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Statistics for vulnerable children

This article explores some of the statistics associated with outcomes for vulnerable children after services become involved.
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© University of Strathclyde

In Scotland the Scottish Government produce Children’s Social Work Statistics on a yearly basis. In March 2020 the most recent publication was produced, providing data for the 2018-19 period. From these, The Children’s Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2018-19, a number of headline figures and statements can be produced:

  • Fewer than 2% of children in Scotland were looked after by local authorities or on the child protection register.
  • 2,599 children were on the child protection register.
  • Compared with figures from 2017-18, there was a 5% decrease in the number of children looked after and a 3% decrease in the number of children on the child protection register.

  • The total number of looked after children has fallen for the seventh year in a row.
  • Episodes of care continue to lengthen – the number of episodes longer than five years have doubled since 2008.

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 2015 we witnessed political debates about both the criteria which should be used to define and measure child poverty as well as the level of support that should be offered to low income families. 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.

© University of Strathclyde
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Caring for Vulnerable Children

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