Methodology

Children looked after in England including adoptions

Published
Last updated
See all notes (2)
  1. Clarification of some wording.

  2. Updated with the release of the 2021 statistical release

Summary

This page is a guide to the looked after children statistics published by the Department for Education. It sets out information on:

  • the collection and coverage of the data
  • data processing
  • the quality of the published statistics.

It is updated with each new statistical release. The next revision will be when the ‘Children looked after in England (including adoption)’ statistical release is published in Autumn 2022.

Data collection

The statistics are based on information on looked after children collected by the Department for Education in the SSDA903 return. This is completed annually by local authorities in England. Data is required for two groups of children: 

  1. every child who is looked after by the local authority at any time during the year
  2. care leavers (who are children who have been looked after for at least 13 weeks, which began after they reached the age of 14 and ended after they reached the age of 16, who are now aged 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21)

History of the collection

The SSDA903 collection began in 1992 and prior to 1998 it covered all looked after children. 

Between 1998 and 2003 the SSDA903 return covered a one third sample of children, those with a date of birth divisible by three. There was also an aggregate return, the CLA 100 return, which was used to provide ‘fast track’ data and to gross the sample data. 

In 2000, the OC1 (educational qualifications of care leavers) return was introduced, followed by the AD1 (children adopted) returns in 2001 and the OC3 return (19th birthday) in 2002. 

From 2004, the CLA100 return was discontinued and the SSDA903 reverted to cover all looked after children. Becoming a web-based data collection for the first time, the SSDA903 return also incorporated the AD1, OC1 and OC3 returns. 

Additional information on offending, health promotion checks, immunisations, dental checks, health assessments and substance misuse problem identification and intervention is also collected through the SSDA903. This is collected for children who have been looked after continuously for at least 12 months on 31 March. This information was previously collected via the Outcome Indicators (OC2) return which contained aggregated local authority level data. In the 2008 to 2009 collection this information was added to the SSDA903 and is now routinely collected at child level. 

A more detailed timeline of changes to the SSDA903 collection is given in the Annex.

Historical revisions to the data

The SSDA903 data is collected in a longitudinal database, with one record for every episode of care. Local authorities update the database every year, including making amendments to previous years’ records where there have been changes. 

The SSDA903 collects information about the child - for example gender, date of birth and unique pupil number - and details about the child’s episodes in care. When a change in legal status or placement (or both) occurs, a new episode of care is started and the date and reason for the change are recorded. 

Revisions to previously published data occur because of corrections made by local authorities to their historical data. Local authorities can directly amend records for the years since 2004 in the system. Common revisions include correcting episode information and including missing records. 

The table below gives an indication of how the data for 2020 has changed due to historical revisions between last year’s 2020 publication and the current 2021 publication: 

Counts of children looked after in the year ending 31 March 2020, in the 2020 and 2021 statistical releases

Count of childrenReported in 2020 releaseReported in 2021 releasePercentage change
Looked after children on 31 March 202080,08080,000-0.1%
Children starting to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 202030,97031,010+0.1%
Children ceasing to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2020

29,590

 

29,710

 

+0.4%

An audit of 2019 to 2020 records which were changed by local authorities in 2021 shows that:

  • 919 child records were deleted
  • 135 child records were added
  • 5,366 master changes were made - these are changes to a child’s date of birth, gender or ethnic group.

A correction to legal status or a date change in any episode of care may mean that the child will no longer be included in a particular set of figures. For example, if a date episode ceased is changed it may mean the child is no longer included in ceased figures for 2020 but is included in ceased figures for 2021 instead. This would mean that the child is counted as looked after on 31 March 2020. 

Further information on the data items collected in the SSDA903 return can be found in the collection guide. This and other documents useful for the completion of the SSDA903 return can be found on the DfE children looked after collection website.

Data processing

Data validation

A number of automated data validation checks are carried out at the point of data entry to identify and remove:

  • invalid codes
  • unlikely or impossible combinations of legal status
  • unlikely or impossible sequences of dates
  • information which contradicts data already held about the child, to maintain consistency with data reported in previous years
  • information which is contradictory within a return, for example OC2 data reported for a child not looked after for 12 months at the end of the year

Any record which fails the validation checks is highlighted and must be corrected. An explanation of each validation check and guidance on how corrections can be made are documented in the list of validation checks available on the DfE children looked after collection website.

