EVEN the youngest children face a wait of around three years for adoption, a study has found.

The statistic is part of a broader report into looked-after youngsters which is set to be presented at a conference today.

The event will include contributions from poet Jackie Kay, whose own childhood experience inspired her acclaimed poetry collection The Adoption Papers.

Working with the charity Adoption and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland, researchers from Stirling, York and Lancaster universities tracked the progress of almost 2000 children aged five and under who became looked-after in 2012-13.

They found that those children allowed to return to their parents did so after an average time of nine months.

In contrast, the adoption process took an average of two-three years for youngsters for whom reunification was not an option.

Lead academic Dr Helen Whincup, of Stirling University, 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.”

She added: “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.”

Every year thousands of young people are looked-after in foster

care, residential placements or by relatives as a result of welfare concerns.

Prospective adoptive parents – including single people and couples of any sexuality – must undergo stringent background checks and it can take up to one year to match them with a child.

Data taken from across the country’s 32 local authorities shows 1355 children aged five and under were looked-after by others in 2012-13, with another 481 remaining at home with their parents under a Compulsory Supervision Order (CSO).

By 2016, 31% of those removed from home had returned, 11% had been placed with relatives permanently and 16% had been adopted, with another 6% “moving towards” this.

Another 2% were subject to permanence orders and data was lacking on the destinations for another 2% who had left the care system. A further 32% were still cared for away from home.

And researchers found the time taken to make decisions about those under CSOs may be influenced by the Children Hearings System in Scotland.

The team found a “clear spike” in the number of youngsters who stopped being looked-after at home after around 12 months on a CSO – in line with the official time limit for such orders.

Co-principal investigator Professor Nina Biehal, from York University, said: “This suggests to us that in some cases, decision-making as to whether or not children

should remain on a CSO may be system-driven rather than entirely needs-driven.”

The findings will be presented in full at a one-day event held by Stirling University today. Kay, an alumnus of the university, and Fiona Duncan, chair of the Independent Care Review, will contribute.

Meanwhile, researchers will continue to track the children’s progress.

Dr Maggie Grant, from Adoption and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland, said: “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.”