average of 95% of children looked after in kinship care were recorded as having a current care plan in place, a slight increase from last year. This is comparatively lower on average than other placement types, such as foster care (97%) and residential care (97%).
  • Over the last 10 years, children are entering care at an earlier age. In 2009, 34% of children starting episodes of care were under five years of age. By 2020 this has risen to 38% (same as 2019). A large proportion of the under-five group are the under-1 year olds, and the proportion in this youngest group has increased from 12% in 2009 to 15% in 2020 (same as 2019).
    • However during 2019-20, there was a slight decrease in numbers of under 5 year olds starting to be looked after (1,456 in 2019 to 1,346 in 2020).
  • There was a significant reduction in the number of children ceasing to be looked after, with only 3,325 recorded in 2019-20, compared to 4,068 in 2018-19.
    • The fall in numbers coincides with the start of the pandemic, as from April to July 2020, the numbers of children becoming
      and ceasing to be looked after were considerably lower than earlier in the year.
  • Permanence Orders have increased every year since 2012, and in 2018 stood at 2,064 a 4% increase on 2016 (Scottish Government, 2018).

*’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.

Children’s Hearings (SCRA, 2020)

  • In 2019/20, 12,849 children and young people in Scotland were referred to the Reporter. 
  • The main reasons children and young people go into care is for their own care and protection. In 2019/20 only 22% of children and young people were referred to the Children’s Hearing System based on offence grounds, whereas 84% were referred on care and protection grounds.
  • ‘Lack of parental care’ remains the most common ground of referral. More children are referred on this ground in the first year of their life than any other age (13.1% of the children and young people referred on this ground).

Secure Care (Scottish Government, 2021)

  • There were an average of 82 young people in secure care accommodation throughout 2019-20, an increase of 3 young people from 79 young people on average in the previous year.
  • On July 31st 2020, 84 secure places were available in total in Scotland (excluding and extra 7 emergency/respite beds).
  • The number of young people admitted to secure care in 2019-2020 has fallen by 11% to 194 compared to the previous year.
  • There was a significant reduction in the number of nights emergency beds were used. In 2020 it is estimated they were used for 209 nights, this is a decrease of 47% from 398 nights in the previous year.
  • In secure care, the average number of residents from within Scotland stayed the same from the previous year and there was an increase by 8% in the average number of residents from outside Scotland (mostly from England).

Leaving care

(Scottish Government, 2021)

  • Leaving care destinations: Overall, the numbers of children ceasing to be looked after fell significantly with 1,807 leaving care in 2019-20, compared to 2,365 in 2018-19.
    • 54% – Home with biological parents
    • 14% – With kinship carers
    • 7% – Supported accommodation /own tenancy
    • 7% – Continuing Care
    • 6% – Adoption
    • 6% – Other (includes residential care, homeless, in custody among other destinations)
    • 3% – Former foster carers
    • 2% – Kinship Care Orders
    • 1% – Unknown (a total of 31 care leavers in 2019-20, compared to 24 the previous year)
  • Of the 6% of looked after children adopted in 2019-20, the majority of adoptions (73%) were of children aged under 5 years old. This is a significant increase of 10% from the 2018-19 figure (63%).
  • Of the total number of young people recorded as eligible for aftercare support, 43% were not receiving it. This is an increase of 1% from the previous year.
  • Of those care leavers who are receiving aftercare services, the majority are aged between 19 and 21 years old (65%). Care leavers aged 16 years old had the lowest numbers receiving aftercare, with only 47% of those eligible receiving support.
    • This is a shift in trend from the previous year, with older care leavers receiving relatively more support and with higher numbers of eligible care leavers being identified overall.
  • Of the young people aged 16 or over when leaving care, 79% had a pathways plan and 70% had a nominated pathway coordinator. If the leaving care destination was being classed as ‘at home’ with family, they continue to be less likely to have both a pathways plan in place and coordinator assigned.