Some aggregate return level checks are performed in the system to highlight large changes in return level data compared to the previous year. These are there as prompts for local authorities to check their data. Any outstanding aggregate checks need to have explanatory commentary added to the system before the local authority can sign off their return.

Production of snapshot tables

The annual data reported by each local authority is linked (by a unique identifier for each child) to data supplied by the same local authority in previous years (from 1992 onwards). 

At the end of the data collection each year a ‘snapshot’ of the database is taken. This includes all the historic data for each child. These snapshot tables are checked to make sure:

  • they have been produced correctly from the database
  • the data is consistent between years
  • sample checks show they accurately reflect the live database
  • previous years data is consistent with the previous years' snapshot

These snapshot tables are then processed to produce the data for this statistical release. 

Published statistics

Current publications

The Department currently publishes two annual statistical releases: 

  • Children looked after in England (including adoption) (November/December)
  • Outcomes for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England (March)

The UK Statistics Authority has 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 Official Statistics. 

Designation can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics: 

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

Once statistics have been designated as National Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed. Since reconfirmation, we have continued to align the statistics to the Code of Practice, for example we have: 

  • moved our looked after children releases to the Explore Education Statistics (EES) platform, the new way in which we publish DfE statistics, where we release national and local authority level machine-readable, tidy data format datasets
  • continued to facilitate local authority user groups annually to discuss changes to the production of these statistics
  • improved the commentary supporting the statistics, through the introduction of this CLA statistics guide
  • minimised the number of releases by releasing all information together at the earliest opportunity. For example, in 2018 we released the main publication data altogether (rather than a main/additional table release) and in 2015 we moved the OC2 outcomes to the main publication rather than delaying its release until the later outcomes publication
  • developed the outcomes publication to include more comparator information, for example in previous years by including figures for non-looked after children and children in need alongside the looked after children figures, where comparable figures were available and more recently by developing a new outcomes publication, incorporating improvements following user feedback, including improvements to the consistency of definitions and the range of children reported on.

Children looked after in England (including adoption) statistical release

The ‘Children looked after in England including adoption’ statistical release provides information - for the year ending 31 March - on: 

  • children looked after on 31 March in each year, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
  • children looked after at any time
  • children who started to be looked after
  • children who ceased to be looked after
  • children looked after who were adopted
  • care leavers now aged 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 years old
  • children who went missing or away from placement without authorisation

All figures are based on data collected from the annual SSDA903 return. The longitudinal nature of the collection means historical information can be amended each year, so we update all time series figures published in each release. 

Prior to 2013, grossing factors were applied to the data in order to compensate for records with errors in their episodes. These were calculated by comparing the number of valid looked after children records reported in the return with the number of invalid records in the system. In 2013, changes to validation checks on the data submitted improved the quality and grossing factors were close to 1. After a review grossing was discontinued from 2013 onwards.

Up to 2019, the information was published as a series of data tables. From 2020 the information has been published as a series of datasets.

Prior to 2019, some of the statistics were published as experimental as they were based upon recent additions to the collection and local authorities had highlighted some data quality concerns. In 2019 we removed the ‘experimental statistics’ label from these statistics and instead published them as official statistics. 

This publication is the main information source on the numbers of looked after children in England; it is used to inform policy decisions to improve outcomes for this vulnerable group of children. It is also used extensively by other organisations interested in this subject.

Outcomes for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England statistical release

The ‘Outcomes for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England’ publication provides a range of outcome measures at national and level authority level for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England.  This is a new statistical release (from 2020) which incorporates changes to the annual Outcomes for children looked after by LAs statistical release and outcomes within the Characteristics of children in need statistical release, proposed by the department in September 2020. Improving these statistics was a commitment made at the end of the CIN review. As part of the review of the National Statistics, an ad-hoc release was published (Outcomes of children in need including looked after children) and the department asked users to submit feedback on the proposals (Children in need and looked after children statistics: proposed changes).  The publication includes information on educational attainment for previously looked after children who left care through an adoption, special guardianship order or child arrangements order. Historical information on the Outcomes for children looked after by LAs statistical release can be found in A guide to looked-after children statistics in England.

Underlying data

Historically underlying data has been published alongside national and local authority tables in each publication. Alongside the underlying data there is accompanying metadata. 

