Born into care: infants becoming looked after in Scotland – rates, recurrence and outcomes

Project Dates

November 2020 – March 2022


Scottish Government

Project Summary

The removal of a child, particularly an infant, into care is perhaps the most difficult and brutal decision that professionals can make to intervene in family life, and has implications for children, families, professionals and the state. It is important to understand more about the circumstances in which removal of babies shortly after birth takes place in Scotland, including the significance of pre-birth assessments, the work undertaken with parents to prevent separation where possible, and children’s pathways and permanence outcomes.

This research builds on earlier work in the Born into Care series by Professor Karen Broadhurst and colleagues, which illuminated the volume and proportion of infants and newborns subject to care proceedings in the family courts in England (Broadhurst et al., 2018) and Wales (Alrouh et al., 2019), updated in 2021 (Pattinson et al., 2021).

The aims of this study are to investigate:

  • the scale and trends in newborns and infants becoming looked after away from home via the Children’s Hearings System in Scotland, including area-level variations and the association with levels of deprivation;
  • how these trends compare with the rates of infants and newborns entering compulsory care through care proceedings in England and Wales;
  • the health characteristics of infants looked after away from home, including experience of substance withdrawal at birth;
  • the family circumstances and difficulties prior to infants becoming looked after, including poverty and housing problems, domestic abuse, parental substance misuse and mental health difficulties;
  • whether mothers and fathers had experience of other children being looked after away from home;
  • families’ involvement with services and pre-birth planning;
  • whether infants were placed into care with their brothers and sisters;
  • the pathways of infants into and through the Children’s Hearings System, including permanence outcomes.

The study uses administrative data held by Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) about all children looked after away from home via the Children’s Hearings System in Scotland.  It also uses information recorded in the case files for a sample of 70 infants, to provide more detail on their family backgrounds, experiences and pathways.

Research Team

Dr Linda Cusworth (PI)

Jade Hooper (Research Associate)

Professor Karen Broadhurst

Dr Gillian Henderson (Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration)  

Dr Helen Whincup (University of Stirling)

External Collaborators

Scottish Children's Reporter Administration

University of Stirling


For further information, please contact: Dr Linda Cusworth (

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