Children in Foster Care

Guide to Foster Care - Part Five

When you hear about children in foster care, what kind of image does it conjure up? The truth is, there’s no typical type of foster child. Here are some of the facts about children who live with foster families.
Children in Foster Care
It makes sense that most children do better when they live at home with their parents, but it is not always possible. Sometimes, a local authority decides that a child needs to live away from their parents because trained foster carers will be better placed to meet their needs.
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Looked after Children

These days most looked after children enter the foster care system. It’s often considered the best alternative to living with their parents. That’s because it gives them the opportunity of living in a family setting where they can receive adequate care until they return home.
The number of children looked after continues to rise throughout the United Kingdom. Statistics from the Department for Education show the following at 31st July 2019:

Children Looked After in England

The number of children looked after in England was up 4% to 78,150. The number of children starting to be looked after during the year was down 2% to 31,680. And the number of children ceasing to be looked after during the year was down 2% to 29,460.
Department of Education Statistics

Children's social care statistics for Northern Ireland

Children’s social care statistics for Northern Ireland presents figures, collected from each of the five health and social care trusts, for children in need at 31 March and year ending 31 March 2019.

In Northern Ireland, at 31 March 2019, 2,592 (around 79%) of the 3,281 children in care looked after were living with foster families. You can get detailed statistics for Northern Ireland at the Department of Health website.

Children's social care statistics for Scotland

On 31 July 2019 there were 4,730 children in Scotland who were living with foster families.
Get more useful statistics about children looked after in Scotland from the Scottish Government website.


In Wales, 6,846 children were looked after on 31 March 2019, an increase of 439 (7%) on the previous year.
Table 3 shows 71 per cent of looked after children at 31 March 2019 were accommodated in foster care placements, a gradual decline in proportion since 31 March 2015.
Looked After Children Statistics for Wales
For more statistics visit the Welsh Government Website.

Which Children Need Foster Care?

Statistically, children in foster care are less likely to have grown up in the right sort of environment. Many may not have experienced the feeling of safety and the stability that most of us do during childhood.
There are a lot of factors can lead to children being fostered. Common reasons include:
Department of Education statistics show that over 60% of all children in care have experienced abuse or neglect. This statistic is similar for children in foster care.
Proportions of Children Looked After by primary need (England, 31 March 2019)
Source: SSDA903

Ages of Children in Care

The age profile of children in care has changed in recent years. There’s been a fall in the numbers of children aged between 1 and 4. For children aged 10 and older, there’s been a rise in the number. So the average age of children in foster care is now slightly older.

Proportions of children looked after at 31 March 2017 in England by age group (in years)

Department of Education SSDA903 return from English local authorities


The ethnic breakdown for children in care hasn’t changed much since 2011. The majority at 31st March 2017 (75%) are from a white British background: reflecting the general population of all children.
Children of mixed ethnicity are slightly over-represented, while children of Asian ethnicity are slightly under-represented. Over the last five years, there have been small increases in the proportions of looked after children of non-white ethnicity which is likely to reflect the rise in the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Problems Faced by Children in Foster Care

In theory, foster children should have a say in where they live. But in practice, they often don’t. At times children are moved from placements where they are happy. They can also get stuck in a foster placement where they are unhappy – mainly due to the shortage of foster carers and resulting lack of foster placements.
As mentioned before, there’s no typical type of foster child. But something most of them have in common is having to deal with the psychological effects of being separated from their parents. Some, experience a profound sense of loss. At the same time, they face the challenge of trying to settle into a new environment, with total strangers, and a new set of rules.
Children who have endured periods of neglect or abuse will often have significant physical, psychological and social needs. They may have behavioural or attachment difficulties, and some degree of developmental delay. They are likely to experience more problems with education, many have poor attendance at school, and a high percentage are in special education.

Parents of Children in Foster Care

When a child enters foster care, it’s a difficult time for everyone concerned. Just like their children, parents often experience a sense of loss. But it’s important to recognise that the right type of foster care can still lead to a positive outcome.
The whole purpose of fostering is to safeguard children and produce the best outcomes. If appropriate this includes a child maintaining contact with their parents. Children don’t usually want new parents; they just want to feel cared for and loved.
Where possible, parents of children in foster care contribute to the decision-making processes. It is good practice for them to remain involved in their child’s life whenever it’s appropriate.
Parents of children in foster care shouldn’t be judged either. There are all sorts of circumstances that lead to the breakdown of a family unit.
Children in Foster Care is the 5th part of our 6-part Guide to Foster Care. Part 6 looks at Frequently Asked Questions.
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