Resources & Tools

Foster Care Statistics: The Numbers & Their Meaning

Every year, the UK government releases comprehensive foster care statistics about looked-after children under local authority care at national and local authority level.

These foster care stats include information on the children who end up in foster care, as well as the outcomes for those children. We take a look at the most recent set of numbers* and what they reveal about the reality of foster care in the UK.

Who are the children in care?

In 2019, the foster system statistics showed that the number of children in care in England rose by 4% to a total of 78,150.

The number of children entering care during the year came down by 2%, as did the number of children ceasing to be looked after during the year.

Just over half of looked-after children are male.

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Age groups vary, with the majority being teenagers.

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16 years+
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1-15 years
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Under 1

Ethnicity is majority white.

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Black or Black British ethnicity

Reasons for entering care are many, but abuse and neglect are the most prevalent factors:
o Abuse or neglect: 63%
o Family dysfunction: 14%
o Family in acute stress: 8%
o Absent parenting: 7%
o Child’s disability: 3%
o Parent’s illness: 3%
o Other: 2%

Reasons for leaving care include:
o Returning home: 30%
o Moving into independent living: 16%
o Special guardianship orders (where the child is appointed a special guardian): 13%
o Being adopted: 12%

Of all young people in care, children under local authority care are more likely to enter a ‘staying put’ arrangement and remain with their carers after they turn 18 (58%) compared to those under care with an independent fostering agency (42%).

Outcomes for children in care

The health and behavioural outcomes indicate low numbers of looked-after children involved in crime or substance abuse, though the numbers remain higher than the average:
o 3% of looked-after children over the age of 10 were convicted or subject to youth cautions – down from 5% the previous year.
o 4% were identified as having a substance misuse problem – the same as in the previous two years.
o Of looked-after children aged 5-16, 49% scored as having ‘normal’ emotional and behavioural health, 13% had ‘borderline’ scores, and 39% had scores which were a cause for concern.

• Children in care achieve slightly better in school than children in need* and are less likely to be persistently absent, though both groups achieve below non-looked-after children.
• Looked-after children are four times more likely to have a special educational need than other children.
• 78% of children in care who completed key stage 4 in 2016/17 were in sustained education or employment, compared to 74% of children in need.
*Children in need are those who remain with their family but need local authority services to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of development, to prevent significant or further harm to their health or development, or who are disabled.

What do the numbers mean?

The statistics clearly show how proper care is vital in helping children achieve – and while children from safe homes achieve best, looked-after children show better outcomes than children in need, indicating the important role foster care can play in a child’s development.

The numbers also suggest that young people under care with independent fostering agencies (IFAs) are more likely to return home than those being fostered through the local authority. At Compass Fostering, we strive to return foster children to their birth families, as this is a positive outcome for children and young people.

We can see from the statistics that children in care face significant challenges compared to non-looked-after children. The majority of children entering care are teens coming from abusive or neglectful homes and are in need of extensive support to help them get a fresh start so they can live up to their full potential.

That’s why it’s so important to equip foster carers with the proper training and tools to support foster children. At Compass Fostering, we offer extensive training and one-to-one support for our foster carers, including courses in:

  • Issues of Attachment and Trauma
  • Understanding Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • Parent and Child Training
  • Management and Support for ADHD
  • Managing Anger
  • Cultural Awareness and Diversity
  • Paediatric First Aid
  • Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children and Young People (UASC)
  • “Talking Your Way Out of Trouble”
  • Positive Psychology and Building Resilience

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