From 2020, the publication has consisted of data sets being released in the Explore Education Statistics platform in a new format. Previously published national and local authority tables have not been produced however ‘highlight tables’ are available on the website that best mirror these previously published tables.

Recent changes to the releases have included:

  • in 2017 some local authority tables were discontinued in the ‘Children looked after in England (including adoptions)’ release and the data was instead moved to the underlying data.

Rounding, suppression and grossing

Rounding and suppression is applied to the data. The National Statistics Code of Practice requires that reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that all published or disseminated statistics produced by the DfE protect confidentiality. The publications follow the DfE policy statement on confidentiality. 

Rounding suppression and grossing for 2020 release onwards.

National and regional figures have been rounded to the nearest 10.  Local authority figures are unrounded.

Where any number is shown as zero, the original figure submitted was zero. 

The following symbols have been used in the releases (updated to align with GSS standards):

  • ‘c’ to protect confidentiality. Secondary suppression may be required
  • ‘z’ for not applicable
  • ‘:’ for not available
  • ‘~’  used for a value that would round to zero but is not  zero, for example where a percentage is <0.5%

For percentages:

  • to protect confidentiality some numbers are replaced by ‘c’
  • they may not sum to 100% due to rounding
  • they are rounded to whole numbers

For averages:

  • the average duration for adoptions (formerly table E2) are rounded to the nearest month
  • the average number of missing or away without authorisation incidents (formerly in table G1) have been rounded to one decimal place.

Rounding suppression and grossing for 2019 releases and earlier

National and regional figures have been rounded to the nearest 10. 

From 2018 local authority figures are unrounded in statistical tables. Prior to this local authority figures were rounded to the nearest 5 in tables but unrounded in underlying data tables. 

Where any number is shown as zero, the original figure submitted was zero.

The following symbols have been used in the releases:

  • ‘c’ (prior to 2019 this was a ‘x’) to protect confidentiality. Secondary suppression may be required
  • ‘.’ for not applicable
  • ‘..’ for not available
  • ‘~’  used for a value that would round to zero but is not  zero, for example where a percentage is <0.5%

For percentages:

  • to protect confidentiality some numbers are replaced by ‘c’ (prior to 2019 this was a ‘x’)
  • they may not sum to 100% due to rounding
  • they are rounded to whole numbers

For averages:

  • the average duration for adoptions (table E2) are rounded to the nearest month
  • the average number of missing or away without authorisation incidents (table G1) have been rounded to one decimal place.

Data quality and uses

Children looked after in England (including adoption) release

Whilst validation and consistency checks are in place to ensure the information published is of high quality, the following should be taken into account when reviewing the statistics on looked after children.

31 March, starts and ceased comparability

The number of looked after children on 31 March each year does not always equate to the number on 31 March the previous year plus the number who started minus the number who ceased to be looked after in the current year. This is because a child is only ever counted once as starting to be looked after during the year, and once as ceasing to be looked after during the year, but in some circumstances a child may enter care and/or leave care more than once during the year. There are also a small number of children who move in and out of respite care during the year for whom the same will apply. A summary of the figures for the year ending 31 March 2021 are in the diagram.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

In 2020, the Department for Education (DfE) established the Vulnerable Children and Young People (VCYP) survey of local authorities in England to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on Children’s Social Care. These figures have been published regularly throughout 2020. 

The 2021 CLA release was the first release of data from the SSDA903 that reported data from this period. Monthly starts and ceased figures have been added to the text of the statistical release to help describe how the pandemic affected children’s social care. 

The VCYP survey had suggested the decrease in CLA starting during the year might have been much greater than the SSDA903 shows. Figures from the two collections may not align due to methodological differences; only a subset of local authorities responded to the VCYP survey, and the survey data covers only 22 weeks of the year. Anecdotal evidence from local authorities suggests there can be a delay in adding CLA starting to management information systems, so children may have been missed from the VCYP survey. 

Long-term fostering placements

We are continuing to discuss recording of long-term fostering placements with local authorities at our focus groups - to work towards improving the quality of this data. It is likely the current figures are an under-count of the true figures.

From 2016, all children in an ongoing long-term foster placement on 1 April 2015, or those who change to a long-term foster placement after this date, should have been recorded as such. 

