Reporting Year 2022

Children looked after in England including adoptions

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Introduction

This release provides information on children looked after (CLA) in England, including numbers of CLA adopted, care leavers and CLA who were missing. Data is taken from the annual SSDA903 data collection which is collected from local authorities in England. The Department has also published a summary of planned developments to the Stability Index following user feedback. This can be found in the file ‘Stability Index: planned developments following user feedback’ within ‘Explore Data and Files’, ‘All supporting files’ below.

The latest statistics relate to the year ending 31 March 2022. Each year local authorities can revise previous years' data. The standard period for data in this release is for the year ending 31 March 2018 to the year ending 31 March 2022.

Note: Calculated rates per 10,000 children in this release are based upon ONS population estimates. Estimates by age and LA for mid-2021 were released by ONS in November 2022 and have been used for calculating rates for 2022. Rates for earlier years in this release are based upon population estimates published in 2021 and have not yet been revised following the 2021 census. As such, rates for 2022 are not comparable to rates for earlier years. Revised population estimates by age and LA years prior to 2021 are expected to be published by ONS in early 2023.


Headline facts and figures - 2022

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All data used in this release is available as open data for download


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Guidance

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All supporting files

All supporting files from this release are listed for individual download below:

List of all supporting files
  • Stability Index: planned developments following user feedback (docx, 102 Kb)
    More details for file Stability Index: planned developments following user feedback
    The Stability Index is an annual analysis previously produced by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office (CCO), aiming to measure and highlight the issue of instability experienced by children looked after (CLA). It has now been handed over from the CCO to the Department. Earlier in the year, the Department conducted a review into the methodology and measures reported while considering how it could be developed in the future. This document contains a summary of planned developments to the Stability Index following that user feedback.

CLA on 31 March

In 2022, the number of CLA by local authorities in England rose to 82,170, up 2% on last year, continuing the rise seen in recent years. This is a rate of 70 CLA per 10,000 children. 

Number of children looked after on 31 March, 2018 to 2022, England

 

 20182019202020212022
Number of children looked after75,36078,14080,00080,78082,170
Annual change.+2,780+1,860+780+1,390
Annual percentage change.+4%+2%+1%+2%

 

Source: SSDA903

Numbers and rates per 10,000 children vary widely across local authorities, for example Blackpool has the highest rate at 218 CLA per 10,000 children and Merton has the lowest at 26 CLA per 10,000 children.

Characteristics

The general characteristics of CLA are similar to previous years:

Males account for 56% of children, females account for 44%. At 56%, males are slightly over-represented in the CLA population, compared to 51% in the overall child population.

CLA are predominantly older - 10 to 15-year-olds account for 39% of children, 25% were aged 16+ years, 18% aged 5 to 9 years, 14% aged 1 to 4 years and 5% aged less than 1 year.

Children from  Black, Mixed and Other ethnic groups were over-represented in the numbers of children in care. Children of White ethnicity account for 73% of children looked after, 10% were Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, 7% Black, African, Caribbean or Black British, 5% were Asian or Asian British, 4% other ethnicities and ethnicity was not known or not yet recorded for 1%.

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 - 54,270 children (66%) - the most common reason identified 
  • primarily due to living in a family where the parenting capacity is chronically inadequate (family dysfunction) - 10,820 (13%)
  • 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) - 6,070 (7%)
  • due to there being no parents available to provide for the child - 5,790 (7%)
  • due to the child’s or parent’s disability or illness - 4,220 (5%)
  • due to low income or socially unacceptable behaviour – 1,000 (1%)

The largest change since last year has been in ‘Absent parenting’ which has risen by 1,350 compared to last year, likely due to the increase in UASC who are usually looked after due to ‘absent parenting’. 

Legal status

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 recent years both the number and proportion of CLA under a care order have been increasing, whilst the number and proportion looked after under a voluntary agreement (under section 20 of the Children Act 1989) has been decreasing. This is followed a family court ruling in 2015 on the use of voluntary agreements. 

