The children in need census is an annual child-level data collection by the Department for Education (DfE), which collects individual assessment information and child characteristics for each child that has been referred to children’s social care services.
The census is a statutory requirement under section 83 of the Children Act 1989 and data is collected from each local authority in England.
The data items collected in the children in need census include child identifiers and characteristics along with the dates of any referrals to children’s social care services; assessments; section 47 enquiries; child protection plans and reviews; and from 2022 onwards children in need plans.
All 152 local authorities provided a return for the 2023 children in need census.
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 2022 to 31 March 2023. The census includes any child referred to children’s social care services within the year and also any cases open at 1 April 2022 where 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
Children in need include children on child in need plans, children on child protection plans, children looked after by local authorities, care leavers and disabled children.
Children in need include unborn children and young people aged 18 years and over who continue to require support from children’s social care services.
More information on the data collected in the census is available in the children in need guide to submitting data.
The data is used to calculate the measures included in this statistics release.
Children in need data is also linked to children looked after data and the national pupil database (NPD). This linked data is used to produce outcomes statistics (eg, key stages 2 and 4 attainment) for children in need and children looked after, which are published in March each year.
A data collection covering a reduced 6-month period was undertaken in 2009 to collect information on children in need for the period 1 October 2008 to 31 March 2009. Following this, a full year collection was introduced from 2010 onwards.
A number of local authorities were unable to provide a complete, clean children in need return for the first full census in 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 2011 onwards.
For 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 the CPR3 was discontinued after 2009. Both the CPR3 and census were collected in 2009, but since the census covered the final 6 months of the year only, the CPR3 (which covered the full year) is regarded as the more complete data source for 2009.
The information collected in the CPR3 return and census is similar. However, for CPR3 local authorities calculated indicators and returned aggregate level data to DfE. For the census, child-level data is returned by local authorities and indicators are calculated by the DfE. Figures derived from the two collections are therefore not directly comparable.