Adopting a child in Scotland takes approximately two to three years, despite the Scottish Government having made an “explicit commitment” to making permanent arrangements for such children as early as possible, an academic has said.
Helen Whincup from the the University of Stirling said there was no evidence decisions on adoptions were being made “hastily”.
Even for children who have been in care from a very young age, where adoption is the “most appropriate option”, she said the procedure still took up to 36 months.
Ms Whincup led a team of academics from the universities of Stirling, York and Lancaster, who – in collaboration with the Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland – examined the cases of the 1,836 youngsters aged five and under who were taken into care in 2012-13.
Researchers analysed data sent to the Scottish Government by all 32 local authorities across Scotland to find out what happened to the children over the next four years.
Children Looked After Statistics (CLAS) data showed 1,355 youngsters aged for under were placed with other family members, put into foster care, or went to live with adoptive parents in 2012-12.
A further 481 youngsters were looked after while remaining at home with their parents.
By 2016 almost a third (31%) of the 1,355 children who had been removed from the family home had been reunited with their parents.
About half this number (16%) had been adopted, while 6% were “moving towards adoption” and 2% had been placed on a permanence order, removing parental rights from their natural parents.
Just over one in 10 (11%) of the children were being permanently cared for by other family members, while 32% continued to be looked after outside of the family home.
There were 2% of children who were no longer in care, but where there was no further information on where they were living.
Ms Whincup said: “What this tells us is that when the child is going home, this happens relatively quickly.
“However, despite the Scottish Government’s explicit commitment to early permanence, other routes to secure a child’s care take much longer, even for our youngest children.
“For those children where adoption is the most appropriate option, there is no evidence that this decision is taken hastily in Scotland.
“In fact, the data shows rather the opposite – it takes approximately two to three years, even for those children who became looked after when they were very young.”
As well as analysing CLAS data and information from the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, the academics interviewed a range of people involved in the processes, including social workers, foster carers and children.
Maggie Grant, from Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland, added: “Some children told us about early experiences of abuse and neglect, and were also able to tell us what helped them feel secure, including keeping important things from their past safe.”
Researchers are nowing moving into the second phase of the study, and will be tracking the children’s progress towards adolescence and beyond.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We want to provide safe, stable, nurturing homes for children in care at the earliest opportunity and last year adoptions in Scotland for looked-after children reached their highest level.
“We are supporting local authorities and partners – in health, children’s hearings, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration and the courts – to develop projects to identify delays to securing permanence for looked-after children.
“In addition the First Minister has established an independent care review that is looking at the legislation, practice, ethos and culture of the whole system to improve care for children and young people.”