Findings on the psychology of individuals who abuse children 

On 13 July 2022, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) published findings on “The psychology of individuals who abuse children”, drawing on evidence heard at a two-day roundtable event involving eight experts. These findings will help inform SCAI’s recommendations to help prevent and diminish the risks of children in care being abused.

The key findings include that:

  • there is no single abuser type nor is there homogeneity in their characteristics.
  • there is no definitive answer as to why the abuse happens.
  • the abuse of children is likely to arise from the actions and choices of a person with a particular bio-psycho-social make-up and their own unique history when they interact with children in particular circumstances.
  • some who sexually abuse children are completely driven to do so and will design their lives accordingly but others act in response to opportunities presented to them rather than created by them.
  • it may have been easier for abusers from religious settings to perpetrate abuse including because of them being able to take advantage of habitual deference by others to the power of the religious. They could rely on routinely being held in high regard and that could operate as a mechanism to silence children.
  • recruitment processes are not sophisticated enough to identify those who are going to be a risk to children if appointed to the role for which they are applying. All agreed that disclosure under, for example, the PVG scheme was of limited value, yet it utilises much energy and focus that could be better directed.

A link to the full findings is here.

Foster care

SCAI is currently hearing evidence on the abuse of children in foster care, including children who were boarded out, as well as children placed in foster care by a Scottish local authority and children in kinship care. This phase of evidence started on 3 May 2022 and is expected to run until Autumn 2022.

Young offenders and children and young persons in need of care and protection

On future hearings, SCAI recently announced details of its eighth phase of public evidential hearings. This will run from the second half of 2023 and will cover the abuse of children in residential accommodation for young offenders and children and young persons in need of care and protection. Investigations into these areas have, in fact, been ongoing throughout the work of SCAI to date and many relevant statements have already been provided.

This phase will focus on residential accommodation used by the state between 1930 and 2014 to accommodate (a) young offenders under the age of 18 (and children and young persons under 18 awaiting trial) and (b) children and young persons under 18 in need of care and protection.

In particular, this phase of evidence will consider:

  • residential establishments in Scotland used as approved schools, List D schools, secure accommodation, remand homes, and assessment centres; and
  • borstal institutions, remand institutions, detention centres and young offenders’ institutions run by the Scottish Prison Service.

These places were managed by a range of providers including local authorities, religious bodies, voluntary bodies, and the Scottish Prison Service.

This phase will investigate the nature and extent of physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse, and will also look at the use of corporal punishment, restraint and segregation.


From its inception in October 2015 to 30 June 2022, SCAI has cost £57,921,999. £2,612,579 expenditure was incurred in the three months April to June 2022 alone.