National statistics for fostering and adoption

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

There are currently around 99,000 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 to recruit 8,600 more foster families to meet the need.

At 31 December 2018, there were 2750 children waiting for adoption in England. 39% of these had been waiting eighteen months or more.

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  • There are approximately 78,000looked after children.1
  • The number of children starting to be looked after (31,680) has fallen by 2% from 2018 (32,050).2
  • 56% of looked after children are male and 44% are female.3
  • Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children make up 6% of the looked after children population.4
  • 13% of children ceased to be looked due to receiving a special guardianship order.5


  • 72% of looked after children are in foster placements.6
  • It is estimated that a further 7,220foster families need to be recruited over the next year.7
  • Over the past year, 10% of fostered children have had three or more placements.8


  • 3,570 children ceased to be looked after due to adoption, a 7% decrease from 2018.9
  • The average age of adoption is 3 years and 1 month.10
  • The number of looked after children with a placement order for adoption has fallen by 35% since 2015.11

Ethnicity of looked after children

  • 74% White
  • 10% Mixed
  • 8% Black or black British
  • 4% Asian or Asian British
  • 4% Other ethnic groups, including Chinese

Reason for becoming looked after

  • 63% Abuse or neglect
  • 14% Family dysfunction
  • 8% Family being in acute stress
  • 7% Absent parenting
  • 3% Child’s disability
  • 3% Parent’s illness
  • 2% 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.14
  • One third of care leavers become homeless within the first two years of leaving care15 and 25% of homeless people are care experienced.16
  • 39% of care leavers aged 19-21 were NEET* compared to 12%of all 19-21 year olds.17
  • 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, the same as 2018.18



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 580 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.

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

This is no longer collected as national data.

Care leavers and care experienced young people

  • 26% of prisoners are care-experienced, with 27% of care experienced prisoners having experienced more than six different placements whilst in care.9
  • Only 12% of school leavers who have been in care for the entirety of their final year have one qualification at Level 6 or better.10
  • It is estimated that 17%of young people leaving care who are eligible for aftercare go on to make a homeless application.11
  • 28% of young people leave care without a formal ‘pathway’ plan for their next steps.12
  • Of young people leaving care eligible for aftercare services, 38% did not receive any.13

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



  • 6,800 children are classified as looked after, an increase of 7% from the previous year.1
  • 9% of looked after children had three or more placements over the past year.2


  • 71% of looked after children are accommodated in foster care placements.3
  • It is estimated that fostering services need to recruit a further 550foster families.4


  • 309 children were adopted in 2018-19 – a 3% increase on the previous year.5
  • 8% of children were adopted by their former foster carer, a proportion that has fallen steadily over the past ten years but remained consistent over the last three years.6
  • At 31 March 2019, 338 children were waiting to be matched or placed with a new family.7

Ethnicity of looked after children

  • 91% White
  • 3% Mixed Ethnicity
  • 2% Asian or Asian British
  • 2% Black or Black British
  • 2% Other

Reason for becoming looked-after

  • 66% Abuse or neglect
  • 23% Family in acute stress or dysfunction
  • 5% Parental illness, disability or absence
  • 4% Socially unacceptable behaviour
  • 2% Other

Care leavers and care experienced young people

  • 53% of care leavers are in education, training or employment at 12 months after leaving care.10
  • Around 20% of homeless people in Wales are care leavers.11
  • 25% of adult prisoners are care experienced.12
  • 14% of young women leaving care are pregnant or already a Mother.13

Northern Ireland


  • There are 3280 children classified as looked after, a 6% increase on last year.1
  • 6% of looked after children live in residential care.2
  • 54% of children in care have been looked after for less than three years and 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 250 more foster families need to be recruited.5
  • 48% of children in foster care are in a kinship placement.6


  • 9% of those leaving care are adopted.7
  • Children wait on average, 3 years and 1 month to be adopted.8
  • 14% 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

  • 93% White
  • 7% Other ethnicities including mixed race, Irish/Roma Travellers, Black, Chinese and Pakistani

Care leavers and care experienced young people

  • 31% of children leaving care have no qualifications.11
  • 27% of care leavers aged 16-18 have 5 GCSEs (A*-C) or higher.12
  • Nearly 1 in 4 care leavers aged 16-18 had a statement of special educational needs.13
  • 35% of care leavers aged 19 were NEET*.14
  • 12% of all care leavers aged 19 were parents.15

*(not in education, employment or training)


Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC)

  • Between January and June 2019, around 2,800 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Europe.1
  • Between January and June 2019, the UK received 4,780 child asylum applications (not unaccompanied or separated), making up 5% of all applications across Europe. In contrast, Germany received 39% of applications, France 12%, Spain 11% and Greece 10%.2
  • In 2017, nearly 31,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe. At this time, the UK government agreed to resettle 480 (1.5%) of these.3
  • So far, 220 unaccompanied children have arrived in the UK through the Dubs amendment.4


  • 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 dies by suicide.

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 January 2020.



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