Children in need of care
Between 2001 and 2011 there was an increase of 49% in the numbers of looked after children and young people in Scotland. However, in the period since 2011 the numbers have flattened out (so at 31 July 2011 there were 16,231 'looked after' children in Scotland, and at March 2014 16 041 This is associated with an increase in community placements (kinship care and foster care) and children entering the care system at a younger age. This may be due to early identification of risk, for example parents affected by substance abuse or domestic abuse. High profile child protection cases (such as Caleb Ness 2001) and a growing awareness of neglect may have contributed to an increasing number of young children who require compulsory measures.
The proactive policy of kinship care over the period is a contributing factor. Some children may have previously been in informal kinship care (and would not been counted in looked after children returns). There are likely to be many more children who we do not know about, and who are not recorded.
Many of those looking after kin are themselves affected by long-term health problems, especially older women who are grandparents. Many older kinship carers are looking after grandchildren and struggling to do so.
Policy has moved away from children being 'taken into care'. More children are looked after at home, by foster carers and in kinship care arrangements. This means that we need to ask how we ensure parents are supported to give their children the best start in life; what is best practice in helping families through substance abuse, domestic abuse; and how we share practice and ensure that it becomes best practice.
The Children and Young People Scotland Act (2014) will affect, for example, duties for children leaving care; duties on local authorities for prevention; kinship care orders. The guidance is still being written. So, there is time to influence this and to ensure that the children who are looked after have a better start than at present.