Meeting the health needs of 'looked after' children

This study aims to achieve two things. It will test the legal and ethical tolerance for the use of personally identifiable information to facilitate the linkage of existing data about children, with the purpose of increasing the viability of analyses relevant to children’s rights and wellbeing. It will then demonstrate the power of linkages by exploring patterns of unscheduled health care by children who are ‘looked after’ by the state. 

Research focus

The study seeks to address the following questions: 

  • What minimum set of additional identifiers (i.e. partial or full name, date of birth, gender, postcode) is required to enable a robust and secure linkage of Children Looked After Statistical (CLAS) data with health data via the Community Health Index Data base whilst maintaining privacy?  

  • What are the differences in use of unscheduled care by children who are ‘looked after’ at home by parents, and those who are ‘looked after’ away from home with kinship, foster or residential carers?  

This feasibility work is essential. It is not currently possible to routinely link social care data about children who are under the age of 5 years old, which limits the potential to understand policy and service responses to their needs. Exploration of the method which allows this gap to be addressed while protecting privacy is required.  


Data this research aims to link and analyse

  • Primary Care Out of Hours Service records
  • Scottish Ambulance Service records
  • A&E (hospital Accident & Emergency) records
  • SMR01: Hospital inpatients and day case records
  • NHS24 call data
  • Local authority data about looked after children. 

Research team

Project lead: Fiona Mitchell, Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow & Head of Evidence and Innovation, CELCIS, University of Strathclyde with team including: Rachael Wood, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh & Consultant in Public Health Medicine (Women and Children’s Health), NHS National Services Scotland, Information Services Division and Janice McGhee, Honorary Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh.  

Publications and outputs

This project is at an early stage, as the initial phase focuses on determining the legal and ethical tolerance for indexing datasets, which requires the restricted and secure use of some identifiable information. When publications or outputs are available, they will be shared here. For more information about this project, please contact us.