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Statistics for vulnerable children

In Scotland the Scottish Government produce Children’s Social Work Statistics on a yearly basis. In March 2015 the most recent publication was produced, providing data for the 2013-14 period. From these, The Children’s Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2013-14, a number of headline figures and statements can be produced:

  • 2% of children in Scotland were looked after by local authorities or on the child protection register.
  • 2,882 children were on the child protection register.
  • There was a 49 per cent rise in the number of children looked after between 2001 and 2012, driven by an increase in children looked after in community placements. This peaked in 2012 and with numbers declining in the past two years.

  • Since 2000 there has also been a less steep but steady 41% increase in the number of children on the child protection register.
  • Between 2004 and 2013 – a period in which the number of children who are looked after or on the child protection register has increased by 36% – the number of children and young people referred to the Reporter decreased to close to 60%.

Like all statistics, those above are open to interpretation and argument. Depending on how any set of statistics are collated and what they attempt to ‘measure’, they can be used to make different points. In the Scottish Government publication from which these statistics are derived, explanations are offered to explain some of the trends. In a previous step this week we acknowledged the political dimension of caring for vulnerable children and this theme again comes to the fore when we think about the measurement and presentation of statistics related to vulnerable children. This feels more relevant than ever in a UK context as in the weeks shortly before the course started we witnessed a political debate regarding the criteria which should be used to define and measure child poverty. Within such debates different political parties and interest groups will make claims and counter claims regarding what requires to be delivered to vulnerable children and their families.

However, very relevant questions require to be asked about the way in which we collate statistics related to vulnerable children and the connections that can be made between different phenomena. Mike Stein, whilst writing about policy developments in England and Wales in 2006, highlighted what he saw as an unmerited tendency to blame poor outcomes for looked after children on the care system. In his article ‘Wrong Turn’ he concluded that the issues were much more complex and linked back to factors associated with society in much wider terms. Reflect on what he has to say in his article as you engage with the remaining steps this week.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Vulnerable Children

University of Strathclyde