The number of looked-after children had risen prior to lockdown starting, Department for Education statistics have confirmed.
There were 80,080 children in care on 31 March – a rise of two per cent on the previous year, the ‘Children looked after in England including adoptions’ figures showed. The first lockdown began in March 2020.
The rate of children being looked after was 67 per 10 000 children aged under 18 years at 31 March 2020 - up from 65 per 10,000 children last year. The majority of looked after children were aged between 10 and 15.
When a child is assessed by children's services their primary need is recorded. Mainly, children came into care as a result of abuse or neglect (65%) followed by family dysfunction (14%) and families in acute distress (8%).
At 31 March 2020, 77% of children were looked after under a care order - a court order placing a child in the care or supervision of a local authority - up from 75% last year.
The majority of the 80,080 looked after children – 72% - are in a foster placement.
For the rest of looked after children:
- 13% were in secure units, children's homes or semi-independent living accommodation (for example hostels, lodgings or flats where staff are employed to provide support and advice
- 7% were living with parents
- 3% were living in the community, independently or in residential employment
- 3% were adopted
- 2% were in other residential settings (including care homes, schools or custody).
The number of looked after children who were adopted fell by 4% from 3,590 in 2019 to 3,440 in 2020. Adoptions rose sharply from 2011 to a peak in 2015 at 5,360 but has since been decreasing.
Most children in care, 68%, had just one placement in the year but 11% had three or more. Placements inside the council boundary accounted for 58% of all CLA placements, 73% in total were placed within 20 miles of home but 20% were not. Information for the remaining 7% was not known or not recorded - this could be because the home address is not known, the child is UASC, or for reasons of confidentiality for example children placed for adoption.
The number of UASC was 5,000, down 3% on the peak of 5,140 UASC last year. UASC currently represent around 6% of all CLA, are generally male (90%) and 86% are aged 16 and over which is up from 85% last year and 81% in 2018. Absent parenting was the main category of need for these young people - 87%.
UASC are not distributed evenly across the country - they tend to be concentrated in local authorities that are points of entry to the country, for example Kent or Croydon.
Missing incidents were reported for 11% of looked-after children which equates to 12,430 children in 2020 and there were 81,090 missing incidents. This is an average (mean) of 6.5 missing incidents per child who went missing.
The largest proportion of missing incidents were from secure units, children’s homes and semi-independent living arrangements (56%), however this is likely because more older children are placed in these settings and older children are more likely to go missing. However, 25% of missing incidents were from foster placements and 14% from looked after children who were living independently.
Away without authorisation incidents were reported for 3% or 3,390 looked after children.
Jenny Coles, ADCS President said: “These figures show the continued support that local authorities provide to children and young people in their local areas to safeguard and protect them. ADCS research shows that the number of children in care has increased significantly over the past decade, while local authorities have faced a 50% reduction in budgets since 2010. Yet despite the barriers, we continue to work intensively with children and families to enable them to stay together safely. Only through long-term national investment in early help can we ensure that children are not taken into care when they could have stayed with their family and had their needs been met earlier."
"These figures are largely unaffected by the Covid 19 pandemic. While the true impact of national and local lockdowns on vulnerable children and families is only starting to emerge, we anticipate that it will remain with us throughout next year and beyond, with families presenting greater complexity of need. It is essential that we have both the capacity and resources to meet these needs as quickly as possible. The government must provide the sector with a sustainable, equitable and long-term financial settlement that enables children to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic,” she added.