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 that has been referred to children’s social care services.
Data is collected from each local authority in England. This data is used by DfE to calculate 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 children subject to a child protection plan are also calculated.
150 out of 151 local authorities provided a return for the 2020 to 2021 collection. Hackney were unable to do so, due to a cyberattack which had a significant impact on their information management systems. As a result, 2020 figures for Hackney have been included in the 2021 totals for England, Inner London and London.
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 2020 to 31 March 2021. The census includes any child referred to children’s social care services within the year and also any cases open at 1 April 2020 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 who were the subject of children in need plans, children who were the subject of child protection plans, looked after children, young carers 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.
The 2020 to 2021 census was the 12th full year of the 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.
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 the CPR3 was discontinued after 2009. Both the CPR and census were collected for 2008 to 2009. However, 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 2008 to 2009.
The information collected in the CPR and census returns is similar. However, for the CPR local authorities calculated indicators and returned aggregate level information 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.
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 the children in need census guide.
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) for children in need and children looked after, which are published in March each year.