In 2022, whilst the number of CLA looked after under care orders has increased very slightly (50 children), as a proportion of all CLA, slightly fewer were looked after under a care order, (77%, down from 79% last year).  There has been an increase in both the number and proportion of children looked after under voluntary arrangements - 17% of CLA were looked after under voluntary agreements this year, up from 15% last year.  This increase reflects the increase in UASC this year, who are usually voluntarily accommodated.

CLA under a placement order continue to fall, down 8% on last year to 4,430 children.

Placements

The majority of CLA are placed in foster placements, where an approved carer looks after the child. CLA were placed:

  • in foster placements - 70% - down slightly from 71% last year
  • 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) - 16% - up from 14% last year
  • with parents or other person with parental responsibility - 7% - same as last year
  • for adoption - 3% - same as last year
  • in the community, living independently, or in residential employment - 2% - same as last year
  • in other residential settings (including care homes, schools or custody) - 1% - same as last year

Foster placements

Whilst the number of children in foster placements has increased each year, the overall number of children looked after has increased more quickly, so the proportion of CLA in foster placements has decreased to 70% this year from 73% in 2018. However, the number of all CLA in foster placements with a relative or friend has increased by 29% since 2018, and now represents 15% of all CLA.

Foster placements can be with a relative or friend, or another carer - the number of CLA placed in a foster placement with relatives of friends has been increasing each year.

 20182019202020212022
Number of CLA in foster placements54,70055,76056,97057,01057,540
Year on year change.+1,060+1,210+40+530
Percentage (of all CLA) in foster placements73%71%71%71%70%
Number of CLA in foster placements with a relative or friend9,72010,45011,58012,42012,580
Year on year change.+730+1,130+840+160
Percentage (of all CLA)  in foster placements with a relative or friend13%13%14%15%15%

Unregulated placements 

The number of children placed in unregulated placements (i.e. semi-independent living or living independently) has increased by 23% since last year from 6.080  to 7,470. This represents 9% of CLA in these placements.

The majority of this increase is in children placed in semi-independent living accommodation, up 27% since last year from 4,280 to 5,440; children living independently increased by 13% from 1,790 to 2,030.

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. 

Slightly fewer placements this year were inside the council boundary - 56% of all CLA placements, down from 57% last year and 59% in 2018.  Children placed with parents or in placements within the community (for example living independently or in residential employment) were more likely to be placed within the LA boundary (82% and 68% respectively); Children in adoption placements, other residential settings and residential schools were less likely to be placed within the LA boundary (at 22%, 22% and 25%). Children's homes accommodated 9% of CLA - the same as last year and a third of these children were accommodated in homes inside the LA boundary.

However, the majority of CLA were still placed within 20 miles of home - 72% - and 21% were not placed within 20 miles of home. Information for the remaining 7% was not known or not recorded - this could be because the home address was not known, the child was UASC, or for reasons of confidentiality (for example children placed for adoption). 

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 and children placed with parents or in a foster placements 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.

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 are up 1,430 (34%) on last year, however, there was a large decrease (of 18%) last year which was likely due to the pandemic. The 5,570 UASC on 31 March 2022 is an increase of 10% on the number on 31 March 2020 (prior to the pandemic).

UASC are a distinct group of CLA and currently represent around 7% of all CLA, up from 5% last year (and up slightly from 6% in 2018). 

UASC are generally male - 95% - this has increased from 92% last year and in 2018. 

UASC are also generally older - only 13% were aged under 16 years, this is the same as in 2020 but down from 19% in 2018. 

88% of UASC have a primary need of 'Absent parenting' - 7% were in need due to abuse or neglect and 4% due to the family being in acute stress.

