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Statistics on looked after children


January 2014

  • There were over 91,000 looked after children in the UK in 2012.

  • Over half of looked after children in England and Wales became looked after because of abuse or neglect in 2012/13.


How many children are looked after in the UK?

  • There were over 91,000 looked after children in the UK in 2012.
It is not possible to give an exact figure for the number of children looked after in the UK because each of the UK's four nations differ in the way they collect and publish their statistics. They differ in both the date on which these figures are collected and in the definition of looked after.

For instance, children under a supervision requirement order in Scotland are considered to be in the care of the local authority whilst in the rest of the UK they are not, so children in the criminal justice system will be included in the Scottish figures.

For a fuller discussion of the differences please read: A review of the comparability of statistics of children looked after by local authorities in the different countries of the United Kingdom (PDF) (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2010).

See also: Looked after infants who are adopted: Scotland statistical briefing (PDF, 84KB) (NSPCC, 2012) which compares infant adoption statistics in England and Scotland.


The figures for each of the nations are given below:

  • England - 67,050 children were looked after on 31 March 2012

  • Northern Ireland - 2,644 children were looked after on 31 March 2012

  • Scotland - 16,248 children were looked after on 31 July 2012

  • Wales - 5,725 children were looked after on 31 March 2012.
 Sources: England: Glenndenning, J (2012)  Children Looked After by Local Authorities in England (including adoption and care leavers) - year ending 31 March 2012. London: Department for Education (DfE)

Northern Ireland: Waugh, I (2012) Children's Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland 2011/12 (PDF). Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS)

Scotland: Scottish Government (2013) Children's social work statistics Scotland, 2011-12 (PDF). [Edinburgh]: Scottish Government

Wales: Welsh Assembly Government (2012) Children looked after at 31 March by local authority, gender and age. [Cardiff]: StatsWales


How many children are looked after because of abuse or neglect?



England

  • 28,830 children started to be looked after in England during the year 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013.

  • 16,190 of these children started to be looked after because of abuse or neglect.

  • 56% of the children who started to be looked after in England during the year 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013 became looked after because of abuse or neglect.
Source: Table C1 in: Department of Education (2013) Children looked after by local authorities in England, including adoption (PDF). London: Department of Education.  

Wales
  • 1,980 children started to be looked after in Wales during the year 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013

  • 1,190 of these children started to be looked after because of abuse or neglect.

  • 60% of the children who started to be looked after in Wales during the year 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013 became looked after because of abuse or neglect.
Source: Welsh Assembly Government (2013) Children starting to be looked after during year to 31 March by local authority and need for care. [Cardiff]: StatsWales. Figures are not available for Northern Ireland or Scotland.



Is the number of looked after children decreasing or increasing?

  • Following a significant fall in the number of children in care over the past 30 years, numbers rose in the UK between 2008 and 2012 from 81,315 to 91,667.
Sources: see the How many children are looked after in the UK? section above. 

  • Following the inquiry into the death of baby Peter Connolly there was a significant increase in the number of care proceedings in England.
Source: CAFCASS (2011) Annual report and accounts 2010-11 (PDF). Norwich: The Stationery Office (TSO).

  • Some children are remaining in care for longer periods with 13% staying in the care system for more than five years.
Source: House of Commons. Children, Schools and Families Committee (2009) Looked-after children: third report of session 2008–09. Volume I: report, together with formal minutes (PDF). London: The Stationery Office (TSO).



How many looked after children die or are seriously injured?


The most recent biennial analysis for England doesn't have a figure for looked after children, although it does have one for the number of children who were not living at home at the time of the incident. This includes cases when children were in hospital or mother and baby units so is not directly comparable with earlier figures.

  • An analysis of serious case reviews in England from 2009-11 show that 13% of incidents took place whilst the child was not living at home or with relatives.
Source: Brandon, Marian, Sidebotham, Peter, Bailey, Sue and Belderson, Pippa, Hawley, Carol, Ellis, Catherine and Megson, Matthew (2012) New learning from serious case reviews: a two year report for 2009-2011 (PDF). London: Department for Education (DFE). 

  • An analysis of 56 significant case reviews in Scotland since 2007 identified 11 cases (20%) relating to children who were or had been looked after.

Source: Vincent, S. and Petch, A (2012) Audit and analysis of initial and significant case reviews (PDF). Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.

  • An analysis of 24 case management reviews in Northern Ireland from January 2003 to December 2008 identified 9 "index children" (38%) who were or had been looked after.

Source: From: Devaney, J. et al. (2013) Translating learning into action: an overview of learning arising from Case Management Reviews in Northern Ireland 2003-2008 (PDF). [Belfast]: Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Northern Ireland

  • An analysis of serious case reviews in England show that 10% (2003-05) and 13% (2005-07) relate to a child in care.
Sources: Brandon, Marian, Bailey, Sue and Belderson, Pippa (2010) Building on the learning from serious case reviews: a two-year analysis of child protection database notifications 2007-2009 (PDF) .  London: Department of Education.

Brandon, Marian, Bailey, Sue, Belderson, Pippa, Gardner, Ruth, Sidebotham, Peter, Dodsworth, Jane, Warren, Catherine and Black, Jane (2009) Understanding serious case reviews and their impact: a biennial analysis of serious case reviews 2005-2007 (PDF) . [London]: Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).


  • There have been 33 child deaths in youth custody since 1990.
Source: Inquest (2012) Child deaths in penal custody (England and Wales) 1990-date (PDF). London: Inquest



How many looked after children contact ChildLine?


  • ChildLine counselled 3,196 children and young people in 2009/10 about problems related to being looked after, equating to one in 26 of all looked after children in the UK.
Based on an analysis of the calls made to ChildLine between April 2009 and March 2010.

Source: NSPCC (2011) Looked after children talking to ChildLine. London: NSPCC.



Contact the NSPCC's information service for further information on looked after children or any child protection topic