The children in need census is an annual child-level data collection by the Department for Education (DfE), which records individual assessment information and child characteristics for each child who has been referred to children’s social care services.
The collection of the data from each local authority enables the calculation of local- and national-level information on the numbers of referrals and assessments carried out by children’s social care services. The numbers of children in need and subject to a child protection plan are also calculated.
All 151 local authorities provided a return for the 2019 to 2020 collection.
The latest children in need census captured child level information on children referred to and assessed by children’s social care services within the 12 month period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020. The census includes any child referred to children’s social care services within the year and also any cases open at 1 April 2019 for whom local authorities were providing a service, for example:
- active case work
- making regular payments
- where funding or on-going services such as respite care has been agreed
- maintaining a child with care and accommodation
- a commitment to review the case at a predetermined date
- maintaining a child’s name on a register that ensures the child and family receives targeted information or other special consideration
The 2019 to 2020 census was the tenth full year of the new children in need census. A collection covering a reduced 6 month period was carried out in 2008 to 2009 to collect information from the 1 October 2008 to 31 March 2009; however, following this a full year collection was introduced from 2009 to 2010.
A number of local authorities were unable to provide a complete, clean children in need return in the first full census in 2009 to 2010. On completion of the collection, a DfE review of the children in need census was carried out alongside the Munro review which resulted in some data items being removed from the 2010 to 2011 collection onward. Local authorities were no longer asked to return information on:
- duration and types of services provided to children in need
- information on the status of cases open at the end of the year
- a flag to identify looked after children who had been adopted
- a flag to identify asylum seeking children and the date they ceased to be asylum seeking
- reasons for missing unique pupil numbers (UPN)
For 2008 to 2009 and earlier, information on referrals, assessments and child protection plans was collected through the aggregate ‘Child Protection and Referrals’ (CPR3) return. The introduction of the children in need census meant there was no longer a need to collect CPR3 and so it was discontinued after the 2008 to 2009 collection. The 2008 to 2009 period was a year where both collections were dual run. As mentioned, the children in need census was for 6 months of the year only, so CPR3 was the definitive data source for 2008 to 2009.
Although the information collected between the two returns is similar, the move from the emphasis being on local authorities to calculate indicators and return aggregate level information, to a child level national return where indicators are calculated by the Department for Education, mean that the figures are not directly comparable between the two returns. An example of this issue is that the aggregate returns were subject to a limited degree of local interpretation of definitions, for example, one key indicator looked at whether reviews were within the required timescales of three and six months. On moving to a centrally calculated indicator we identified that three and six months had been interpreted differently in different local authorities.
Further information on the comparability of figures between the children in need census and the CPR3 collection can be found in section 3 of the accompanying data quality document.
The data items collected in the children in need census include child identifiers and characteristics along with the dates of any referrals, assessments, section 47 enquiries and child protection plans and reviews.
More information on the collection is available in Children in need census guide to submitting data.
Children in need data is linked to children looked after data and the national pupil database (NPD). This linked data is used to produce outcomes statistics (for example key stages 2 and 4 attainment and progress) for children in need and children looked after, which are published in March each year.