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 93,000 children in care in the UK

Explanation: There were 93,319 children in care in the UK at 31 March 2015 (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: 93,319

See also Indicator 17 in How safe are our children? 2016.

People

Over 60% of children in care are looked after due to abuse and neglect

Explanation: 46,365 children were looked after due to abuse or neglect in England and Wales at 31 March 2015. This was 62% of all children in care in England and Wales.

England: 42,710 out of 69,540 children were taken into care because of abuse or neglect.
Department for Education (2015) Table A1 In: Children looked after in England, including adoption: national tables (XLSX). London: Department for Education.

Wales: 3,655 out of 5,500 children were taken into care because of abuse or neglect.
Welsh Government (2016) Children in need at 31 March by looked after status, category of need. Cardiff: StatsWales.

It is not possible to get an exact number for the UK as Scotland and Northern Ireland do not publish reasons for children being in care.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.

See also Indicator 17 in How safe are our children? 2016.

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

Explanation: Over 60% of children in care are looked after due to abuse and neglect (see How safe are our children? 2016).

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 was one substantiated allegation per 100 children in foster care year and 2-3 substantiated allegations per 100 children in residential care.

See also Indicator 17 in How safe are our children? 2016.

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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.

Numbers of children in care in the UK have risen steadily in recent years

Explanation: The total number of children in care in the UK has increased every year since 2010. The number of looked after children in the UK has increased from 88,063 at 31 March 2010 to 93,319 at 31 March 2015 (31 July in Scotland); an overall increase of 6%.

The number of children entering care has increased every year since 2011. In 2010/2011 34,975 children started to be looked after in the UK, in 2014/15 this had increased to 38,147; an overall increase of 9%.

See also Indicator 17 in How safe are our children? 2016.

30% of children who return home are back in care within 5 years

Explanation: The Department for Education analysed data on children who returned home in 2006-7 who had re-entered care by 2012. 30% (3,050) of the 10,270 children who went home in 2006-7 had returned to care in the five years to 31 March 2012. Of the group of children who returned to care by 2012, 8% had been at home for less than two weeks while 17% had been at home for at least two years.

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

1/3 of all children leaving care return home to their family

Explanation: In 2014/15 31,100 children ceased to be looked after. Of these 10,620 children, or 34%, were returned home to live with parents or relatives. Other reasons for children leaving care included: being adopted, being made subject to a special guardianship order and moving to independent adult living.

£300 million a year - the cost of failed reunification of children returning home from care.

Explanation: A large proportion of children who return home from care are subsequently abused and end up back in care. DfE figures (2015) show a third of reunifications result in children going back into care. The Department for Education (2013) found that 30% of children who returned home were back in care within 5 years.

We commissioned research comparing the costs associated with taking children back into care following a failed family reunification with the costs associated with providing all families who had a child returning home from care with appropriate support and services. The report used the DfE statistics for looked after children England in 2012/13 to estimate national costs.

Holmes calculated the average annual cost per child of a reunification breakdown as £61,614.  Based on the figures for England in 2012/13, these costs were multiplied by the number of children re-entering care following a failed reunification (n=4,738) to give a national cost of £300 million a year for failed reunifications.

Holmes calculated the average annual cost per child of providing appropriate support and services to families where children are returning home from care as £5,627. Based on the figures for England in 2012/13, these costs were multiplied by the number of children returning home from care (n=10,080) to give a national cost of £56 million a year for providing support and services to all families whose children are returning home from care.

The research argues that reducing the number of reunification breakdowns will offset the costs of providing appropriate support and services to all families with children returning home from care.

£56 million a year - the cost of appropriate support and services to families where children are returning home from care.

Explanation: A large proportion of children who return home from care are subsequently abused and end up back in care. DfE figures (2015) show a third of reunifications result in children going back into care. The Department for Education (2013) found that 30% of children who returned home were back in care within 5 years.

We commissioned research comparing the costs associated with taking children back into care following a failed family reunification with the costs associated with providing all families who had a child returning home from care with appropriate support and services. The report used the DfE statistics for looked after children England in 2012/13 to estimate national costs.

Holmes calculated the average annual cost per child of a reunification breakdown as £61,614.  Based on the figures for England in 2012/13, these costs were multiplied by the number of children re-entering care following a failed reunification (n=4,738) to give a national cost of £300 million a year for failed reunifications.

Holmes calculated the average annual cost per child of providing appropriate support and services to families where children are returning home from care as £5,627. Based on the figures for England in 2012/13, these costs were multiplied by the number of children returning home from care (n=10,080) to give a national cost of £56 million a year for providing support and services to all families whose children are returning home from care.

The research argues that reducing the number of reunification breakdowns will offset the costs of providing appropriate support and services to all families with children returning home from care.

People

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

Explanation: In 2013, 34% of all care leavers in England were not in education, employment or training (NEET) at age 19 compared to 15.5% of 18-year-olds in the general population.

Children in care are significantly more likely to have run away than their peers

Explanation: In 2011 The Children's Society surveyed over 7,000 young people in England, aged 14 to 16, about their experiences of running away. The survey sample included 90 young people who were living in foster care or a children's home at the time of the survey. These young people were much more likely to have run away overnight (52%) at some point than the national average (8.9%). Some of these children may have run away from home before entering care. The sample is relatively small but this finding is broadly consistent with earlier research.

An estimated 20 to 35% of sexually exploited children are children in care.

Explanation: Although children are being sexually exploited when living in a range of circumstances, children in care account for a disproportionate number of children known to be sexually exploited.

Research statistics suggest that anywhere from 20 to 35% of sexually exploited children are in care. The Office of the Children's Commissioner’s report (2012) gives an overview of figures from some of the key research studies.

However, it is likely that many victims of child sexual exploitation, whether in care or not, go unidentified. It is also likely that some children in care may also have been sexually exploited prior to being taken into care.

Legislation, policy and guidance

Legislation, policy and guidance around children in care.
What's the law on children in care?

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Child protection in the UK

How the systems and laws of the UK and its 4 nations work to keep children safe from abuse and harm.
More about the child protection system

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).