Reporting year 2023

Children in need

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  1. File B4 has been updated to include relevant data prior to 2023.

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Introduction

This annual release contains statistics on children in need in England, including child protection plans, and referrals to and assessments completed by children’s social care services. Each reporting year covers the financial year, 1 April to 31 March.

Children in Need are a legally defined group of children (under the Children Act 1989), assessed as needing help and protection as a result of risks to their development or health. This group includes children on child in need plans, children on child protection plans, children looked after by local authorities, care leavers and disabled children. 

Children in need include young people aged 18 or over who continue to receive care, accommodation or support from children’s services, and unborn children.

Whilst the title of the release has changed from ‘Characteristics of children in need’ to ‘Children in need’, the statistics and content published remain the same.


Headline facts and figures - 2023

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Children in need

There were over 403,000 children in need in 2023 (as at 31 March). The latest figures represent a slight decrease from 2022 but remain higher than in 2020, which (mostly) pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic in England. 

There was an increase in the number of children in need in 2022, likely linked to school attendance restrictions due to COVID-19 no longer being in place.

Number and rate (per 10,000 children) of children in need at 31 March, 2019 to 2023

    2019    2020    2021    2022    2023
Number399,510389,260388,490404,310403,090
Annual change   -5,200   -10,250          -770    15,820      -1,220
Annual percentage change           -1.3           -2.6           -0.2             4.1           -0.3
Rate     334.2       323.7       321.2     343.8       342.7
Annual change          -6.8         -10.5           -2.5         22.6              -1.1

Source: Children in need census 

  1. Rates per 10,000 children are calculated based on ONS mid-year population estimates for children aged 0 to 17 years. The rates for 2022 and 2023 are based on 2021 population estimates which in turn are based on 2021 Census data. 
  2. The rates for 2023 have been calculated based on 2021 population estimates as 2022 estimates were not available at the time of publication. Therefore, some caution is needed when interpreting the 2023 rates, either in isolation or in comparison with other years. The 2023 rates will be revised as part of next year’s 2024 publication. 
  3. Revised population estimates for 2012 to 2020 based on 2021 Census data, to calculate revised 2013 to 2021 rates, were not available at the time of publication. Therefore, some caution is needed when interpreting these rates, either in isolation or in comparison with other years. The 2013 to 2021 rates will be revised as part of next year’s 2024 publication. 

Episodes of need in the year to 31 March

An episode of need begins when a child is referred to children’s social care services and is assessed as being in need of children’s social care services. An episode of need ends when the case is closed and the child is no longer deemed to be in need of children's social care services. Episodes of need exclude referrals which require no further action or where a child is subsequently assessed as not in need. A child can have more than one episode during the year. 

The number of episodes starting in 2023 decreased by 2.3% compared to 2022, and the number of episodes ending showed an increase of 0.9%. As can be seen, there was a drop in both episodes of need starting and episodes ending in 2021, likely linked to COVID-19, as mentioned at the start of this section. 

Throughout the series, the number of episodes starting has been greater than the number of episodes ending. It is important to note that a child can have more than one episode during the year. 

Duration of episodes of need in the year to 31 March

Almost half of all episodes ending in 2023 lasted 3 months or less, whereas just under 1 in 10 lasted for two years or more; this pattern is similar to previous years.

Children in need at 31 March by characteristics

Gender

In 2023, males continued to be slightly over-represented in the children in need population; 54% were male, compared to 51% of the overall child population (as shown in the latest ONS mid-year population estimates).

Ethnicity

Of those where ethnicity was known, 69% of children in need were white in 2023. Whereas 31% were from all other ethnic groups combined, which is slightly higher than the 27% reported for the overall child population in the 2021 census

Age

The children in need population is ageing and those aged 10 and over now make up the majority.

In 2023, young people aged 18 or over who continued to receive care, accommodation or support from children’s services accounted for 13.3% children in need. Unborn children accounted for 1.7%.

Children in need at 31 March by characteristics, 2015 and 2023

2015  (%)2023 (%)diff.  (pp)
Gender  Female          45.5           43.7             -1.8
Male          52.5           54.3              1.8
Unknown or Indeterminate/Unborn             2.0              2.0             0.0
EthnicityWhite            75.1          69.4            -5.7
Mixed              7.8              9.3              1.5
Asian or Asian British             6.8              8.0              1.2
Black or Black British             8.2               9.1             0.9
Other Ethnic Groups              2.1              4.2              2.1
Age Under 1/Unborn               7.1              5.9             -1.2
1 – 9 years old          44.6           35.9            -8.7
10 – 15 years old           30.1           32.5             2.4
16 and over            18.2           25.7              7.5
  1. ‘pp’ indicates percentage point

Child in need plans - official statistics in development

Official statistics in development are official statistics that are undergoing development (previously called experimental statistics). Data on Child in need (CIN) plans were collected and reported on for the second year in these 2023 statistics and evaluation is ongoing.