The definition of a long-term foster placement came into effect from 1 April 2015 in The Care Planning and Fostering (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2015 and is defined as: 

A “long-term foster placement” means an arrangement made by the responsible authority for the child to be placed with a foster carer where: 

(a) the child’s plan for permanence is foster care, 

(b) the foster carer has agreed to act as child’s foster parent until the child ceases to be looked after, and 

(c) the responsible authority has confirmed the nature of the arrangement to the foster carer, parents and the child. 

Local authority level analysis of this data highlighted large differences in the proportion of foster placements reported as being long-term foster placements. In earlier years, quality assurance checks identified a degree of misreporting at a level that has affected our confidence in the figures and so figures for long-term fostering were not included in the main release tables. We are continuing to discuss with local authorities at our focus groups to work towards improving the quality of this data. The issues around accurately capturing this included differences in recording practices, short-term placements move into being a long term placement and system issues (for example being able to ‘roll back’ the system to update, or difficulties due to system links to financial payments).

Children reported in the collection under the long-term fostering category are included in the categories ‘With other foster carer not FFA/concurrent planning’ or ‘With relative or friend, not FFA/concurrent planning’ as appropriate, in the statistical release data tables for 2016 onwards. The latest time series of the figures are shown below although it's likely they are an under-count of the true figures:  

Numbers of children looked after in a long-term fostering placement 

Years ending 31 March 2017 to 2021 *

Placement20172018201920202021
CLA on 31 March in long-term fostering placements23,38023,55023,37022,65022,240
Inside council boundary14,36014,29013,94013,34013,050
With relative or friend3,1603,3203,5203,5603,530
With other foster carer11,20010,97010,4209,7809,520
Outside council boundary9,0209,2709,4309,3109,190
With relative or friend1,3901,5501,7101,7801,750
With other foster carer7,6307,7207,7207,5407,430
Children starting to be CLA in long-term fostering placements3,4502,6702,4801,8901,520
Inside council boundary2,2701,7201,5901,170970
With relative or friend800620640450470
With other foster carer1,4701,100950720500
Outside council boundary1,170950890720500
With relative or friend270210250109200
With other foster carer910740640530350
Children ceasing to be CLA in long-term fostering placements4,0703,4503,5903,3903,240
Inside council boundary2,6202,1902,3202,1101,980
With relative or friend1,090890930860830
With other foster carer1,5301,3001,3901,2601,150
Outside council boundary1,4501,2601,2701,2801,260
With relative or friend430370370390420
With other foster carer1,020890900890840

* Note Figures for 2017 relate to figures published and updated in 2019, Figures for 2018 to 2021 are based upon revised figures produced in 2021.

Local authority of placement 

For some children each year the local authority of placement is outside England or is not submitted due to confidentiality purposes. The local authority of placement for these children are in the table below. These children are not included in figures in data tables for the number of children externally placed in other local authorities, or figures for local authority net gain of children. 

Children looked after on 31 March 2021 who were placed outside England or whose local authority of placement was confidential

Placement locationNumbers
LA of placement confidential230

Placed outside England

Of which:

830
Wales530
Scotland250
Northern Ireland10
Outside UK30

 

Children freed for adoption

Applications for freeing orders could not be made on or after 30 December 2005 as they were replaced by placement orders.

Effect of collecting provider unique reference numbers (Ofsted URN) on placement type 

The introduction of Ofsted URN for placements on or after 1 April 2015 means users should interpret changes to placement type over time with caution.

Ofsted unique reference number (URN) was collected for settings subject to Ofsted inspections for the first time in the collection year 2015 to 2016. For example, for children’s homes this would be the URN of the individual home, and for foster or adoptive placements this would be the URN of the relevant service or agency providing the placement. This data - which covers around 90% of placements - is required for any relevant placement that was ongoing on 1 April 2015, or for any new placement after 1 April 2015. 

The in-built system validation checks the placement type submitted by local authorities corresponds with the placement type for the given URN. This meant there were some corrections of placement types reported by local authorities in 2016 and 2017. In particular, there were cases where children previously recorded as being in residential schools in 2015, were recorded as being in children’s homes in 2016 and 2017 - in many cases this was because the provider may have been dual-registered. 

Whilst there are always small annual revisions to previous year figures, it's possible that changes by placement type in these years may be a result of improvements in the accuracy of reporting placement types, due to collecting URN. Older placements are more likely to be misreported - a placement which was coded with the incorrect URN will not have been corrected if it ended in 2016 to 17. So, any decrease, or increase in placements over time should be interpreted cautiously.

