How Many Children are in Foster Care in the UK?

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The number of children entering the UK care system each year could be called an epidemic. We need thousands of new foster families to meet demand, yet there aren’t enough loving homes for these vulnerable young people with complex needs.

We’re not trying to paint a bleak picture – we’re here to present the facts. Keep reading as we highlight the discrepancies and answer all your questions, including:

  • How does the foster care system work?
  • How many children are in foster care in the UK?
  • What is the average age of children in care?
  • What is the split between local authorities and independent agencies?
  • How many foster children are adopted?
  • How can I help foster children?

We’ve sourced statistics from the most recent studies (as of April 2021) conducted by pioneering charities and government bodies.

How does the foster care system work?

There are many reasons children enter the foster care system, including abuse, neglect, family crises and unsafe living environments. More often than not, medical professionals, teachers or family members alert the authorities when they believe a child is at risk.

When children have been removed from their homes, local authorities and independent agencies step in to provide long-term or short-term care. While some placements lead to adoption, most are temporary. The ultimate goal is for social workers to help birth families with reunification where possible.

Children officially remain in the system until they’re 18 years old. However, many foster families choose to continue with living arrangements after this time.

How many children are in foster care in the UK?

The latest government study covers 31 March 2019 to 31 March 2020. It reveals 80,080 children were in care on 31 March 2020, increasing 2% from 78,140 the previous period.

Unfortunately, not all of these children find homes. The Fostering Network, the UK’s leading fostering charity, conducted further research. It found that only 57,380 children lived with foster families in England as of 31 March 2020. In Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, this figure was 12,463 combined.

The statistics demonstrate we need thousands more foster families to meet demand. There are over 10,000 young people who currently remain in residential care homes without the support of a stable family unit.

Key findings:

  • 80,080 children in care in the UK – up 2% from last year
  • 57,380 children with foster families in England
  • 2,673 children with foster families in Northern Ireland
  • 4,800 children with foster families in Scotland
  • 4,990 children with foster families in Wales

What is the average age of children in care?

According to a government research paper published in 2019, most children in care are between 10 to 15 years old.

Key findings (percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding):

  • 39% of children between 10 to 15 years
  • 24% of children 16 or over
  • 18% of children between 5 to 9 years
  • 13% of children between 1 to 4 years
  • 5% of children under 1 year

While fostering any child is a rewarding experience, there’s a strong case for more carers for preteens and teenagers. Looking after this age group comes with a treasure chest of life-affirming benefits, including a second chance at parenting and the opportunity to make a lifelong friend.

What is the split between local authorities and independent agencies?

Before starting your fostering journey, you need to decide whether to register with a local authority (LA) or an independent fostering agency (IFA) like Olive Branch Fostering.

Local authorities are councils, and they’re legally responsible for the safeguarding of all children in the care system (including those placed through IFAs).

Independent agencies, sometimes known as private fostering agencies, work closely with local authorities to find suitable carers for children. There are plenty of reasons why LAs need IFAs. Sometimes, councils have a shortage of registered carers. Then, agencies are often more suited to provide specialised care.

The placement split between the two is fairly equal. In the year leading up to 31 March 2020, local authorities found foster families for 59% of children, while independent agencies housed the remainder.

How many foster children are adopted?

It’s important to remember that adoption isn’t the ultimate goal of fostering. Wherever possible, social workers aim to reunite children with their birth families.

However, in extreme cases of abuse or neglect, children are eligible for adoption. Out of the 80,080 young people in care between 31 March 2019 to 31 March 2020, 3,440 were adopted. That’s a 4% decrease from the year before, continuing the downward trend from a peak of 5,360 adoptions in 2015.

How can I help foster children?

The statistics speak for themselves – we need more foster families to help change children’s lives. How can you help? If you have the right qualities, consider making an application today.

Becoming a foster carer has never been easier. While the process is comprehensive to ensure you can meet the needs of a vulnerable child, it’s relatively straightforward, and you’ll receive ample support every step of the way.

There are also many types of fostering. They include:

  • Emergency
  • Short-term
  • Long-term
  • Short break, respite or shared
  • Parent & child

If you’re worried about the time commitment of a long-term placement, you could become a short break or respite carer instead. They provide much-needed rest for birth families and full-time carers by looking after children from anywhere between a few hours each week to a couple of weekends per month.

Are you ready to become a foster carer?

If you’re interested in making an application and starting your fostering journey, we can help. Here at Olive Branch Fostering, we’re committed to finding passionate carers and matching them with children in need. You’ll receive plenty of training and support throughout the process.

To find out more, contact our friendly team today. Alternatively, give us a call on 01706 558910 to arrange an informal chat with our friendly advisors. There’s no obligation to go any further – we’re happy to answer all your questions without any next steps.