These statistics are derived from data collected in the annual Children in Need Census. They provide information on children in need in England, including child protection plans and referrals to and assessments completed by children’s social care services.
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.
As well as looking at longer time-series trends, this commentary compares the latest year to 31 March 2022 figures with 2021, which was particularly affected by coronavirus (COVID-19), and 2020 which (mostly) pre-dates the pandemic in England.
The rates for 2022 have been calculated based on 2020 ONS mid-year population estimates (for children aged 0 to 17 years) as 2021 estimates were not available at the time of publication.
151 out of 152 local authorities provided a return for the 2022 children in need census. Hackney were unable to do so following a cyberattack in December 2020, which had a significant impact on their information management systems. As a result, 2020 figures for Hackney have been included in the 2021 and 2022 national and regional totals.
Headline facts and figures - 2022
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There were 404,310 children in need in 2022 and the associated rate per 10,000 children was 334.3, or 1 in every 30 children. The latest figures represent a rise on both 2021 and 2020 and are the highest since 2018.
Number and rate (per 10,000 children) of children in need at 31 March, 2018 to 2022
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. 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 and on average has two episodes a year.
The number of episodes starting is the highest since 2014. Both the number of episodes starting and those ending increased compared to 2021, but the number of episodes starting did so at a faster rate (8.8% compared to 5.0%).
Duration of episodes of need in the year to 31 March
Almost half of all episodes ending in 2022 lasted 3 months or less, whereas just under 1 in 10 lasted for more than two years; this pattern is similar to previous years.
Of those where ethnicity was known, 7 in 10 children in need were white in 2022 and 3 in 10 were from all other ethnic groups combined.
The proportion of children in need from all other ethnic groups combined has increased since 2015. This in part reflects the changes to the overall population as reported in the school census.
The children in need population is ageing and those aged 10 and over now make up the majority.
In 2022, young people aged 18 or over who were still receiving care and accommodation or post-care support from children’s social care services accounted for 1 in 8 children in need. Unborn children accounted for 1 in 55.
Characteristics of children in need at 31 March, 2015 and 2022
Unknown or Indeterminate/Unborn
Asian or Asian British
Black or Black British
Other ethnic groups
1 - 9 years old
10 – 15 years old
16 and over
White comprises white British, white Irish, traveller of Irish heritage, Gypsy/Roma and any other white background.
Mixed comprises white and black Caribbean, white and black African, white and Asian and any other mixed background.
Asian or Asian British comprises Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and any other Asian background.
Black or black British comprises Caribbean, African and any other black background.
Children in need plans - experimental statistics
Experimental statistics are official statistics that are in the testing phase and not yet fully developed.
Data on Children in Need (CIN) plans has been collected and reported on for the first time in the 2022 statistics, with 144 out of 152 local authorities providing data. 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).
144 out of 152 (95%) local authorities provided data on CIN plans. They recorded 104,940 children on CIN plans at 31 March 2022, and the associated rate per 10,000 children was 91.2. Applying this rate nationally to account for missing data suggests that there were approximately 110,000 children on CIN plans at 31 March 2022.
Further figures on CIN plans are available in table B7 of the Table Tool.
Referrals and re-referrals in the year to 31 March
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 650,270 referrals in 2022, up 8.8% from 2021 and 1.1% from 2020. After falling in 2021 referrals are now at the highest level since 2019, mainly due to an increase in referrals from schools (see ‘Source of referrals’ below).
The number of re-referrals also increased from 2021, but at a slower rate (up 2.7%). Re-referrals represented just over a fifth of referrals in 2022, 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 2022, 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.
The increase in referrals between 2021 and 2022 was driven by a 59.0% rise in referrals from schools (up by nearly 48,000 referrals). This increase might have been expected, since school attendance restrictions were no longer in place in 2022.
The latest school referrals figure of 129,090 represents the highest since recording began in 2014.
Referrals requiring no further action or subsequently assessed as not in need in the year to 31 March
Between 2013 and 2022, the percentage of referrals which resulted in no further action after initial consideration (but no assessment) fell by just under 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 2022, over a third of referrals continued to either result in no further action after initial consideration or were subsequently assessed as not in need.
Number and average duration of assessments in the year to 31 March
When a child is referred to children’s social care services, an assessment is carried out (usually within 45 days 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).
Up to 2020, the number of completed assessments had increased each year since 2015. The number of completed assessments declined in 2021 however, as referrals to children's social care services fell during the COVID-19 pandemic. Completed assessments increased once again to 645,070 in 2022 (up by 3.1% compared to 2021), as the impact of COVID-19 receded.
The average (median) duration of an assessment increased to 32 days in 2022, after falling to 30 days in 2021. This is the same level seen in 2019 and 2020.
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 chart below). In cases where multiple needs are identified, the need highest in the list is reported.
Over half of the children in need in 2022 had abuse or neglect identified as their primary need at assessment. Abuse or neglect also had the largest numeric rise between 2021 and 2022 (up 11,640 or 5%).
Overall, primary need at assessment showed a similar pattern to previous years.
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 child’s 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 2022, with both factors being identified in just under one third of episodes with assessment factors recorded.
Information was collected for the first time in 2022 on child criminal exploitation and this was identified in 10,140 of episodes (or 2% of episodes with assessment factor information).
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 217,800 section 47 enquiries in the year to 31 March 2022, an increase on both 2021 and 2020 and the highest figure in the series. The associated rate per 10,000 children also increased, to 180.1, and is also the highest figure in the series.
There were 73,790 ICPCs in 2022 and the associated rate was 61.0. The latest figures represent an increase on 2021 but, in contrast to section 47 enquiries, a fall on 2020.
In 2022, approximately one third (34%) of section 47 enquiries led to an ICPC. This rate 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, 2018 to 2022
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 2022, accounting for almost half of children. The next most common category continued to be emotional abuse, accounting for over one-third of children.
In 2022, the number of children with emotional abuse, neglect, or physical abuse recorded as the initial category of abuse increased. In contrast, the number with sexual abuse was unchanged and the number with multiple categories of abuse decreased.