The number of children in care in England has continued to rise, official statistics have revealed.
The Department of Education figures show that there were 75,420 looked after children in England at 31 March 2018, up 4% on 31 March 2017.
The number of children starting to be looked after has fallen by 3%, after a period of gradual increases. In the year ending 31 March 2018, 32,050 children started to be looked after, down from 32,940 in 2017.
The number ceasing to be looked after has fallen again by 5% to 29,860, from a high of 31,850 in 2016. After falls in the last three years, the average duration of the latest period of care rose slightly this year, up from 758 days in 2017 to 772 days in 2018.
When a child is assessed by children’s services their primary need is recorded.The most common reason identified was'abuse or neglect' affecting 47,530 children.
After 'abuse and nelgect', the next most common reason was 'family dysfunction' affecting 11,270 children and a further 5,980 were given the primary need of ‘family being in acute stress’. There were 4,860 children identified as in need due to ‘absent parenting’, almost all of whom are unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The numbers and proportions of children looked after under a care order continue to increase and the number who are looked after through a voluntary arrangement continue to decrease. At 31 March 2018, 55,240 children looked after were looked after under a care order, up from 40,090 in 2014. Meanwhile 14,500 children were looked after under a voluntary agreement, down from a peak of 19,320 in 2015.
Seventy three per cent or 55,200 children looked after at 31 March 2018 were in foster placements, an increase from 53,010 in 2017 but similar proportions to previous years. An increasing proportion of those children in foster care have been placed with relatives or friends, up from 14% in 2014 to 18% in 2018.
At 31 March 2018, 59% of children looked after were placed inside the local authority boundary and 41% were placed outside, similar to last year.
In 2016 there was a large rise in the numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being looked after by local authorities. After a more modest increase in numbers last year, the numbers have fallen slightly in 2018. At 31 March 2018 there were 4,480 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, down 4% on the number at 31 March 2017.
The figures showed that 29,860 children ceased to be looked after in the year ending 31 March 2018, which is a fall of 5% on the 31,410 ceasing to be looked after in the year ending 31 March 2017. Of the children ceasing to be looked after, 31% returned home to their parents. 13% were adopted (down from 17% in 2014) and 11% ceased to be looked after with a special guardianship order.
In the year ending 31 March 2018, 11,530 looked after children had a missing incident, which was 11% of looked after children during the year. These children had 70,250 missing incidents, an average of 6.1 missing incidents per child.
The proportion of looked after children who were convicted or subject to youth cautions or youth conditional cautions during the year has remained stable. The percentage of children looked after who were identified as having a substance misuse problem has remained the same since 2016. Of the 52,180 children looked after for at least 12 months in the year ending 31 March 2018, 4% were identified as having a substance misuse problem.
Local authorities are expected to stay in touch with care leavers and provide statutory support to help the care leaver transition to living independently. In the year ending 31 March 2018, local authorities were in touch with 88% of 19 to 21 year olds care leavers.
The number and proportion of 19 and 20 year olds who ceased to be looked after on their 18th birthday and who were still living with their former foster carers (‘Staying Put’) increased slightly from 25% in 2017 to 26% in 2018.