Continuing Care:

  • Of the 3,325 young people recorded as ceasing to be looked after in 2019-20, 7% of those were recorded as transitioning into Continuing Care (a total of 229 young people).
  • The total known figure for young people living in Continuing Care placements in 2019-20 is 306.
    • ^ This is calculated by adding the number of young people recorded as ceasing to be looked after with a destination of Continuing Care (229) with an additional number recorded as being in Continuing Care (77).


(Scottish Government, 2021)

  • Latest figures show that Care Experienced school leavers continue to have lower attainment than other school leavers. In 2019/20 64% of all school leavers had 1 or more qualification at SCQF level 6 or better, whereas only 14% of school leavers looked after within the last year had qualifications of that level.
  •  Care Experienced school leavers are also more likely to leave school with no passes at SCQF 3 or better, with 13% of school leavers
    looked after within the last year being recorded with no passes, compared to 2% of all school leavers.
  • However, over time there has been an improvement in the level of attainment at higher levels for Care Experienced school leavers with an increase between 2012/13 and 2019/20: from 62% to 72% at SCQF level 4 or better, from 23% to 38% at SCQF level 5 or better, and from 4% to 14% at SCQF level 6 or better.
  • School leavers who experience placement moves during the school year, are less likely to attain qualifications of all levels. With a direct correlation between poorer results and more placement moves.
  • Care Experienced children and young people leave school earlier than their non-Care Experienced peers. In 2019-20, 43% of all school leavers who were looked after within the year left school in S4 or earlier, compared with just 11% of all school leavers.
  • Care Experienced children are less likely to be in positive destinations nine months after leaving school. Figures from 2019-20 show that 75% of school leavers looked after within the last year were in positive destinations. This is compared to 92% of all schools leavers.
  • When looking at placement types of school leavers looked after within the year, those living in foster care were most likely to have a positive destination after leaving school (around 88%). This is closely followed by those in kinship care (81%).
  • The rate of exclusions among pupils looked after within the year is much higher than in the general school population. The rate of exclusions among pupils looked after within the year was 152 per 1,000 pupils in 2018/19. This is around seven times higher than the rate of 22 per 1,000 pupils for all pupils. However, the overall number of looked after pupils being excluded continues to fall year on year. (Scottish Government, 2020).
  • Children in residential accommodation and at home with parents tend to have higher rates of exclusions than those looked after in foster care and with friends or relatives. (Scottish Government, 2020).
  • 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, 22% of school
    leavers looked after within the last year people were classed as unemployed
    , compared to 7% of their non-Care Experienced peers (Scottish Government, 2021).


  • In a Scottish Prison Service survey carried out in 2019, 1/4 of the adult prison population indicated that during their up-bringing they had been in care (25%) (Scottish Prison Service, 2020).
  • Around 40% of young people in custody report that they have been in care (Scottish Prison Service, 2021).
    • However, due to the need for individuals to identify themselves as Care Experienced in both of these surveys, these statistics can fail to represent reality.


  • 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 for care leavers, they are a group with one of the highest rates of smoking for young people aged between 16 and 24, estimated to be a prevalence of 67% (ScotPho, 2009).


  • Formal statistics on statutory homelessness state that 6% of local authority homelessness applications in Scotland between 2019-20 were from people who have been previously looked after by a local authority at some point. This number has continued to slowly increase over the past 9 years, from 1,571 in 2011-12 to 1,196 in 2019-20 (Scottish Government, 2020).
    • 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.


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

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

Scottish Children’s Reporter Association (SCRA), 2020, SCRA’s Official Statistics 2019/20.

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

Scottish Government, 2021, Children’s Social Work Statistics 2019/20.

Scottish Government, 2021, Education Outcomes for Looked After Children 2019/20.

Scottish Government, 2020, Education Outcomes for Looked After Children 2018/19.

Scottish Government, 2021, Homelessness in Scotland: 2019 to 2020

ScotPho, 2009, Young adult smokers in Scotland 

Scottish Prison Service (SPS), 2020, 17th Prisoner Survey 2019

Scottish Prison Service (SPS), 2021, Vision for Young People in Custody

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