Reason for placement change

For episodes that cease due to a change in placement, from 1 April 2015 the SSDA903 collection records the reason for the placement change. A full list of valid codes can be found in the guide. Nationally 11,620 placements (or 22%) were recorded in the ‘Other’ category in 2021 which is similar to the 24% in 2020 and 23% in 2018 and 2019.

Feedback from local authorities suggested that placement changes due to custody were being reported within the ‘other’ category. We introduced a change for the 2019 collection to allow the identification of children changing placement due to custody, however this has had little effect on the numbers reported as ‘other’.

Reason episode ceased 'other'

The ‘reason episode ceased’ codes collected in the SSDA903 record the circumstances when a child ceases to be looked after. If a child ceases to be looked after because he/she has turned 18, this can already be deduced from his/her date of birth. Therefore, the appropriate code is used to capture the destination of the young person. 

In 2014, 5,000 episodes (16%) were reported as ceasing with the code ‘Period of being looked after ceased for any other reason’. After discussion with local authority data contacts three new categories were introduced in 2015 to try to capture the reasons for these children leaving care. These categories were ‘Accommodation on remand ended’, ‘Age assessment determined child aged 18 or over’ and ‘Child moved abroad’. Despite the introduction of these new categories, in 2020 there are still 5,920 children ceasing to be looked after (20%) categorised as ‘Care ceased for any other reason’. In 2021 another category of ‘Aged 18 (or over) and remained with current carers’ was introduced which has reduced the number of children in the ‘Care ceased for any other reason’ category to 3,900 (14%).

 In 2021, 2,530 (65%) of these ‘Care ceased for any other reason’ children were aged 18 years or over so it’s likely they ceased to be looked after as they reached 18 years of age and the more detailed code has not been provided.

Children missing from care 

Information was collected for the first time in 2015 on children who were missing or away from their placement without authorisation for any length of time. Previously, information had only been collected on children who were missing or absent for at least 24 hours. 

Given the changes in the way this data has been reported and the problems local authorities have identified in consistently reporting this data, comparisons over time or between local authorities should not be made. 

The definitions used reflect the definitions in the statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care and are: 

Missing from care – a looked after child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (e.g. 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. 

Information is collected on the start and end date of the missing incident. If a child goes missing or away from placement without authorisation more than once in the same day, each separate incident is counted. It is possible that children who were missing were also away from placement without authorisation during the year, and vice versa, so the figures should not be summed to give a total number who were not at their placement during the year. 

Users should exercise caution when summing the number of missing periods and away from placement without authorisation periods together, this is because an away from placement without authorisation period could become a missing period if the child’s whereabouts becomes unknown. These will appear as separate incidents in the data, but could be one continuous period where the child is not at his/her placement. 

This information was initially published in 2015 as ‘experimental statistics’ given it was the first year in which the data had been collected and, therefore, local authority data collection systems and recording practices were still bedding in. In 2019 we removed this label and instead publish information on children who have gone missing as Official Statistics.

Feedback from local authorities suggests the figures are becoming more robust and some local authorities have continued to report some improvements in recording. However, since 2017 a growing number of local authorities are informing us that they do not record incidents as ‘away without authorisation’ but instead report all incidents as ‘missing’ as their primary source of this information is the police. We estimate this could mean that at a national level there is an overestimate of the number of children with missing incidents of up to 13% in 2021, and an undercount of the number of children with away without authorisation incidents of up to 32%. There is some variation across the country in the way these incidents are reported and so robust comparisons between local authorities are and tot possible. Some of these local authorities submitted some ‘away without authorisation’ information and this has been included in the tables. 

Hackney were unable to provide data on children who had gone missing or who were away from placement without authorisation in 2021. We have not attempted to estimate this missing data in the overall totals. In 2020, Hackney had 102 children who had a missing incident and 52 children with an away from placement without authorisation incident.

We continue to work with local authorities to improve the quality of this data. Given the changes in the way this data has been reported, comparisons over time should not be made. 

Information on children missing from care is collected separately by police forces. Details of all missing or absent incidents are provided to the UK Missing Persons Unit and they publish annual information. This information is not directly comparable with the latest DfE statistics due to the different collection methods and definitions. 

