About the care system
Facts and statistics about the care system
Could you help us be there?
Every pound you give will help to fund our campaigning and direct services for young people in care and young care leavers.
You’ll ensure there’s someone at the end of the phone when a young person calls for help and that the voices of care-experienced young people are amplified to bring about the change they want to see so no young person has to navigate the system alone.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Care System
Children are taken into care for many different reasons. Some of the most common include:
- abuse or neglect, or a risk of abuse or neglect
- a child’s parents being unable to look after them
- a family crisis or breakdown that puts the child at significant risk of harm
- there being no parent or guardian present to look after the child
- a disability or illness suffered by the child or by their parent(s)
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.
In some cases, children are taken into care against the wishes of their parents but, in other cases, the child’s parents might recognise that they are not safe in their care and consent to them being taken into the care of the local authority.
Research shows that children in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods are over 10 times more likely to be in care or on protection plans than those in the least deprived 10%.
Children in care are generally older, but there are still significant numbers of young children in care. By age group:
- 25% are aged 16 and over
- 39% are aged 10-15
- 18% are aged 5-9
- 14% are aged 1-4, and
- only 5% are under 1 year of age.
All Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) are children in care, and many UASC children have experienced significant trauma. As at 31st March 2022, the number of UASC children stood at 5,570. The government has acknowledged that, since July 2021, over 440 UASC children have gone missing from their placements, and 200 remain missing.
Children from Black, Mixed and Other ethnic groups are over-represented amongst children in care.
Male children make up 56% of all children in care, meaning that they are slightly over-represented compared to female children.
The other 30% of children live in:
- children’s homes, which are residential units with 24-hour support
- secure units, which children are placed in either by the Youth Custody Service or when the local authority decides that no other type of placement can keep them safe,
- in semi-independent living accommodation, where staff are employed to provide support and advice, but not to provide care, and
- in other settings, such as with parents or another person with parental responsibility, in the community, living independently, in residential employment, or elsewhere.
Over 80% of children’s homes are run privately and for profit. From 2016 to 2018, private providers in England made approximately £45,000 profit per child per year on average, representing an unusually high profit margin of 22.6%. More recently, this has been backed up by research from the Local Government Association, which found that the 20 largest providers in England were operating a profit margin of 19.8% during 2019-21.
The number of children aged 16 or over living in semi-independent accommodation has increased by 23% in the last year alone. We have heard from many children in care that this often means being pushed into too much independence, too soon. The government has decided to regulate semi-independent accommodation, but this does not mean that children in these settings will receive care.
37% of children are separated from their siblings in the first place they live after entering care. Only 22% of children living in children’s homes live there with their siblings.
Too many children in care experience repeated changes to where they live. Research from the Children’s Commissioner has found that:
- 1 in 4 children in care experience two or more moves across two years
- more than half experienced at least one move over three years, and
- older children are much more likely to experience this instability.
In 2017-19, sustained instability—defined as 2 or more moves in each year—was experienced by 1,500 children. These children are more likely to be moved out of area, into unregulated accommodation, and into private provision.
Recent research from the University of Oxford has found that increasing for-profit outsourcing of places for children in care to live was consistently associated with more children living outside of their home local authority and with greater instability. The researchers estimated that an additional 17,001 instances of children living outside of their local authority area could be attributed to increases in for-profit provision from 2011 to 2022.
Removing a child from their parents is the most extreme intervention the state can make in family life.
When a child enters care, their local authority usually has what is called ‘parental responsibility’ for them. This is a legal concept, which gives a person or entity both rights and responsibilities in relation to a child.
In most cases, parental responsibility for a child in care is shared between the child’s birth parents and the local authority, but it is the local authority that has responsibility for making decisions about the child or young person. In some cases, parental responsibility is retained in full by the child’s parent. This happens if the child enters care under Section 20 of the Children Act (1989) instead of under Section 31. You can find out more about the many legal mechanisms by which a child can enter the care system here.
Birth parents only ever lose their shared or sole parental responsibility if their child is adopted. If a child is subject to a ‘Special Guardianship Order’, then it is their Special Guardian who shares parental responsibility with their birth parents, without the local authority being involved.
In all cases, parental responsibility dissolves as soon as a child reaches their 18th birthday, but local authorities, as ‘corporate parents’, continue to have certain responsibilities to support young care leavers until they turn 25.
Local authorities are ‘corporate parents’ to children in care. They are required by law to abide by the seven corporate parenting principles set out in the Children and Social Work Act (2017). These responsibilities extend to everyone who is employed by or who acts on behalf of the local authority.
The seven corporate parenting principles state that corporate parents must:
- act in the best interests of and promote the health and wellbeing of children and young people in care
- encourage children and young people in care to express their views, wishes and feelings
- take into account the views, wishes and feelings of children and young people in care
- help children and young people in care to access the full range of services provided by the local authority and partners
- promote high aspirations, and secure the best outcomes, for children and young people in care
- ensure the safety of children and young people and provide stability in their home lives, relationships and education, and
- prepare children and young people for adulthood and independent living.
In Scotland, corporate parenting duties have been expanded to apply to a number of public bodies, ranging from NHS Health Boards and Police Scotland, to Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
In the year ending 31st March 2022, over 11,000 children left care on their 18th birthday.
These young people are expected to live much more independently at a much earlier stage than their peers. Once they have left care, these young people 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 for support.
In stark contrast to the huge numbers of 18-year-old care leavers, ONS data shows that the average age for young people to leave the parental home is more than five years later, at over 23 years of age.
In a survey of care leavers, Ofsted found that more than a third felt they left care too soon.
However, children leave care at different times and for many different reasons. In the year ending 31st March 2022, over 30,000 children left the care system overall. Of these children:
- 5,370 left care because it was appropriate for them to return home to live with their parents or another person with parental responsibility, and this was part of the care planning process
- 3,870 were subject to a Special Guardianship Order, and
- 2,950 were adopted.
Care leavers consistently experience less positive outcomes than the general population:
- In 2021/22, more than a third of care leavers aged 19-21 were Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET), which is more than three times the rate for those without care experience
- Just 13% of children in care progress to higher education by the age of 19, compared to 45% of all pupils
- Young care leavers are ten times more likely to have received an immediate custodial sentence than young people who have not been in care
- 1 in 4 homeless people are care-experienced