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 for too many children and young people, they don’t get the stability, love and support they need to heal and thrive. 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.
108,175: the number of children in care in the UK in 2020-21.
A quarter of children in care are aged 16 or 17.
7 in 10 experience a placement, school or social worker change in a year.
14% of children in care lived in secure units, children’s homes and semi-independent living accommodation.
2% of children in care lived in the community, living independently, or in residential employment.
7% 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.
1 in 11 children in care have three or more placements in a year.
2,870 children in care left the care system because they were adopted and 3,800 left through a Special Guardianship Order being made.
16% 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.
13,350 young people left the care system for whatever reason aged 16 or 17 in 2021.
39% of young people who left the care system for whatever reason in 2021 ‘aged out’ of care 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. The Covid-19 pandemic also significantly impacted year-on-year trends in the care system.
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. ONS data shows that the average age for young people to leave the parental home is nearly 25.
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 Children and Social Work Act 2017. These state that corporate parents must:
1) act in the best interests of and promote the health and wellbeing of children and young people in care
2) encourage children and young people in care to express their views, wishes and feelings
3) take into account the views, wishes and feelings of children and young people in care
4) help children and young people in care to access the full range of services provided by the local authority and partners
5) promote high aspirations, and secure the best outcomes, for children and young people in care
6) ensure the safety of children and young people and provide stability in their home lives, relationships and education
7) prepare children and young people for adulthood and independent living