Children in care Statistics

Each UK nation collects and publishes statistics about looked after children (the official term for children in care). This includes information about where children in care live and why they are in care.

There are currently over 93,000 children in care in the UK

There were 93,033 children in care in the UK at 31 March 2014 (31 July in Scotland). This figure relates to children who have looked-after child status. It includes children who live at home under the terms of their care plan. The figures for looked-after children in Scotland also include children in the criminal justice system.

Looked after children by UK nation:

England: 68,840
Department for Education (2014) Table A1 in Children looked after in England, including adoption: national tables (XLSX). London: Department for Education.

Northern Ireland: 2,858
Iain Waugh (2014) Section three of Children's social care statistics Northern Ireland 2013/14 (PDF). Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Scotland: 15,580
Scottish Government (2015) Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2013-14. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Wales: 5,675
Welsh Government (2015) Children in need at 31 March by looked after status, category of need and disability, including unborn children. Cardiff: StatsWales.

People

More than half of children are taken into care because of abuse or neglect.

An estimated 46,155 (62%) of children were looked after due to abuse or neglect in England and Wales at 31 March 2014. It is not possible to get an exact number for the UK as Scotland and Northern Ireland do not publish reasons for children being in care.

Children can also become looked after because: a child is disabled, a parent is ill or disabled, there are other family problems, or because the parents are absent (for example, unaccompanied asylum seekers). Looked-after children also include children who are looked after on a voluntary basis at the request of, or by agreement with, their parents. It also includes children who are looked after for short periods of time, such as respite care. In Scotland, children in the criminal justice system are also counted as looked after children.

England: 42,460 out of 68,840 children were taken into care because of abuse or neglect.
Department for Education (2014) Table A1 In: Children looked after in England, including adoption: national tables (XLSX). London: Department for Education.

Wales: 3,695 out of 5,675 children were taken into care because of abuse or neglect.
Welsh Government (2015) Children in need at 31 March by looked after status, category of need and disability, including unborn children. Cardiff: StatsWales.

A small proportion of children in care experience further abuse and neglect whilst in care

Explanation: Approximately 60 per cent of children enter care because of abuse or neglect (Jütte, S. et al, 2015). The vast majority of children live safely in foster care and residential care but a minority of children across the UK do experience harm each year from those responsible for their care. Biehal estimated there were 450–550 cases of abuse or neglect in foster care per year and 250–300 cases of abuse or neglect in residential care per year.

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Children in care are 4 times more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty

Explanation: The Office of National Statistics conducted research on the mental health of young people, aged 5-17, looked after by local authorities (Meltzer, H. et al, 2003Meltzer, H et al, 2004a and Meltzer et al, 2004b).

The research found that 45% of looked after children in England, 45% of looked after children in Scotland and 49% of looked after children in Wales had a mental disorder. This included: clinically significant conduct disorders; emotional disorders (anxiety and depression); hyperactivity and less common disorders (pervasive developmental disorders, tics and eating disorders).

This compares to a rate of 10% for children aged 5-16 living in private households in Great Britain. This figure is from research conducted by the Office of National Statistics (Green, H. et al, 2005). Children living in foster care were excluded from this survey.

Children in care
are less likely
than their peers
to do well at school

Explanation: In England, there is 40 percentage point gap between children in care and their peers, in the attainment of 5 GCSEs grade A*-C including English and mathematics.

In 2014, 12% of pupils who were looked after children achieved 5 GCSEs grade A*-C including English and mathematics. The figure for non-looked after children was 52%.

See: Table 3: Key Stage 4 eligibility and performance of children who have been looked after continuously for at least twelve months

People

34% of care leavers were not in education, employment or training at age 19 compared to 15.5% of the general population

Explanation: Of the 27,220 former care leavers aged 19, 20 or 21, 38% were not in education, employment or training (NEET). 

Statistics on child abuse

View statistics and information on child abuse and neglect in the United Kingdom.
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References

  1. Green, H. et al (2005) Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004 (PDF). [London]: Office for National Statistics (ONS).

  2. Meltzer, H. et al (2004a) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in Wales (PDF). London: The Stationery Office (TSO).

  3. Meltzer, H. et al (2004b) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in Scotland (PDF). London: The Stationery Office (TSO).

  4. Meltzer, H. et al. (2003) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in England (PDF). London: The Stationery Office (TSO).