08 May 2024

New analysis shows disparity in statistics collected about disabled children in Scotland

Different sources of information have for the first time been brought together in a new analysis by CELCIS, published today (8 May 2024), to better understand what is known about disabled children across Scotland’s statistical collections.

The collection of good quality information about disabled children is critical to increasing and ensuring the awareness and visibility of disabled children and their needs and experiences is present among national and local policy-makers and services so that the support needs of disabled children are understood and can be met with the right support and investment.

The data from the analysis and findings show that there are many factors affecting how disability is assessed and recorded, including there being multiple ways in which disability and additional support needs are defined and collected across the different children’s statistics that are collated.

Although the Scottish Government published new guidance in 2022, these findings reveal that because of how disability is defined varies across these different statistics, it is not possible to have a full understanding of the number and needs of disabled children in Scotland and this will be having an impact on the services, support and funding for disabled children and their families.

The review also specifically considered how visible disabled children are in Scotland’s children’s care and protection data. While disabled children have been found to be at increased risk of harm, abuse and neglect compared to their non-disabled peers, this increased risk is not reflected in Scotland’s child protection and ‘looked after’ children statistics. The review looked at information captured across Scotland’s children’s services collections from early learning and childcare statistics to college and university student statistics to see if this discrepancy could be better understood. The review found that definitional issues, allied to the perceived need for an assessment of disability from health practitioners, have contributed to an apparent under-recording of disability among Scotland’s children in need of care and protection.

It is hoped that this new information will prompt Scotland’s children’s services to re-consider how disabled children are identified and recorded in the statistics they collect and to work towards a common definition of disability, so that the improved quality of data can lead to enhanced services, support and funding.

The review’s author, Dr Alex McTier, CELCIS’s Evidence and Evaluation Specialist, said:

“As well as informing and influencing national and local policy makers, funders, and leaders and managers of services, having good quality disabled children’s statistics can lead to better support for children. Identifying and recording a child’s disability means that services are better able to make reasonable adjustments, provide supports that meet the child’s individual needs, and consequently deliver on their statutory duties under the Equality Act 2010 and the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

“I hope this paper encourages services to review its collection of statistics about disabled children, not just to improve the accuracy of the information they collect but above all to better understand and then meet the needs of disabled children.”

The review advocates a refresh of the Scottish Government guidance so that it is better able to reflect the circumstances in which children in particular develop and live their lives and the testing and use of the revised guidance; and, as a separate exercise, work has begun to link the information on individual children that is contained within the different statistical collections including health visitor, early learning and childcare, school education, and children’s social work statistical data in order to inform multi-agency information-sharing and planning.

Read the analysis