In 2023, 147 out of 152 local authorities provided data, an increase of three from 2022. Of those that did, it is likely that recording practices varied across local authorities therefore the data should be treated with caution.

The data has been collected with the intention of helping the department to develop its understanding of the child’s journey following a referral to children’s social care services.

A CIN plan should be developed where an assessment finds that the child requires support from their local authority’s children’s social care services to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health and/or development.

CIN plans require a lower level of intervention and are distinct from child protection plans, which are put in place when a child is found to have suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm. Children on CIN plans and children on protection plans are also distinct from children looked after by local authorities; care leavers; those who are disabled but not on a CIN plan; and those who may potentially be on another type of plan or arrangement.

CIN plans should set out the support to be provided to a child and/or family by Children’s Services. The plan should also set clear measurable outcomes for the child and expectations for the parent(s) or carer(s).

147 out of 152 (97%) local authorities provided data on CIN plans. They recorded 101,100 children on CIN plans at 31 March 2023. Scaling nationally to account for missing data suggests that there were approximately 106,000 children on CIN plans at 31 March 2023, a fall of around 4% on a year earlier. 

Further figures on CIN plans are available in table B7 of the Table Tool.

Referrals

A referral is defined as a request for services to be provided by children’s social care and is regarding a child who is not currently in need. A re-referral occurs when a child is referred within 12 months of a previous referral.

There were over 640,000 referrals in 2023, down 1.5% from 2022. This was mainly driven by a fall in referrals from the police.

The latest annual decrease follows an increase in 2022, which followed a decrease in 2021. Both of these trends were mainly driven by a rise/fall in school referrals respectively, and is linked to school attendance restrictions due to COVID-19. 

The number of re-referrals increased in 2023, up 3.1% from a year earlier. Re-referrals represented just over a fifth of referrals in 2023, a similar level to previous years.

Source of referrals in the year to 31 March

Referrals to children’s social care services can be made from various sources. In 2023, referrals from the police remained the most common source, accounting for 3 in every 10 referrals, followed by those from schools which accounted for 2 in every 10 referrals.

Referrals requiring no further action or subsequently assessed as not in need in the year to 31 March

Between 2013 and 2023, the percentage of referrals which resulted in no further action after initial consideration (but no assessment) fell by just over half. Information from local authorities suggests that while local practice varies, there has been a general trend in recent years for some children to be triaged to other services if required, for example early help, instead of being referred to children's services and those that are referred will have met the threshold for a social care assessment. This is likely to have contributed to the fall in referrals resulting in no further action.

In contrast, the percentage of referrals subsequently assessed as not in need increased by just over half over the same period.

In 2023, over a third of referrals continued to either result in no further action after initial consideration or were subsequently assessed as not in need.

Assessments

When a child is referred to children’s social care services, an assessment is carried out (usually within 45 working days of a referral) to identify if the child is in need of services. These services can include, for example, family support, leaving care support, adoption support or disabled children’s services (including social care or education and health provision).

The number of completed assessments has increased each year since the series started in 2015, apart from in 2021 as referrals to social care services fell during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest figure of over 655,000 in 2023 represents a rise of 1.6% compared to 2022 but remains lower than 2020 which (mostly) pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic in England. 

The average (median) duration of an assessment increased to 33 days in 2023, from 32 days in 2022. This is the highest median on record. 

Children in need at 31 March by primary need at assessment

A social worker determines the child’s primary need at their first assessment. Only one primary need can be reported at this point and is selected from a hierarchical list (as shown in the chart below). In cases where multiple needs are identified, the need highest in the list is reported.

Over half of children in need in 2023 had abuse or neglect identified as their primary need at assessment. Absent parenting had the largest rise between 2022 and 2023 (an increase of 2,560, 14%).

Overall, primary need at assessment showed a similar pattern to previous years.

Factors identified at the end of assessment

Factors identified at the end of assessment are additional factors that social workers record as being relevant in a case. The majority of children have more than one factor recorded for each episode of need. It should be noted that not all episodes have factors recorded, but this has improved over time. Nonetheless, there can be differences in the recording practices between local authorities therefore this data should be treated with a degree of caution.