The missing dataset includes figures for the average duration of being missing. Around 9 in 10 of missing and away from placement without authorisation incidents are for 2 days or less. In each case, there are a small number of particularly long durations of being missing reported by local authorities in the data, which affect the value of the mean duration. Both the mean and median have been presented in the table in order to show a better descriptor of the true average value. 

 Measure Average number of days per missing incident Average number of days per away from placement without authorisation incident 
 25th percentile 0 days 0 days
 Median 1 day1 day
75th percentile 1 day 1 day
Mean 2 days2 days

Note, the exact times a child went missing or away without authorisation or returned are not recorded, only the date, so the duration of missing incidents are calculated to the nearest whole day. 

 

Care leavers 

National figures

National figures exclude those who were looked after under an agreed series of short-term placements, those who have died since leaving care, those who have returned home to parents or someone with parental responsibility for a continuous period of at least 6 months and those whose care was transferred to another local authority. 

The numbers of young people recorded as having returned home for at least 6 months, or having died after ceasing to be looked after in each year, are in the table - note a young person may be recorded in more than one year. 

Care leavers who have returned home for at least 6 months, or have died after ceasing to be looked after, 2019 to 2021

Age2019 Died2019 returned home for at least 6 months2020 Died2020 returned home for at least 6 months2021 Died2021 returned home for at least 6 months
17c100c90090
18c210c180c180
19102602023010190
20202603024020240
21302103024040250

c - suppressed data 

Suitability of accommodation

It is not possible for local authorities to determine the suitability of the accommodation where the young person was deported, had gone abroad, or their residence was not known. These accommodation types have been removed from the suitability calculations.

Care leavers for whom information is not known

The percentage of known information about activity and accommodation remains high. In 2021, for 17- to 18-year olds the figure was 95% and for 19 to 21-year olds the figure was 91%. It can be difficult to assess the year-on-year changes because of the number of care leavers for whom the information is not known. Tables F1 and F2 present the percentage of care leavers in each activity or accommodation category as a percentage of all young people. The table below shows proportions of 19- to 21-year-old care leavers in each category, based on only those where the information is known.

Activity of 19- to 21-year-old care leavers201920202021
In higher education, i.e. studies beyond A level777
In education other than higher education232224
In training or employment282925
Not in education, training or employment owing to illness or disability1098
Not in education, training or employment owing to pregnancy or parenting776
Not in education, training or employment owing to other reasons252630
Accommodation of 19- to 21-year-old care leavers201920202021
With parents or relatives121212
Community home444
Semi-independent, transitional accommodation151719
Supported lodgings555
Gone abroad~~~
Deported~~~
Ordinary lodgings222
Residence not known111
No fixed abode/homeless111
Foyers332
Independent living393838
Emergency accommodation~11
Bed and breakfast~~~
In custody443
With former foster carers899
Other accommodation444

~  a percentage less than 0.5

 17 and 18-year-old care leavers 

The cohort for former care leavers was extended in 2016 to include care leavers aged 17 and 18 - in addition to those aged 19, 20 and 21 - who were looked after for a total of at least 13 weeks after their 14th birthday including some time after their 16th birthday. 

These figures were initially released as ‘experimental statistics’, however this label was removed in 2019. Analysis suggests that in the first year of collecting the information (2016) there was under reporting by some local authorities for 17 and 18-year-olds who left care on their birthday. We believe under reporting was very small for 17-year-olds but for 18-year-olds we believe we could have been missing data for around 1,000 - 11% of young people. However, whilst we expect under reporting to remain a risk, the same level of under-reporting was not experienced in 2017 and we do not expect this to be an issue going forwards.

Respite/short-breaks 

Short breaks for disabled children can be provided by local authorities under either section 17 or section 20 of the Children Act 1989. The figures reported here cover those children whose short breaks were provided under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 and so only partially covers this cohort of children receiving short breaks. The apparent decrease in children receiving short breaks under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 may be due to this service being provided under section 17 instead. Whilst children receiving short breaks under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 would be counted within the children in need census, it does not collect the detail of the specific service or support provided so they cannot be identified separately.

Revisions

The ‘Children looked after in England (including adoption)’ and the ‘Outcomes for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England’ publications are produced using a final version of the dataset. We do not plan to make any revisions to the publications. If we later discover that a revision is necessary, this will be made in accordance with the DfE statistical policy statement on revisions.

