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
|Annual percentage change||-1.3||-2.6||-0.2||4.1||-0.3|
Source: Children in need census
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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).
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.
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)|
|Unknown or Indeterminate/Unborn||2.0||2.0||0.0|
|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|
|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|
- ‘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.