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, 2018)

  • 14,897 children were looked after* on 31st July 2017, a decrease of 3% from 2015-16, and the fifth 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 2017.
  • Over the last 10 years children have started to be looked after at younger ages. In 2007, 30% of children starting to be looked after were under five years of age. By 2017 this had risen to 39%, although this is a decline from a peak of 41% in 2014.
  • Foster care remains the most common accommodation for looked after children. 
    • 36% – Foster care
    • 28% – Kinship care
    • 25% – looked after at home
    • 10% – residential care
    • 1% – with prospective adopters
  • 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 destinations

(Scottish Government, 2018)

  • 54% – Home with biological parents
  • 21% – With kinship carers
  • 9% – Adoption
  • 7% – Supported accommodation /own tenancy
  • 7% – Other (includes residential care, homeless, in custody among other destinations)
  • 3% – Former foster carers
  • 0% – Unknown (a total of 13 care leavers, compared to 75 in 2017 stats)


  • 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).
  • Latest figures show that Care Experienced school leavers continue to have lower attainment than other school leavers. 61% of all school leavers have at least one qualification at level 6 or better, whereas only 16% of leavers who were in care for the full year and 8% who were in care for part of the year had qualifications at this level. (Scottish Government, 2018).
  • Care Experienced children are less likely to be in positive destinations nine months after leaving school. Figures from 2016/17 show that 76% of children in care for the full year and 64% of children in care for part of the year, were in positive destinations. This is compared to 94% of all schools leavers (Scottish Government, 2018).
  • 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. The more placement moves a child experiences in a year, the higher their likelihood of exclusion (Scottish Government, 2018).


  • 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

  • 27% of young people leave care without a formal ‘pathway’ plan for what happens next (Scottish Government, 2018).
  • 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.

* ‘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.


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

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

Scottish Government, 2018, Children’s Social Work Statistics 2016/17.

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

With thanks to Scottish Local Authorities and funding partners, who make our work possible
Who Cares? Scotland Funding Partners