The impact of Covid-19 on children's care processes in Scotland


When a child or young person is unable to be cared for solely by their family, they may be brought under the care of their local authority. This can happen for a variety of reasons. These children are often referred to as ‘looked after’ and can live in various environments under this arrangement; for example, foster care, residential care, or with extended family or friends, known as ‘kinship care’. Some ‘looked after’ children also remain at home with their parent(s), with the local authority taking responsibility to provide support to the child and their family. While individual experiences are diverse and many young people thrive while in care, it is widely accepted that Scotland can do more to ensure the best start in life for its ‘looked after’ children and young people.

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To this end, the Scottish Government commissioned the Independent Care Review in 2016. The key output of this review was The Promise (Independent Care Review, 2020) – one in a series of seven documents laying out an ambitious plan to transform the children’s ‘care system’ in Scotland. Through flexible, child-centred and relationship-based practice, The Promise seeks to change the way in which young people feel and experience care. The ambition was clear – all of Scotland’s children, including those with experience of care, must grow up ‘loved, safe, and respected so that we can realise our full potential.’

A matter of weeks after the publication of this ambitious policy, and in the midst of rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19 worldwide, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. As a result, countries across the world began to go into ‘lockdown’ and the daily lives of individuals were transformed beyond recognition. In the months that followed, varying levels of restrictions were in place, and both individuals and services had to contend with a constantly changing landscape. This caused enormous disruption to almost all aspects of society, and the children’s social care sector was in no way exempt from this.

This report hopes to contribute to an improved understanding of the pandemic and its ongoing impact on children’s social care. Through thorough examination of the data about children who were ‘looked after’ throughout the pandemic, we will provide more nuanced evidence on the impacts of this turbulent time.

Aims of the research

Throughout the report, we specifically aim to determine:

  1. How did the pandemic affect the rates of children and young people entering care? Was this effect the same regardless of gender, ethnicity, or other characteristics? Did the effect vary across different regions of Scotland? Were children entering care into different types of placements, or under different legal reasons?
  2. Did the pandemic affect the rate at which young people were leaving care? Did this vary across different regions? Did the destinations of young people leaving care change?
  3. What impact did the pandemic have on the stability of children and young people’s care placements? Were children moving more or less frequently? Was the stability of certain types of placement impacted more strongly than others?

In order to answer these questions researchers conducted analysis on the Scottish Government’s Longitudinal Looked After Children Dataset, which currently contains data up to 31 July 2021.

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