The population of children in care in England is at a 30-year high, official government statistics have revealed.
A total of 69,540 children were in care at the end of March 2015, the figures published today by the Department for Education said, and the number of looked-after children is “now higher than at any point since 1985”.
The figures show a continued rise in the number of children leaving care for special guardianship placements, and that there was a 15% reduction in the number of children placed for adoption at 31 March 2015 compared to the previous year, and a 24% fall in the number of children granted a placement order.
More than 6,000 children who were looked after during the year 2014-15 were recorded as missing at least once from their placement, new data for this year also revealed. Just over half of these children were accommodated in secure units, children’s homes or hostels when they went missing or away from placement.
Three-quarters of looked-after children are in foster placements, the data revealed, and almost half of children in foster placements eligible for care leaver support stayed with their foster carers for three months after their 18th birthday. Just under 40% of the 26,330 former care leavers aged 19, 20 or 21, were not in education, employment or training, the figures show.
Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the overall increase “has placed a massive burden on local authorities and it is to their enormous credit that this increasing challenge has been successfully met and these most vulnerable children continue to receive high quality care and support.
“We believe that the causes for this increase are complex and varied and warrant greater government attention and support, especially in the light of austerity.”
Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, called the 24% fall in children granted an adoption placement order “drastic” and warned that if it continues, there could soon be a “real crisis” for children who need adopting waiting an unnecessary length of time in care.
“It’s crucial that local authorities don’t shy away from acting decisively on adoption,” Khan said.
The fact that almost half of children are ‘staying put’ for a period of time after their 18th birthday was welcomed by the Children’s Commissioner for England.
Anne Longfield added that the increase in the percentage of children who go into care above the age of 16 needed further investigation.
“Authorities must make sure that they have suitable provision for this age group and also that they receive ongoing support when they leave care,” Longfield said.