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Children in care

Local authorities in England looked after 68,110 children on 31 March 2013. Most of these children, 75%, were fostered. In 2012-13, authorities spent £1.5 billion on fostering services and £1 billion on residential care. A child is ‘looked after’ by a council when a care order, granted by a court, gives the council parental responsibility for the child. Alternatively, the council may provide accommodation for the child under a voluntary arrangement with the child’s parents, or if a child is remanded or convicted by the courts. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of children were in care because they had suffered abuse or neglect.

Children’s early experiences can have long-term impacts on their emotional and physical health, social development, education and future employment. Children in care do less well in school than their peers. They are also more likely to experience problems in later life, which can have a wider social impact and lead to higher costs to the public purse. In 2013, 34% of all care leavers were not in employment, education or training, at age 19, compared to 15.5% of 18-year-olds in the general population. By taking a child into care local authorities aim to protect children from further harm, improve outcomes for them, and address a child’s basic need for good parenting.

The Department for Education (the Department) has objectives to improve the quality of care and the stability of placements for children in residential or foster care, so that all children have a good start in life. The Department works with others to meet its objectives (Figure 1 overleaf). Local authorities have a duty to look after their children in care and they use a mixture of their own, private and third sector-run fostering services and residential homes. Social workers judge when to take children into care, assess their needs and the type of placement required, and recommend when they should leave care. Ofsted regulates and inspects independent fostering agencies and individual residential homes against standards set by the Department. It also inspects local authority fostering services. These inspections make judgements on how effectively local authorities meet the needs of children in care. How well services meet the needs of children depends on all parts of this system working effectively together.