National statistics for fostering and adoption

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This year in the UK, 40,000 children and young people will enter the care system. That’s 109 every day.

There are currently around 95,000 children in the UK who are classified as looked-after away from home. An increase of 3% from the previous year.

More than 65,000 children live with almost 55,000 foster families across the UK.

The UK urgently needs 8,100 more foster families to meet the need.

At 30 September 2018, there were 2730 children waiting for adoption in England. 41% of these had been waiting eighteen months or more.

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  • There are 75,000 looked after children.
  • The number of children starting to be looked after has decreased by 3% since 2017.
  • 56% of looked after children are male and 44% are female.
  • Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children make up 6% of the looked after children population.
  • 11% of children ceased to be looked with a special guardianship order.


  • 73% of looked after children are in foster placements.
  • It is estimated that a further 6,800 foster families need to be recruited over the next year.
  • Over the past year, 10% of fostered children have had three or more placements.


  • 3,820 children were adopted last year, a 13% decrease from the previous year.
  • The average age of adoption is 3 years and 3 months.
  • The number of looked after children with a placement order for adoption has fallen by 44% since 2014.

Ethnicity of looked after children

  • 75% White
  • 9% Mixed
  • 7% Black or black British
  • 5% Asian or Asian British
  • 3% Other ethnic groups, including Chinese

Reason for becoming looked after

  • 63% Abuse or neglect
  • 15% Family dysfunction
  • 8% Family being in acute stress
  • 6% Absent parenting
  • 8% Other

Care leavers and care-experienced young people

  • Nearly half of all young men (21 and under) in custody have experience of the care system.
  • One third of care leavers become homeless within the first two years of leaving care and 25% of homeless people are care-experienced.
  • Nearly 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 are NEET* compared to 12% of all 19-21 year olds.
  • 26% of 19 and 20-year olds continue to live with their former foster carers through ‘Staying Put’ despite ceasing to be looked after on their 18th birthday, a marginal increase on 2017.

*(not in education, training or employment)



Please note: A child classified as ‘looked after’ in Scotland includes all children looked after by a local authority, including some who remain living at home with their parents. Scotland is unique in this compared to the other UK nations.

  • There are around 11,000 looked after* children.
  • Just under 14% of all looked after* children are cared for in residential settings.


  • Approximately 50% of looked after* children live with foster families.
  • 38% of all looked after* children live with kinship carers.
  • It is estimated that a further 550 more foster families are needed.
  • 5% of all looked after children experience three or more placement changes every year.


  • Of children who cease to be looked after, around 7% go on to be adopted.
  • 68% of children who are adopted are under the age of five.
  • At 31 March 2019, there were 151 children and 125 adopters waiting to be matched on Scotland’s Adoption Register.

Ethnicity of looked after children (total looked-after population)

This is no longer collected as national data.

Care leavers and care experienced young people

  • One third of young offenders and almost one third of the adult prison population self-identify as care-experienced.
  • Only 16% of school leavers who have been in care for the entirety of their final year have one qualification at Level 6 or better.
  • Between 30-50% of the homeless population are care experienced.
  • 28% of young people leave care without a formal ‘pathway’ plan for their next steps.
  • Of young people leaving care eligible for aftercare services, 38% did not receive any.

*For the purposes of comparison with other UK nations, ‘looked after’ here refers to children looked after away from their home or parents.



  • 6,400 children are classified as looked after, an increase of 8% from the previous year.
  • 10% of looked after children had three or more placements over the past year.


  • 74% of looked after children are accommodated in foster care placements.
  • It is estimated that fostering services need to recruit a further 550 foster families.


  • 308 children were adopted in 2017-18.
  • 8% of children were adopted by their former foster carer, a proportion that has fallen steadily over the past ten years.
  • As of 31 March 2018, 350 children subject to a placement order were waiting to be matched with a family.

Ethnicity of looked after children

  • 92% White
  • 3% Mixed Ethnicity
  • 2% Asian or Asian British
  • 1% Black or Black British
  • 1% Other

Reason for becoming looked-after

  • 64% Abuse or neglect
  • 24% Family in acute stress or dysfunction
  • 7% Parental illness, disability or absence
  • 4% Socially unacceptable behaviour
  • 2% Other

Care leavers and care experienced young people

  • 51% of care leavers are in education, training or employment at 12 months after leaving care.
  • Between 20-30% of the young homeless population are care experienced.
  • 23% of children leaving care aged 16 or over have no formal qualifications, vocational or otherwise.
  • 25% of adult prisoners are care experienced and 14% of young women leaving care are pregnant or already a Mother.

Northern Ireland


  • There are 3100 children classified as looked after, a 4% increase on last year.1
  • 5% of looked after children live in residential care.2
  • Just under 10% of children have been Looked After for ten years or longer.3


  • 79% of looked after children are in foster placements.4
  • It is estimated that 200 more foster families need to be recruited.5
  • Around two fifths of children in foster care are in a kinship placement.6


  • 11% of those leaving care are adopted.7
  • Children wait on average, 3 years 2 months to be adopted.8
  • 9% of those leaving care go to live with their former foster carers via the ‘Going the Extra Mile’ (GEM) Scheme.9

Ethnicity of looked after children

  • 94% White
  • 6% Other ethnicities including mixed race, Irish/Roma Travellers, Black, Chinese and Pakistani

Care leavers and care experienced young people

  • 33% of children leaving care have no qualifications.11
  • 26% of care leavers aged 16-18 have 5 GCSEs (A*-C) or higher, compared to 82% of school leavers as a whole.12
  • 1 in 4 care leavers aged 16-18 had a statement of special educational needs.13
  • 39% of care leavers aged 19 were NEET*.14
  • 12% of all care leavers aged 19 were parents.15

*(not in education, employment or training)



  • There are between 2.7 and 8 million children residing in orphanages globally.
  • On average, 80% of children living in orphanages have at least one living parent.

The following statistics are based on reports carried out in one location:

  • 1 in 3 children exiting residential care institutions becomes homeless.
  • 1 in 5 children exiting residential care institutions gains a criminal record.
  • 1 in 10 children exiting residential care institutions commits suicide.
  • In Australia, 36% of Christian churches and 51% of individual church attendees were found to support overseas residential care institutions.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC)

  • During 2017, 172,362 people arrived in Europe via sea: just under half were women and children.
  • 92% of the 15,140 children who crossed the central Mediterranean between January and September 2017 were alone.
  • In 2017, Britain received just 3% of all asylum applications in the EU.

References and a full version of these statistics are available to download here.

For more information on statistics, visit:

Adoption UK
The Fostering Network
Department for Education

Page updated every six months. Last updated April 2019.



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