At 31 March, the number of children looked after (CLA) by local authorities in England rose to 80,080, up 2%, and continuing the rise seen in recent years. This is a rate of 67 per 10,000 children - up from 65 in 2019 and 64 in 2018.
Rates per 10,000 children - Blackpool has the highest at 223 - Wokingham has the lowest at 24.
Characteristics of children looked after
The general characteristics of CLA are similar to last year - 56% are male, 39% were aged 10-15 years and 74% were of white ethnic origin.
Reasons for being looked after
When a child is assessed by children's services their primary need is recorded. There are a range of reasons why a child is looked after, figures have remained broadly stable over the past 3 years. However, the most common reason is abuse or neglect, which has been gradually rising over a number of years.
Legal status of children looked after
There has been a noticeable change in the legal status of CLA in recent years. Both the number and proportion of CLA under a care order have increased, whilst the number and proportion looked after under a voluntary agreement (under section 20 of the Children Act 1989) have decreased. This is following a family court ruling in 2015 on the use of voluntary agreements. At 31 March 2020, children were looked after:
- under a care order - a court order placing a child in the care or supervision of a local authority - 77% - up from 75% last year.
- under 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 - 17% down from 18% last year.
- under a placement order - a court order allowing a local authority to place a child for adoption - 6% - down from 7% last year.
- detained for child protection or under youth justice legal statuses - each less than 0.5%
Placements of children looked after
The majority of the 80,080 CLA are placed in a foster placement, where an approved carer looks after the child - 72%.
Foster placements can be with a relative or friend, or another carer . The proportion of CLA in foster placements with a relative or friend have increased very slightly up to 14%, from 13% in each of the last two years. The proportion of CLA in foster placements with another carer (not a relative or friend) has decreased to 57%, down from 58% last year and 60% in 2018.
The remaining CLA were placed:
- 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) - 13% - same as last year
- with parents - 7% - same as last year
- in the community, living independently, or in residential employment -3% - down from 4% last year
- for adoption - 3% - same as last year
- in other residential settings (including care homes, schools or custody) - 2% - same as last year
Placement stability is important - most CLA (68%) had one placement in the year but 11% had three or more.
Locality of placements
Local authorities have a general duty to provide accommodation that is within the local authorities' area, that meets the need of the child and allows the child to live near their home.
Placements inside the council boundary accounted for 58% of all CLA placements,
The majority of CLA were placed within 20 miles of home - 73% - but 20% were not. Information for the remaining 7% was not known or not recorded - this could be because the home address is not known, the child is UASC, or for reasons of confidentiality for example children placed for adoption. As expected, location of placement varies by placement type - children placed for adoption are the most likely to be placed over 20 miles from home and children placed with parents or in a foster placement are most likely to be placed 20 miles or less from home.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC)
UASC are children, who have applied for asylum in their own right and are separated from both parents and/or any other responsible adult. Local authorities have a legal duty to provide accommodation for these children.
The number of UASC was 5,000, down 3% on the peak of 5,140 UASC last year. UASC are a distinct group of CLA and currently represent around 6% of all CLA.
UASC are generally male - 90% - and older - 86% are aged 16 and over which is up from 85% last year and 81% in 2018. Absent parenting was the main category of need for these young people - 87%.
UASC are not distributed evenly across the country - they tend to be concentrated in local authorities that are points of entry to the country, for example Kent or Croydon.