About looked after children

Who is a looked after child?

Many children have experiences, which result in the need for extra care, support or protection from public agencies. And in very serious cases, some children become 'looked after'. This means a local authority takes on some legal responsibility for the care and wellbeing of the child. This care could be with a foster parent, at home with their parents, with other family members (kinship carers), prospective adopters, in residential care homes or in a group care setting such as a residential school or secure setting.

Children and young people can become looked after for a number of reasons. But in every case they will have been through a traumatic or difficult life experience or trauma which can result in instability, distress, poor emotional and physical health, or lack of social and educational development.

Who is a care leaver?

A ‘care leaver’ is a young person who has been ‘looked after’ by a local authority for a specified period up to their school leaving age. This includes young people looked after at home, not just those provided with accommodation by the local authority, such as residential or foster care.


There are just under 15,000 looked after children in Scotland and over 2600 more children on the child protection register. That’s almost 18 children per thousand of under 18s. But, there are many, many more children living on the edges of care who continue to need our, support and protection.

There are a number of ways a child or young person can become looked after, the most common route is after they are put on the child protection register, following a referral to the Children’s Reporter. They may also be in secure care, become voluntarily looked after, or come through the criminal justice system.

There are over 60,000 professionals that support our looked after children.