20 April 2023

Impact of COVID-19 on children’s care in Scotland revealed

Today (20 April), SCADR, the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research, in partnership with CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection, has published a new report which looks at the effect the first 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic had on the social care of children in need of care and protection in Scotland.

‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Care Journeys in Scotland’ study, funded by the ESRC and UKRI, undertook an analysis of the Scottish Government’s Longitudinal Looked After Children Dataset, with the report providing detailed insight into the disruption experienced within children’s social care from March 2020 to July 2021 for children, their families and the people who work to support them. It looked at the impact that the pandemic had on the rate of children and young people entering and leaving care, and the impact of the pandemic on the stability of children and young people’s care. It is hoped that these insights will be useful to how children’s services seek to recover from the pandemic and the work needed to fulfil the ambitions of The Promise of the Independent Care Review.

The analysis found that the impact of the pandemic on children’s care journeys was substantial. Approximately 1,500 (38%) fewer children and young people entered care during the initial year of the pandemic*, a figure that varied significantly depending on the age of the children and young people and on the way in which they were cared for. During this time there remained a number of notable stressors for parents and caregivers, including financial hardship and poor mental health, and an increase in children and young people who experienced neglect.

The report also shows that 22% fewer young people left care in the first year of the pandemic than can be seen in data before the pandemic. However, by September 2020, the rate of children leaving care was beginning to approach pre-pandemic levels. Although this period of the pandemic may have been and felt more isolating for some care leavers, for others, the delay in leaving care may have had a more positive impact in terms of continuing to be supported where they were living.

For children and young people who were in care during the initial year of the pandemic, the analysis found that there were fewer moves between different care environments (or placements) than in previous years; with the average length of a child’s care placement increasing by 46 days. This trend of longer placements was apparent for children living in both residential care and those who were ‘looked after’ at home. Although placement moves are not necessarily a negative experience, for some children and young people this may have had a positive impact on their overall happiness and stability.

The report also highlights that, as this research was carried out on data available to July 2021, future analysis conducted on more recent data would be beneficial in understanding the longer-term impact of the pandemic.   

View and download the report

Alongside the report, the Data Explained report summarises experiences and learning from working with the Longitudinal Looked After Children Dataset in the course of producing the research into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s care journeys in Scotland.

View the Data Explained report

* The number of children entering and leaving care within each year was calculated based on the number of episodes of care that started. As a small proportion of children will have multiple episodes of care within a given year, this figure will be slightly higher than the unique number of children experiencing those episodes.