Number of children in care at highest level on record, latest figures show

Fiona Simpson
Thursday, November 18, 2021

The number of children in care is at an all-time high, according to latest figures from the Department for Education.

There has been increase of adolescents entering care during the pandemic, figures show. Picture: Adobe Stock
There has been increase of adolescents entering care during the pandemic, figures show. Picture: Adobe Stock

As of 31 March 2021, 80,850 children - 67 in every 10,000 - were in care.

This amounts to a one per cent increase compared with the number of children in care in March 2020 meaning the figure now stands at the highest on record, the DfE report states.

“The increase was driven by there being slightly more children looked-after starting during the year than those ceasing. However, both starts and ceasing were down,” the report states.

Some 28,440 children were taken into care in the year to 31 March 2021, an eight per cent decrease compared to the year ending 31 March 2020.

Meanwhile, 28,010 ceased being in care in the year to 31 March 2021 - six per cent less than in the year to March 2020.

The DfE said Covid-19 lockdowns may have led to the year-on-year decrease of children entering and leaving care.

“The numbers starting were consistently lower than we might usually expect throughout the year but were particularly low during periods when national lockdowns or restrictions were in place. 

“The numbers ceasing were similarly affected by the first national lockdown but returned to the levels we might expect from September onwards,” the report states.

Children in foster care made up the highest proportion (71 per cent) of children in care, according to the figures, however, the number of children being adopted has dropped by 18 per cent compared with 2020 figures.

The DfE put this drop down to “the impact on court proceedings during the pandemic, where cases progressed more slowly or were paused”.

Dr Sue Armstrong-Brown, chief executive of Adoption UK, said that the drop in adoption levels risks vulnerable children facing “multiple moves to different homes and a high level of uncertainty" which can "pile trauma on top of trauma”. 

“To get the best outcomes for children who wait the longest in care, we need courts who are confident the right families can be found, social workers who are confident about making good matches and adopters who are confident they will be well supported after they adopt. There are challenges at all these levels, which the government’s new National Adoption Strategy needs to help address,” she said.

Discussing the figures at a meeting of the education select committee on children’s homes yesterday (17 November), chair of the committee, Robert Halfon, said the number of children in care had increased by 25 per cent over the last decade.

Barnardo’s interim co-chief executive Michelle Lee-Izu said the rise in the number of children in care was partly due to “family breakdowns and other issues faced by children during the pandemic such as mental health issues, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and families just not coping”. 

Andrew Isaac, chair of the children’s services development group, raised concerns over increasingly complex issues surrounding children entering care during the pandemic including mental health issues and risks from county lines drugs gangs. 

Charlotte Ramsden, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, added that local authorities “had become better at identifying children who are vulnerable, recognising their needs and bringing them into care appropriately”.

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