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, 2020)

  • 14,015 children were ‘looked after’* on 31st July 2019, a decrease of of 723 (5%) from 2018, and the seventh consecutive year of decline.
  • Fewer than 2% of children in Scotland were being looked after by local authorities or on the child protection register on July 31st 2019. 
  • Foster care still remains as the most common type of care for looked after children:
    • 33% – Foster care
    • 29% – Kinship care
    • 25% – looked after at home
    • 10% – residential care
    • 2% – 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 2018-19, compared to 43% in 2008.
  • An average of 92% of children looked after in kinship care were recorded as having a current care plan in place. This is comparatively lower on average than other placement types, such as foster care (96%) and residential care (95%). 
  • 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 2019 this has risen to 38%. A large proportion of the under-five group are the under-one year olds, and the proportion in this youngest group has increased from 12% in 2009 to 15% in 2019.
  • Permanence Orders have increased every year since 2012, and in 2018 stood at 2,064 a 4% increase on 2016. The 2019 figures for permanence have not yet been released (Scottish Government, 2019).

*’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, 2020)

  • There were an average of 79 young people in secure care accommodation throughout 2018-19, a decrease of 1 young person from 80 young people on average in the previous year.
  • On July 31st 2019, 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 2018-2019 has increased by 3% to 217 compared to the previous year.
  • There was a significant increase in the number of nights emergency beds were used. In 2019 it is estimated they were used for 398 nights, this is an increase of 40% from 284 nights in the previous year.
  • In secure care, there was an 18% increase in the average number of residents from within Scotland and an decrease of 26% in the average number of residents from outside Scotland (mostly from England). This is a reversal in trend from 2018, which saw an increase of 89% of residents from outside Scotland.

Leaving care

(Scottish Government, 2020)

Leaving care destinations:

  • 59% – Home with biological parents
  • 14% – With kinship carers
  • 7% – Adoption
  • 6% – Other (includes residential care, homeless, in custody among other destinations)
  • 5% – Supported accommodation /own tenancy
  • 4% – Continuing Care
  • 3% – Former foster carers
  • 2% – Kinship Care Orders
  • 0% – Unknown (a total of 22 care leavers, compared to 19 in previous year’s stats)

Of the 7% of looked after children adopted in 2018-19, the majority of adoptions (63%) were of children aged under five years old.

  • Of the total number of young people recorded as eligible for aftercare support, 42% were not receiving it. This is an increase of 4% from the previous year. The Scottish Government has contextualised this figure by the fact those eligible now include all care leavers aged up to 25 years old in Scotland.
  • Of those care leavers who are receiving aftercare services, the majority are aged between 19-21 years old (68%). The age bracket of 22 years old and over had the lowest numbers receiving aftercare services, with only 43% of those eligible receiving support.
  • Of the young people aged 16 or over when leaving care, 74% had a pathways plan and only 62% had a nominated pathway coordinator. If the leaving care destination was being classed as ‘at home’ with family, they were less likely to have both a pathways plan in place and a coordinator assigned.

Continuing Care:

  • Of the 4,412 young people recorded as ceasing to be looked after in 2017/18, only 4% of those were recorded as transitioning into Continuing Care in 2018/19 (a total of 162 young people).
  • The total known figure for young people living in continuing care in 2018-19 is 281.
  • ^ This is calculated by adding the number of young people eligible for aftercare services when living in a continuing care placement (119) with the number of those who transitioned into continuing care when leaving care in 2018-19 (162).


  • 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).


  • 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.


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), 2020, SCRA’s Official Statistics 2019/20.

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

Scottish Government, 2020, Children’s Social Work Statistics 2018/19.

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

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

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

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

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

**Glasgow City Council has now provided Scottish Government with their  social work statistics for 2017/18 for looked after children. As a result, new statistical breakdowns for both 2019 and 2020 social work statistics will provided by Scottish Government. This is important to create accurate analysis of trends over time, as Glasgow has the highest proportion of looked after children in Scotland. 

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