Looked-after children are far less likely to go into education, training or work than their peers - and many of those who do will drop out just months later. They are also more likely to be excluded from school, new figures show.
Only 59 per cent of looked-after children who left school in 2009-10 were in a "positive destination" the following September, compared with 89 per cent of all leavers, according to Scottish Government figures which provide the most detailed picture yet of what happens to teenagers in care after their schooldays.
In a follow-up survey six months later, that figure had slumped to 44 per cent and the gap had widened further, with the overall figure for positive destinations decreasing marginally to 85 per cent.
The overall exclusion rate for looked-after children was eight times higher than for all schoolchildren, with 365 exclusions per 1,000 children - including multiple exclusions for the same child - compared to 45. The rate was more than twice as high for those who were cared for in a local authority home, at 866 per 1,000 children.
Overall school attendance was significantly lower among looked-after children, at 87.8 per cent, compared with 93.2 per cent generally. Those looked after at home had the poorest attendance record, at 78.7 per cent.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said the statistics showed for the first time a full picture of Scotland's looked-after children's post- school destinations.
"This improved picture of the issues facing children and young people in the care system shows the scale of the challenge if we are to better support looked-after children," he said. "It makes absolutely clear why early intervention is critical to increasing life chances."
He said that he and Children's Minister Angela Constance were committed to tackling this "head on" through legislation, building on the early-years framework, supporting families through a new parenting strategy, and a "new generation of family centres".
The new figures linked looked-after children's data provided by local authority social work services departments with educational data from schools, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Skills Development Scotland.
It assessed the educational outcomes for children and young people who had been looked after continuously for the 12 months before the survey in different types of care placements, highlighting variations in the educational attainment of children, depending on their placement type.