UASC tend to present themselves at points of entry into the country. Since February 2022 there has been a mandated national transfer scheme in place to enable the safe transfer of unaccompanied children between local authorities across the country to help ensure that unaccompanied children have access to services and support they need. Prior to this, the scheme was voluntary. Kent (370 young people), Hillingdon (139) and Manchester (138) looked after the largest number of UASC in 2022.

The ethnicity of UASC has been changing - the majority of UASC are from ‘Other ethnic groups’ and this has been increasing - 45% in 2022 up from 35% in 2018. (Note: ‘Other ethnic groups’ include some people from the Middle East, North Africa and the Far East - more detail can be found in the Appendix 4 of the collection guide). Over the same period, the proportion who were White has been decreasing, down to 4% this year, from 6% last year and down from 11% in 2018.

CLA starting during the year

The number of CLA starting during the year has increased by 9% compared to last year, to 31,010. There was a large decrease last year during the pandemic so the number of CLA starting has returned back up to the level seen in 2020.

Much of this increase has been in the older age groups - children starting aged 16 years and over were up by 38% and aged 10 to 15 years were up 13% - and male (up 15%) - suggesting UASC are largely responsible for this rise in numbers. Both the number and proportions of all CLA in the other younger age groups have fallen.

CLA starting to be looked after during the year, by age, at 31 March 2021 and 2022

Age20212022Yearly changeProportion of all CLA in 2022
Total CLA starting28,47031,010+9%100%
Under 1 year5,6205,410-4%17%
Aged 1-4 years5,1204,760-7%15%
Aged 5-9 years4,7504,710-1%15%
Aged 10-15 years7,2808,240+13%27%
Aged 16+ years5,7107,900+38%25%

54% were initially looked after under a voluntary agreement under S20 of the Children Act 1989, however a child's legal status is likely to change during their period of care. 

A small proportion of CLA starting during the year were known to have previously had a permanence arrangement - 570 children. These children were known to have previously been adopted (1%), been the subject of a special guardianship order (1%), or been the subject of a residence order or child arrangement order (less than 0.5%).

Further information on CLA starting can be found in the ‘C’ highlight tables accompanying this release.

Placement stability

The number of placements experienced by CLA in a one-year period has remained broadly stable over the past 5 years with a slight increase in stability during the pandemic.

High instability

1 in 10 children experienced high instability (3 or more placements) - 10% - broadly stable from 9% in 2021 and 11% in 2018.

A lower proportion of CLA experience high instability when focusing on those who have been in care for 12 months or more - 9% - compared to those who have been in care for less than 12 months - 12%.

Characteristics of CLA with high instability

Legal status and placement type of CLA with high instability

CLA who were detained for child protection reasons for their first legal status of the year had the highest proportion experiencing high instability - 22% - up from 20% last year. This was followed by CLA who were detained under youth justice legal statuses - 15% - down from 17% last year. CLA whose first legal status in the year was a placement order were the least likely to experience high instability - 5% - up from 4% last year.

CLA whose first placement in the year was in ‘Other residential settings’ (including care homes, schools or custody) experienced the highest proportion of instability - 23% - down from 26% last year. High instability was experienced by 8% of CLA whose first placement in the year was a foster placement - up from 7% last year.

 

Long term stability

Of those CLA aged under 16 on 31 March who had been looked after continuously for at least 2.5 years, 71% had lived in the same placement for at least 2 years.

Further information on placement stability can be found in the ‘P’ highlight tables accompanying this release.

Conviction and health outcomes

Figures relate to the 58,350 CLA on 31 March for at least 12 months in the year ending 31 March 2022 unless otherwise stated. Definitions and explanations of the information collected can be found in the collection guide.

Offending rates 

Information on offending rates is collected for children aged 10 years or over – 39,930 children in 2022. Of these, the proportion convicted or subject to youth cautions or youth conditional cautions during the year was 2% - the same as last year and down from 4% in 2018. In 2022 this equates to 860 children. 