Concerns about the parent/carer being the victim of domestic abuse and the mental health of the child’s parent/carer remained the most common factors in the year to 31 March 2023, with both factors being identified in just under one third of episodes with assessment factors recorded.

Section 47 enquiries and initial child protection conferences

If a local authority identifies there is reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm, it will carry out an assessment under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 to determine if it needs to take steps to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. If concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at continuing risk of harm then an initial child protection conference (ICPC) should be convened within 15 working days.

There were over 225,000 section 47 enquiries in the year to 31 March 2023, an increase on 2022 and the highest figure in the series.

There were over 74,000 ICPCs in 2023. This is an increase since 2022, but lower than 2020, which mostly pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic in England.

In 2023, approximately one third (33%) of section 47 enquiries led to an ICPC. This proportion has steadily declined since 2013, when nearly half (47%) of section 47 enquiries led to an ICPC.

 

Number and rate (per 10,000 children) of section 47 enquiries and initial child protection conferences, year to 31 March, 2019 to 2023

    2019    2020    2021   2022    2023
Section 47sNumber  201,170201,000198,790 217,800225,400
Annual change     3,080          -170    -2,210    19,010       7,600
Annual percentage change            1.6           -0.1            -1.1           9.6            3.5
Rate      168.3       167.2     164.4      185.2        191.6
Annual change            1.4            -1.1         -2.8        20.8            6.4
ICPCsNumber   77,440   77,470  72,580   73,790   74,380
Annual change    -2,030            30   -4,890        1,210          590
Annual percentage change          -2.6           0.0         -6.3             1.7            0.8
Rate        64.8        64.4       60.0         62.7         63.2
Annual change          -2.2          -0.4         -4.4            2.7            0.5

Source: Children in need census

  1. Rates per 10,000 children are calculated based on ONS mid-year population estimates for children aged 0 to 17 years. The rates for 2022 and 2023 are based on 2021 population estimates which in turn are based on 2021 Census data. 
  2. The rates for 2023 have been calculated based on 2021 population estimates as 2022 estimates were not available at the time of publication. Therefore, some caution is needed when interpreting the 2023 rates, either in isolation or in comparison with other years. The 2023 rates will be revised as part of next year’s 2024 publication. 
  3. Revised population estimates for 2012 to 2020 based on 2021 Census data, to calculate revised 2013 to 2021 rates, were not available at the time of publication. Therefore, some caution is needed when interpreting these rates, either in isolation or in comparison with other years. The 2013 to 2021 rates will be revised as part of next year’s 2024 publication. 

Child protection plans

A child becomes the subject of a child protection plan if they are assessed as being at risk of harm at an initial child protection conference (ICPC).

There were almost 51,000 children on protection plans in 2023 which is a slight decrease on 2022. This follows an increase in 2022, likely linked to school attendance restrictions due to COVID-19 no longer being in place.

In 2021, there was a fall in referrals, mainly driven by a drop in school referrals, attributable to restrictions on school attendance being in place for parts of the year. This in turn likely contributed to the decreases seen that year in the number of children on protection plans. 

Number and rate (per 10,000 children) of children on protection plans as at 31 March, 2019 to 2023

   2019 2020   2021  2022  2023
Number52,26051,51050,01050,92050,780
Annual change   -1,530    -750  -1,500        910       -140
Annual percentage change        -2.8      -1.4       -2.9          1.8        -0.3
Rate      43.7   42.8      41.4      43.3      43.2
Annual change         -1.6     -0.9        -1.4          1.9         -0.1

Source: Children in Need census, file D1

  1. Rates per 10,000 children are calculated based on ONS mid-year population estimates for children aged 0 to 17 years. The rates for 2022 and 2023 are based on 2021 population estimates which in turn are based on 2021 Census data. 
  2. The rates for 2023 have been calculated based on 2021 population estimates as 2022 estimates were not available at the time of publication. Therefore, some caution is needed when interpreting the 2023 rates, either in isolation or in comparison with other years. The 2023 rates will be revised as part of next year’s 2024 publication. 
  3. Revised population estimates for 2012 to 2020 based on 2021 Census data, to calculate revised 2013 to 2021 rates, were not available at the time of publication. Therefore, some caution is needed when interpreting these rates, either in isolation or in comparison with other years. The 2013 to 2021 rates will be revised as part of next year’s 2024 publication. 

Child protection plans at 31 March by initial category of abuse

Neglect remained the most common initial category of abuse recorded for children on protection plans in 2023, accounting for almost half of children. The next most common category continued to be emotional abuse, accounting for over one-third of children.

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Email: cin.stats@education.gov.uk
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