About the care system

Children and young people are taken into the care of the local authority when they cannot remain at home. This is either because it is unsafe for them to be there, or because their parents are unable to look after them.

Children and young people are taken into the care of the local authority when they cannot remain at home.

This is either because it is unsafe for them to be there, or because their parents are unable to look after them.

Some of the most common reasons for a child or young person being taken into care include abuse, neglect, family breakdown or a parent or child’s illness or disability. Looked after children may be either ‘accommodated’ by the local authority (at the request of or in the absence of their birth parents) or subject to a Care Order made by the Family Courts. For some children and young people, being taken away from the home where they have been unsafe will be a relief. For others, being separated from their parents and/or siblings will be extremely distressing.

Whatever a child or young person has dealt with beforehand, being taken into care is itself traumatic. Many young people come through the care system and flourish. Many - though by no means all - have loving, dedicated foster carers or residential workers, and encounter social workers who go the extra mile to fight for the opportunities and support that make all the difference to a child in care. But there is still a long way to go to close the gap in achievement and aspirations between children in care and their peers. Our vision is that children who spend time in care have equal chances to lead a happy and fulfilling life to those who are raised in their birth families.

93,417: the number of children in care in the UK in 2016
Over a third of children come into the care system aged 4 or under
One in three children in care have three or more placements in a year
70,440: the number of children in care in England in 2016
Over a third of children come into the care system aged 4 or under

In England in 2016, figures showed that:

  • 18 per cent of children come into care aged under 1.
  • 18 per cent of children come into care aged 1 to 4.
  • 17 per cent of children come into care aged 5 to 9.
  • 29 per cent of children come into cares aged 10 to 15.
  • 18 per cent of children come into care aged 16 and over.

Please note: The source material for this data rounds percentages to the nearest whole number. This means that the total figure may not always add up to 100.

 

3 in 4 children in care live with foster carers

In England in 2016, figures showed that:

  • 74 per cent of children in care lived in foster care.
  • 4 per cent of children in care were placed for adoption.
  • 8 per cent of children in care lived in children’s homes (note that this figure does not include the small number of children living in secure children’s homes and hostels).
  • 5 per cent of children in care were placed with their parent(s). This may be because the parent(s) have consented to their child receiving care from the local authority, under an arrangement known as voluntary accommodation.

Other placement types include:

  • secure children’s homes
  • hostels
  • residential schools
  • living independently
  • residential care homes, receiving nursing care
  • mother and baby units or family centres
  • young offenders’ institutions

Please note: The source material for this data rounds percentages to the nearest whole number. This means that the total figure may not always add up to 100.

 

One in three children in care have three or more placements in a year

In England in 2016, figures showed that:

  • 10 per cent of children had three or more placements in the twelve months to 31 March 2015
  • 68 per cent of children had one placement in the same period
  • 21 per cent of children had two placements in the same period

Please note: The source material for this data rounds percentages to the nearest whole number. This means that the total figure may not always add up to 100. 1.5

 

Around 11,000 young people leave care to move into independence or semi-independence aged 16, 17 or 18 each year

In 2016 in England, figures show that around 4,700 children in care left the care system because they were adopted.

24 per cent of children in care left the care system because they returned to live with parents or relatives with parental responsibility as part of the care planning process.

Around a third of children will return home to their birth family after a period of time spent in care, if it’s decided that this is in the best interests of the child.

Others may find a permanent new home through adoption or a Special Guardianship Order.

But for those who are in care in their late teens, In 2016, 11,410 young people left care in England aged 16, 17 or 18.

11 per cent of young people left the care system aged 16 or 17

25 per cent of young people left the care system on their 18th birthday.

Please note: The source material for this data rounds percentages to the nearest whole number. This means that the total figure may not always add up to 100.

There is a contrast between how the state looks after young people and how other parents do. Young people who grow up in care are expected to live independently at a much younger age than their peers. And once they have left care, they are not necessarily able to rely on the support of their former carers in the same way that other young people are able to turn to their parents if they need a bit of extra support. A poll by Barnardo’s in 2012 found that only 5 per cent of UK parents expected their children to leave home by 18, and 64 per cent of them expected them to be at least 22.

Data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that the number of 20 – 34 year olds living with their parents increased by 25 per cent between 1996 and 2013, with an estimated 1 in 3 men and 1 in 5 women in this age group continuing to live in the parental home.

 

Seven : the number of corporate parenting principles set out in the Children and Social Work Act

Removing a child from their parents is the most extreme intervention the state can make in family life. Once a child or young person is in care, responsibility for their wellbeing falls to their ‘corporate parents’: this refers to everyone who is elected to, or employed by, a local authority, and their partner agencies, who all share a collective responsibility to the children looked after by that local authority.

There are seven corporate parenting principles set out in the FORTHCOMING Children and Social Work Act. These state that corporate parents must:

a) act in the best interests of and promote the health and wellbeing of children and young people in care

b) encourage children and young people in care to express their views, wishes and feelings

c) take into account the views, wishes and feelings of children and young people in care

d) help children and young people in care to access the full range of services provided by the local authority and partners

e) promote high aspirations, and secure the best outcomes, for children and young people in care

f) ensure the safety of children and young people and provide stability in their home lives, relationships and education

g) prepare children and young people for adulthood and independent living

 

BEING IN CARE

Every child or young person who enters the care system is unique and has different needs.

BEING A CARE LEAVER

A good parent should make sure that their child grows up able to fulfil their potential as adults.

FAQs about care

Got any questions about children in care? Read our FAQs.