Males are more likely to offend than females - 3% of males were convicted or subject to youth cautions or youth conditional cautions during the year compared to 1% of females - a similar pattern to previous years.

Substance Misuse 

CLA identified as having a substance misuse problem – 3% - the same as last year and down slightly from 4% in 2018. 

Substance misuse is very slightly more common in males (3%) than females (2%). The proportion of males identified with substance misuse is the same as last year, for females it has decreased slightly from 3%. In previous years we have seen substance misuse consistently be slightly more common in males than females.

An intervention was received for 43% of children who were identified as having a substance misuse problem, down slightly from 44% last year and down from 46% in 2018. Interventions may include for example, advice and guidance, therapeutic support or support targeting the problems that are causing difficulties for the young person, like family contact, placement stability, school attendance or the young person's mental health

Health and development outcomes

Most CLA are up to date with their health care with immunisations and health assessments: 

  • reported as being up to date with their immunisations – 85% - down  from 86% last year and the same as in 2018
  • reported as having had their annual health assessment – 89% - down slightly on 91% last year and up from 88% in 2018
  • under 5s reported as having development assessments up to date – 89% - the same as last year and up from 85% in 2018

The proportion of CLA with their dental checks up to date has begun to recover after a large fall during the pandemic - 70% had their teeth checked by a dentist up from  40% last year, but still some way off the 86% in 2020. 

Emotional and behavioural health (SDQ scores) 

Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) scores The SDQ is a short behavioural screening questionnaire. Its primary purpose is to give social workers and health professionals information about a child’s wellbeing. A score of 0 to 13 is considered normal, 14 to 16 is borderline, and 17 to 40 is a cause for concern. 

For CLA aged 5 to 16 years (43,290 children), an SDQ score was reported for 77% of them. This is down from 80% last year, and down slightly on the 78% reported in 2018. The average score reported was 13.8 - broadly similar to last year and down on the 14.2 reported in 2018. 

Of these 43,290 children:

  • 50% had ‘normal’ emotional and behavioural health (down from 51%)
  • 12% had ‘borderline’ scores (same as last year)
  • 37% had scores which were a cause for concern (same as last year).

In 2022, 40% of males had a score which was a cause for concern compared to 34% of females. Across almost all ages, males are more likely to have scores which were a cause for concern; except for children aged 15-years or 16-years. 

Children missing or away from placement without authorisation

Missing from care: A looked after child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (for example school) and their whereabouts is not known.

Away from placement without authorisation: A looked after child whose whereabouts is known but who is not at their placement or place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police.

Note: These figures are published as OFFICIAL STATISTICS. We do not recommend users make comparisons between local authorities or across years due to difference in reporting practices. This information was collected this way for the first time in 2015. However, an increasing number of local authorities are not using the away without authorisation category, to align their figures with information collected locally by the police. This means they will be reporting both their missing and away without authorisation incidents as missing. We anticipate figures for missing are over reported by about 10%. See the methodology document for further details.

Missing incidents were reported for 12,150 of CLA (11%) in 2022 and there were 76,890 missing incidents.  This is an average (mean) of 6.3 missing incidents per child who went missing. The vast majority (90%) of missing incidents lasted for 2 days or less. 

Almost two thirds of missing incidents were from ‘secure units, children’s homes and semi-independent living arrangements’, however this is likely because more older children are placed in these settings and older children are more likely to go missing. 22% of missing incidents were from foster placements and 8% were CLA who were living independently.

Away without authorisation incidents were reported for 2% of CLA (2,510 children).

Further information on CLA who were missing or who were away from placement without authorisation can be found in the ‘G’ highlight tables accompanying this release.

CLA ceasing during the year

The number of CLA ceasing during the year increased by 7% on last year to 30,070 - a similar level to in 2018. 

Of those ceasing to be looked after, 37% ceased on their 18th birthday and 21% were aged 1 to 4 years old.

Reasons for ceasing to be looked after

The reasons for children and young people leaving care are given in the table.

