In 2023, the number of children looked after (CLA) by local authorities in England rose to 83,840, up 2% on last year, continuing the steady rise seen in recent years.
Number of children looked after on 31 March, 2019 to 2023, England
|Number of children looked after||78,140||80,000||80,770||82,080||83,840|
|Annual percentage change||+2%||+1%||+2%||+2%|
Characteristics of CLA are broadly similar to last year, however many of the changes we are seeing are as a result of the increase in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). UASC are a distinct cohort with specific characteristics, for example they are generally male, aged 16+ years.
Males account for 57% of children, females account for 43%. Males are slightly over-represented in the CLA population (compared to 51% in the overall child population - as shown in the latest ONS mid-year population estimates).
Children from Mixed ethnic groups were over-represented and children from Asian ethnic groups were under- represented in the numbers of CLA. Children of White ethnicity account for 71% of CLA, 10% were Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, 7% Black, African, Caribbean or Black British, 5% were Asian or Asian British, 5% other ethnicities, and ethnicity was not known or not yet recorded for 1%.
CLA are predominantly older however whilst the number of CLA has increased, the proportion of CLA in each age group has been relatively stable over the last five years.
Reasons for being looked after
When a child is assessed by children's services their primary need is recorded. This list is hierarchical and where more than one need is identified then the need ‘highest’ up the list is reported. Reasons for being looked after include the following:
- as a result of or because they were at risk of abuse or neglect - 54,810 children (65%) - the most common reason identified
- primarily due to living in a family where the parenting capacity is chronically inadequate (family dysfunction) - 10,570 (13%)
- due to there being no parents available to provide for the child (absent parenting) - 7,290 (9%)
- due to living in a family that is going through a temporary crisis that diminishes the parental capacity to adequately meet some of the children’s needs (family being in acute stress) - 6,160 (7%)
- due to the child’s or parent’s disability or illness - 4,010 (5%)
- due to low income or socially unacceptable behaviour – 1,000 (1%)
The proportion of CLA reported within each primary need has been broadly stable over the last five years, The largest change since last year has been in ‘Absent parenting’ which has risen by 1,470, largely due to the increase in UASC, most of whom are reported within this group.
Information is collected on the legal status underlying being 'looked-after' , which helps to describe why the child is being looked after. These include:
- a care order - a court order placing a child in the care or supervision of a local authority
- a voluntary agreement - this allows the local authority to provide accommodation for a child where there's parental consent, or when no-one with parental responsibility is in place
- a placement order - a court order allowing a local authority to place a child for adoption
- detained for child protection reasons
- detained under youth justice legal statuses
In 2023, most CLA were looked after under a care order (76%, down from 78%). There has been an increase in both the number and proportion of children looked after under voluntary arrangements; 19% of CLA were looked after under voluntary agreements this year, up from 17%. Much of this increase is due to the increase in UASC, who are usually voluntarily accommodated.
CLA under a placement order continue to fall, down 4%, to 4,350 children.
The majority of CLA are placed in foster placements, where an approved carer looks after the child. The number and proportion of CLA in foster placements have decreased slightly, when compared to last year. CLA were placed:
- in foster placements - 68% - down slightly from 70%
- in secure units, children's homes or semi-independent living accommodation (for example hostels, lodgings or flats where staff are employed to provide support and advice) - 17% - up slightly from 16%
- with parents or other person with parental responsibility - 7% - same as last year
- for adoption - 2% - down from 3%
- in the community, living independently, or in residential employment - 3% - up from 2%
- in other residential settings (including care homes, schools or custody) - 2% - up from 1%
The proportions of CLA in each type of placement are broadly similar over the last five years. The main changes are a slight decrease in CLA placed in foster placements (71% in 2019 to 68% in 2023) and an increase in children placed in semi-independent living accommodation (4% in 2019 to 8% in 2023).
In recent years, the overall number of CLA placed in foster placements have been increasing however this year there has been a slight decrease. Children placed in foster placements are down to 57,020 from 57,210 last year.
This is largely due to a slight decrease in children being placed with other foster carers, who aren't relatives or friends (down 520 children since last year). However, both the number and proportion of children in foster placements with a relative or friend has been increasing - to 12,920 (23% of foster placements) this year.
Foster placements can be with a relative or friend, or another carer - the proportion of foster placements that are with relatives or friends has been increasing each year.
|Number of CLA in foster placements|
|Year on year change|
|Percentage (of all CLA) in foster placements|
|Number of CLA in foster placements with a relative or friend|
|Year on year change|
|Percentage (of CLA in foster placements) in a foster placement with a relative or friend|
The number of children placed in unregulated placements (i.e. semi-independent living or living independently) has increased by 20% from 7,500 to 8,980. This represents 11% of all CLA in these placements - up from 9%.
The majority of this increase is in children placed in semi-independent living accommodation, up 22% from 5,490 to 6,680; children living independently increased by 14% from 2,010 to 2,300.
Locality of placements
Local authorities have a general duty to provide accommodation that is within the local authorities' area, that meets the needs of the child and allows the child to live near their home.
The same proportion of placements this year were inside the council boundary as last year - 56% of all CLA placements, down from 58% in 2020 and 2019.
The majority of CLA were still placed within 20 miles of home, 70%, however this has decreased from 73% in 2021. 21% were placed over 20 miles from home. Information for the remaining 9% was not known or not recorded - in most cases this will be because the child was UASC, but it could also be because the home address was not known or for reasons of confidentiality.
As might be expected, location of placement varies by type of placement - children placed for adoption are the most likely to be placed over 20 miles from home (51%). Children placed with parents (92%) or in a foster placements (76%) are most likely to be placed 20 miles or less from home.
Further information on CLA on 31 March can be found in the ‘A’ highlight tables accompanying this release.