Related statistics

Outcomes for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England: a range of outcome measures at national and level authority level for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England.

Children in need and child protection statistics for England:  Information on referrals, assessments and children who were the subject of a child protection plan (taken from the Children in Need census) are published annually.

Information on care proceedings in England: The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) publish information on care proceedings applications made by local authorities where CAFCASS has been appointed by the court to represent the interests of children.

Local authority children in care and adoption statistics: Children in care and adoption performance tables (published within the local authority interactive tool) and adoption scorecards show how local authorities and looked after children’s services compare with others in England.

Local authority expenditure: Information on local authority planned expenditure on schools, education, children and young people’s services is available. This data is returned to DfE by local authorities via the Section 251 Budget Return. 

Ofsted statistics: Ofsted publish inspection outcomes for local authority children’s services and children’s social care providers in England as well as data on the placements of children looked after and fostering in England.

Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB): Quarterly reports are available here.

Ministry of Justice statistics: The Ministry of Justice publish quarterly family court figures which include information on public law cases and adoptions.

Stability Index: The Children's Commissioner publishes the annual Stability Index which is an annual measure of the stability of the lives of children in care.

Devolved administration statistics

Data is collected and published independently by each of the four countries in the UK. Although there are similarities between the data collected by the four nations, there are also differences which may be down to different policies and legislation, and differing historical data collections.

Scotland: Statistics on children’s social work (including children looked after) in Scotland and statistics on the outcomes of looked after children in Scotland are available on the Scottish Government website

Wales: Statistics on children looked after in Wales, adoptions and outcomes are available for the period up to 31 March 2019 on the Welsh Government website.

Northern Ireland: Statistics on children looked after in Northern Ireland and children adopted from care in Northern Ireland are published on the Department of Health website

Annexes

SSDA903 (CLA) collection timeline

YearMajor changesOther changes
1992SSDA903 introduced 
1993  
1994  
1995  
1996  
1997  
1998Collection switched to one third sample. CLA100 aggregate return used to gross sample data to overall population. 
1999  
2000  
2001AD1 return for adopted children introduced.All codes revamped from numeric to alphanumeric
2002OC3 return for care leavers aged 19 introduced. 
2003  
2004Collection reverted to all children. CLA100 discontinued. Collection became web-based for first time. OC1 return on educational achievements introduced,Placement code set expanded to include temporary placements. Respite care codes split.
2005 Participation in reviews collected.
2006 Freeing orders replaced by placement orders. Reason episode ceased codes expanded to include residence orders and special guardianship orders.
2007 Code set for adoption placements expanded to incorporate placement with consent or placement order. Gender and relationship status of adopters collected. Activity of care leavers expanded to include full-time/part-time activity.
2008 Reason episode ceased expanded to include adoption orders unopposed/consent dispensed, special guardianship orders split into former foster carers/other, sentenced to custody collected.
2009OC2 return for outcomes for looked after children introduced. Adoption decision return introduced.LA of placement code set expanded to include other constituent countries. Placement provider collected. SDQ information introduced.
2010 Ethnicity code set revised to align with school census.
2011 Care leaver accommodation code expanded to incorporate care leavers with former foster carers.
2012OC1 discontinued. 
2013 UPNs collected for all children of school age. Activity at 16 discontinued.
2014OC3 expanded to include care leavers aged 19 to 21. Pervious permanence return introduced.Episode information expanded to include postcode for all placements. In touch information for care leavers redefined and switched from numeric to alphanumeric.
2015Missing return for children going missing/away without authorisation for any period introduced.Reason episode ceased expanded for further details. Foster codes extension to include Fostering for Adoption (FFA) and long-term fostering. Relationship status of adopters expanded to include same sex marriage.
2016OC3 expanded again to include care leavers aged 17 to 21.Ofsted URN of placement collected. Reason for placement change collected. Reason for new episode code expanded to incorporate children staying with same carer. Activity of care leavers expanded to include Not in employment, education or training (NEET) due to parenting or pregnancy.
2017  
2018  
2019 

Reason episode ceased expanded to cover more information on special guardianship orders (SGOs).

'Custody’ added as a reason for placement change

2020  
2021 Reason episode ceased category added to identify those remaining with current carers.