In 2018, 35% of CLA ceasing had been looked after for under 6 months, in 2021 this decreased to 25%. The average duration of the period of care for children ceasing to be looked after fell slightly by 12 days to 895 days. In recent years the average duration has been increasing, from 770 days in 2018 to 907 days last year.

Further information on CLA ceasing during the year can be found in the ‘D’ highlight tables accompanying this release.

Adoptions and special guardianship orders (SGOs)

CLA who were adopted

The number of CLA who were adopted increased by 2% in 2022, following a fall of 17% in 2021. The large decrease last year was likely a result of the impact on court proceedings during the pandemic, where cases progressed more slowly or were paused. Adoptions rose sharply from 2011 to a peak in 2015 but have since been falling. This decrease follows two court rulings in 2013, which stated that adoption orders should be made only when there was no other alternative, such as placing a child with birth relatives. 

On average, it takes 2 years and 3 months for a child to be adopted and this time has been increasing, up from 2 years 2 months last year and up from 1 year and 11 months in 2018. 

In 2022, the average time between a child entering care and being placed for adoption was 1 year and 6 months, up from 1 year 4 months last year. It then takes a further 9 months (on average) for an adoption order to be granted and the adoption to be completed.

The average age of a child at adoption is 3 years and 3 months, the same as last year and the same as in 2018. 

CLA who left care as the subject of a special guardianship order (SGO)

The number of CLA ceasing during the year under an SGO increased by 1% to 3,870. Most SGOs were granted to relatives or friends – 87% - the remainder were largely to other former foster carers – 11%. 

The average age at SGO increased by 3 months to 6 years and 4 months.

Further information on CLA ceasing due to adoption or through being the subject of an SGO can  be found in the ‘E’ highlight tables accompanying this release.

Care leavers

Data collected on care leavers

Local authorities provide information about children who were previously looked after, who turned 17 to 21 in the year. These were CLA for at least 13 weeks after their 14th birthday, including some time after their 16th birthday. 

‘In touch’

Local authorities are expected to stay in touch with care leavers and provide statutory support to help the care leaver transition to living independently. The proportion of care leavers whom the local authority is in touch with varies by age and has generally been increasing across all ages except 17-year-olds. As these young people are less likely to be in touch with the local authority, less information is known about their activity and accommodation as a care leaver.

Proportion of care leavers the LA is ‘in touch’ with varies by age

Age of care leaverNumber of care leaversPercentage the LA in ‘in touch’ with
2018201920202021202220182019202020212022
17 years61049047048046077%74%74%73%68%
18 years10,42010,70011,19011,58011,89094%94%95%95%95%
19 to 21 years28,49029,91031,25032.49033,59088%89%90%91%92%
19 years10,09010,47010,76011,28011,63091%92%93%94%94%
20 years9,43010,03010,46010,75011,24089%89%90%92%93%
21 years8,9809,41010,04010,46010,72084%86%86%88%89%

Source: SSDA903

Activity

Information is collected on the activity that most accurately reflects the young person's main activity status on or around their birthday and figures are in the table below.

For 19- to 21- year-olds 29% were in education (6% higher education, 22% education other than higher education); 38% were not in education, employment or training (NEET), compared to around 11% of all young people aged 19 to 21 years old (Source: Labour force survey data, reapportioned so time period and ages are comparable with the CLA methodology)

Activity of former care leavers in 2022

 17-year-olds18-year-olds19- to 21- year-olds
Number of care leavers46011,89033,590
Percentage male52%63%63%
Percentage in education39%52%29%
Percentage in training or employment11%15%26%
Percentage who were not in education, employment or training20%28%38%
Percentage whose activity was not known30%5%7%

Accommodation of former care leavers 

As former care leavers get older, they tend to transition into more independent living arrangements. The most common living arrangements were:

  • For 17-year-old care leavers 51% were living with parents, 5% were in semi-independent transitional accommodation and 5% were in custody. Accommodation information was not known for 31% of 17-year-old care leavers.
  • For 18-year-old care leavers 32% were in semi-independent transitional accommodation, 20% were with former foster carers, 12% were living with parents or relatives and 10% were in independent living . Accommodation information was not known for 5% of 18-year-old care leavers.
  • For 19- to 21-year-old care leavers 36% were living independently, 18% were living in semi-independent transitional accommodation, 10% were living with parents or relatives and 9% were living with former foster carers. Accommodation information was not known for 7% of 19- to 21- year old care leavers.

