DATA INSIGHTS -Linking two administrative data sets about looked after children

This week, Jade Hooper, Linda Cusworth and Helen Whincup share findings from their work on ‘Permanently Progressing’, one strand of which involved an innovative data linkage of The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Children Looked After Statistics (CLAS) data (Hooper et al, 2019).

What they found

1)      Across the total sample, 67% of children had records which matched as expected, leaving 33% where records either did not match or matched unexpectedly.

2)      There was considerable variation across local authorities in the rate at which data matched, from 54% to 97%.

3)      Two-fifths (418) of the 1,000 linked children had a previous referral recorded by SCRA. Almost 60% of the children who had a previous referral were under one year old at the time.

4)      For most (88%) of these 418 children the previous referral did not lead to a Children’s Hearing.

5)      For one in five children there was an appeal to the sheriff, but for the majority (81%) there was no appeal.

Why it matters

Early engagement and timely intervention is a core aim of policy and practice (Scottish Government 2015a).  The linkage showed that for 418 of the 1,000 children, professionals had previously been sufficiently worried about them to make a referral to the Reporter. Almost 60% of children who had a previous referral were under one year old at the time of that referral. The Reporter had not arranged a Children’s Hearing in relation to the majority (88%) of those referrals, however subsequent concerns led to the child later becoming looked after in 2012-13.

The Permanently Progressing? study also interviewed 160 decision makers (Whincup et al 2019). They expressed concern that referrals to the sheriff led to delays and took this into account when making decisions. The linkage showed that for the majority (81%) of the 1,000 linked children there had been no appeal.

The variation in rates of linkage (54% to 97%) demonstrates that national government and local authorities may wish to reflect on their data collection procedures and quality assurance checks. This is important in meeting Scotland’s need (Scottish Government, 2015b) that data needs to be accurate if it is to be used by policymakers and strategic leaders to plan and evaluate services.

Further Information

“Permanently Progressing” is a collaboration between the universities of Stirling, York and Lancaster, with Adoption and Fostering Alliance (Scotland).  For more information, links to the five reports and summaries from Phase 1, and to see what the research team are planning for Phase Two, download the full two-page briefing or visit the study website at the University of Stirling.

This study demonstrates the value of linking data derived from decision-making by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration and Children’s Hearings that result in children becoming looked after. For example, their ability to tease out what subsequently happened to children after referrals highlights how much this kind of analysis can support Scotland’s improvement agenda.

Such analyses highlight the fundamental need to strengthen the mechanisms that will enable such linkage to be routine for the purposes of research which can inform policy, practice and evaluation. ADR Scotland, a partnership between SCADR and Scottish Government, is currently focused on strengthening and streamlining the information governance underpinning such data usage as well as resolving the technical barriers to linking these datasets and others.


  • Hooper, J., Cusworth, L., Whincup, H. (2019) Linking two administrative datasets about looked after children: testing feasibility and enhancing understanding. University of Stirling.
  • Scottish Government (2015a) Getting it Right for Looked After Children and Young People. Early engagement, early permanence and improving the quality of care. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.
  • Scottish Government (2015b) Looked After Children Data Strategy. Edinburgh; Scottish Government.
  • Whincup, H., Grant, M., Burgess, C. and Biehal, N. (2019) Decision making for children. University of Stirling.


This article was published on 05 Mar 2020