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Permanently Progressing? Building secure futures for children in Scotland

Researchers: Directors: Professor Nina Biehal (University of York) and Dr Helen Whincup (University of Stirling). 
Research Team: Dr Margaret Grant, Dr Marina Shapira, Jade Hooper, Dr Alison Hennessy (all University of Stirling) and Dr Linda Cusworth (University of Lancaster)
Duration: October 2014 - December 2018

Most children who become looked after away from home return to live with their parents, but some cannot safely return to their families. For the latter group, a key concern is how best to provide them with permanence, broadly defined as stability and emotional security. In this context, the central aim of the Permanently Progressing? study was to explore patterns and outcomes of placement for children who enter care, with a particular focus on children in permanent placements away from home.

The study, a collaboration between the University of York, University of Stirling and the Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland (AFA Scotland), investigated histories, pathways and developmental outcomes for children in Scotland who become looked after at the age of five years or under. It employed a range of methods and had five linked components:

  • The Pathways study investigated pathways into, through and in some cases out of the looked after system for all 1,836 children in Scotland age five years or under who became looked after during a single year, analysing local authority administrative data to follow them upover a four year period.
  • The Outcomes study surveyed the social workers and current caregivers (foster/kinship carers or adoptive parents) of 433 children drawn from the Pathways study to compare histories, decision-making, progress and  outcomes for children who were fostered or adopted.
  • The Decision-making study investigated decision-making for children who take different pathways to permanent placement, using focus groups and interviews to explore the views of a range of professionals working with looked after children.
  • A qualitative study explored the perspectives of children and their caregivers through play and talk sessions with children and interviews with their foster carers, kinship carers or adoptive parents.
  • The Data linkage sub-study further explored children’s pathways into foster care by linking local authority administrative data on looked after children to data from the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA).


Read the final reports and summaries:

Pathways study

Biehal, N., Cusworth, L., Hooper, J., Whincup, H. and Shapira, M. (2019) Pathways to permanence for children who become looked after in Scotland

Outcomes study

Cusworth, L., Biehal, N., Whincup, H., Grant, M., Hennessy, A. (2019) Children looked after away from home aged five and under in Scotland: experiences, pathways and outcomes


Whincup. H., Grant, M., Burgess, C., Biehal, N. (2019) Decision making for children

Children, carers and adopters

Grant, M., Whincup, H., Burgess, C. (2019)  Perspectives on kinship care, foster care and adoption: the voices of children, carers and adoptive parents

Data linkage

Hooper, J., Cusworth, L., Whincup, H. (2019) Linking two administrative datasets about looked after children: testing feasibility and enhancing understanding

Information sheet for children and audio file

Project update and research team

The study built on previous University of York studies of fostering and adoption, including the Belonging and Permanence study.

  • Biehal, N., Ellison, S., Ian Sinclair, I. (2010) Belonging and Permanence: Outcomes in long-term foster care and adoption. 
  • Biehal, N.(2014) ‘A sense of belonging: meanings of family and home in long-term foster care,’ British Journal of Social Work, 44, pp. 955-971

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