Accommodation suitability

Information on whether care leaver accommodation is suitable can be used to monitor whether they are receiving the support they need to make a successful transition to adulthood. However, there are no hard and fast rules on whether accommodation is deemed ‘suitable’; the decision will depend on the circumstances of the individual case. The proportions of young people deemed to be in suitable accommodation had been increasing, although this year the proportion of 17- and 18-year-olds in suitable accommodation have fallen slightly. Figures are in the table below.

Proportion of care leavers in suitable accommodation increases

Age of care leaverAccommodation suitability20182019202020212022
17-year-oldsTotal100%100%100%100%100%
 Accommodation considered suitable68%64%65%68%63%
 Accommodation considered unsuitable11%13%11%7%7%
 No information22%23%24%24%31%
18-year-oldsTotal100%100%100%100%100%
 Accommodation considered suitable90%90%91%92%91%
 Accommodation considered unsuitable5%5%5%4%4%
 No information5%5%5%4%5%
19-to 21-year-oldsTotal100%100%100%100%100%
 Accommodation considered suitable84%85%85%88%88%
 Accommodation considered unsuitable7%6%6%5%6%
 No information9%9%9%7%7%

Source: SSDA903

“Staying Put”

The number and proportion of 18-year-olds in a foster placement, who ceased to be looked after on their 18th birthday and who were still living with their former foster carers 3 months after their 18th birthday (‘staying put’) increased slightly to 62% in 2022 from 60% last year and 55% in 2018. The number of 19- and 20- year olds still living with their foster carers increased slightly to 31% (from 30% last year).

Care leavers who were formerly UASC

For former care leavers aged 19-21-years, an increasing number and proportion were formerly UASC. This increase is due to the relatively high number of UASC since 2015 moving through the age groups and who are now care leavers. 

Further information on care leavers can be found in the ‘F’ highlight tables accompanying this release.

Find my data and feedback

This section provides guidance on finding data and providing feedback. 

Find my data 

To find information on topics of interest, expand the content sections i.e. ‘Children looked after on 31 March’, ‘Care leavers’, etc. In each section, there will be summary commentary and related tables/charts. You can also create your own tables through the table tool or modify the pre- prepared tables which use the same files. 

At the top of the release, there is a link ‘download associated files’ which includes the data and metadata that sits underneath the release. There are also links under ‘related guidance’ at the top right-hand side of the release. These will direct you to the statistics methodology document, the latest data collection guide and the EES glossary.

The standard period for data in the release is for the year ending 31 March 2018 to the year ending 31 March 2022. The data set ‘Time series of children looked after data - 1994 to 2022 - NATIONAL’ includes longer time series data from 1994 for children looked after, and for unaccompanied asylum seeking-children a time series from 2004.

Previous publications on children looked after, for 2019 and earlier, can be found on GOV.UK at: Statistics - looked after children.

Feedback

This release was published on this platform for the first time in 2020 and is a new approach to publishing our data and statistics which we are looking to evolve over time. Your feedback is important to help us improve and develop. To provide feedback on this release, content, or functionality, and for any other queries, please contact the CLA statistics mailbox. Email: CLA.Stats@education.gov.uk

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Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about Children looked after in England including adoptions statistics and data:

Looked-after children statistics team

Email
cla.stats@education.gov.uk

Telephone: Justin Ushie
01915358967

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