THE number of children in care has increased by almost 50 per cent in a decade, a new report on the changing shape of families has revealed.
In 2011 there were 16,231 youngsters in care - a total which has risen every year since 2001, when it was 10,897.
While the overall number of children in care has jumped 49 per cent over that period, the number of these youngsters looked after by grandparents or other relatives in formal kinship care arrangements is almost four times higher than 10 years ago, according to the study which was commissioned by the organisation Parenting across Scotland.
There were 980 children in care who were in formal kinship care in 2001, with this rising to 3,910 by 2011.
The report said: “In terms of children in need of care, the most striking change between 2001 and 2011 was the marked increase in the number of looked after children which rose from 10,897 to 16,231, an increase of 49 per cent.”
It added that while most children in care remain in the family home, there was a trend to children being looked after in other community settings, such as staying with friends or relatives, with this “indicative of increasing levels of kinship care”.
But the report warned kinship carers could themselves be a “vulnerable group”, as “most kinship carers are grandparents amongst which there are high levels of disability”.
In 2011, 9 per cent of Scots - some 500,000 people - were providing unpaid care for a friend of family member struggling as a result of disability, illness or age.
While the proportion of people who are carers is the same as in 2001, increasing numbers of carers are having to devote more of their time to this role.
More than two fifths (44 per cent) of carers provide 20 hours of care a week or more, up from 37 per cent in 2001 - while more than a quarter (27 per cent) spend 50 hours a week or more looking after someone, compared to 24 per cent a decade ago.
The proportion of men who are classed as being “economically inactive” because they are looking after the home or family increased from 1 per cent to 3 per cent over the decade, but nearly six times as many women perform this role, with 17 per cent of females “economically inactive” for the same reason in 2011.
The report, which draws on census data from 2001 and 2011, found the number of households in Scotland increased by 200,000 to 2.4 million over this period.
An increase in the number of people living alone meant single person households were the most common living arrangement in 2011, accounting for more than a third (35 per cent) of all households.
The trend towards smaller households also saw a rise in families with only one dependent child, with the report stating that almost a third of children in 2011 were growing up in a home without any siblings.
Parenting across Scotland - an umbrella body made up of leading charities including Children 1st, Children in Scotland and One Parent Families Scotland - will launch the report at a conference on Tuesday where Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell will be one of the speakers.
Clare Simpson, project manager at Parenting across Scotland, said: “The report throws up as many questions as it answers. It paints a picture of both stability and change. However, what’s really clear is families are juggling multiple responsibilities and providing large amounts of care while continuing to be active in the economy.
“Women are almost six times as likely as men to be looking after the home and family, and are also much more likely to be working part time. To ensure families are able to flourish in these hard pressed times, it is imperative we ensure the right supports are in place to allow parents to work. High quality, flexible childcare which parents can afford and family friendly working practices are crucial to the health of Scotland’s families.”
Ms Campbell said: “This report brings together a range of research to give a clearer picture of the challenges families face today and will be useful to many people in making the right support available.”
She added that the Scottish Government was “investing £280 million over the next two years to expand annual, funded early learning and childcare provision for three and four year olds from 475 to 600 hours from August and extending this entitlement to the most vulnerable 27 per cent of two-year-olds over two years”.
Marion Davis, policy adviser at One Parent Families Scotland, welcomed the report, and said: “Policy-makers need information which will inform their decision-making which is accessible and contributes to finding practical solutions to problems. The report on families in Scotland will make a valuable contribution to ensuring parents and children receive the support & services they need.”