In ground-breaking work the team from Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland study have been involved in work, never before undertaken, to link and analyse administrative data on looked after children collected by the Scottish Government and Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA).

Started in 2014 with this phase completing in December 2018 , the project is a collaboration between the Universities of Stirling (PI: Dr Helen Whincup), York (Co-PI: Professor Nina Biehal) and Lancaster (Linda Cusworth, co-investigator on the project, moved from York in December 2017), and Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland.

Each year, thousands of children in Scotland become ‘looked after’ at home or ‘looked after and accommodated’ in foster care, residential placements or with relatives due to concerns about their welfare.  While many return to their parents, for some the decision is taken to permanently place them with adoptive parents, foster carers or kinship carers.  This important longitudinal project is the first to investigate decision-making, permanence, progress, outcomes and belonging for a cohort of children in Scotland who became looked after age five or under in 2012-13, and this phase has five components:

  • literature reviews,
  • a decision-making study (160 decision makers across Scotland) ,
  • a study of the pathways of all children (n=1,836) who became looked after aged 5 or under in 2012-13,
  • a study of the outcomes for children who had been accommodated in foster or kinship care, some of whom have subsequently been adopted or permanently placed with alternative carers,
  • a qualitative study (interviews with children, foster and kinship carers, and adoptive parents).

The study is designed to be the first phase in a longitudinal study following the large cohort of children into adolescence and beyond.

The pathways study has involved analysing longitudinal administrative data on 1,836 children from the national Children Looked After Statistics (CLAS) collected by the Scottish Government from all 32 local authorities, which includes details about the local authorities, children, episodes, placements and legal reason for placements.  Analysis of this dataset over 4 years from 2012-13 to 2015-16 has  provided information about the 1,836 children, the number and type of placements, reunifications to birth parents and any subsequent re-entries to care, and other exits from care, to adoptive parents or kinship carers, thus providing some insight into child and process factors associated with pathways to permanence.

However, decisions for a significant majority of those 1,836 looked after children are made within the Children’s Hearings System. Therefore, important information complementary to the CLAS but held completely separately and using different identifiers, is collated by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA).

The research team have spent many months negotiating with Scottish Government and SCRA, and gaining ethical clearance, to bring together anonymised data from the two sources, in collaboration with the Administrative Data Research Centre, Scotland (ADRC-S), part of the Administrative Data Research Network.  The ADRC-S acted as a ‘trusted third party’, undertaking probabilistic linkage in such a way to ensure that the children and their families are not identified directly, creating a new, linked anonymous data set which two members of the  research team (Linda Cusworth and Jade Hooper) have been analysing within the ADRC  ‘safe haven’.


The two datasets have never been linked before. This innovative and exciting work has been hugely important in testing the feasibility and success of the linkage, as a pilot for future work as part of Phase two. Analysis of the combined dataset enables a more in-depth picture of children’s journeys through the system, including the timing of and any delays in decision-making, and the factors associated with children achieving permanence.  Findings will be presented with evidence from other strands of the study at a one day conference at the University of Stirling on 19th September 2018

To register for our conference in September, click here


Dr Helen Whincup

PI Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland