Children looked after

Project status Completed

The substantial and sustained increase in the rate of children in care in Wales over the past 25 years has been a source of policy concern

Wales has seen a rise in both the number and rate of children looked after. The rate is now higher than any time since the 1980s. In addition, Wales has consistently had more children looked after per 10,000 of the population than the rest of the UK. This trend is a cause for concern; particularly the impact on the outcomes of children who are taken into care in terms of educational attainment, health, unemployment, homelessness, and criminal justice. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to have worsened the situation.

The Centre published a briefing paper (Children looked after in Wales – Trends) describing the trends associated with children looked after in Wales at both a national and local level.

We have also developed a report (What do children and young people looked after and their families think about care?) summarising literature on the views of children and young people about the care system and identifying key findings for commissioners in Wales. This work was done with the understanding that care-experienced children and young people as well as their families have unique perspectives on the care system. Moreover, adoption of a Children’s Rights approach by public services in Wales demands that public bodies seek the views of children and young people and take them into account in decision-making processes.


We worked with Local authorities and the Welsh Government to explore why there is variation in rates of children looked after across Wales

While most Local Authorities within Wales have seen a rise in both the number and rate of children looked after, there is significant variation; some have seen the rate of children looked after fall since 2014.

Using published data, we developed several briefings (Children looked after in Wales – Factors contributing to variation in rates and Children looked after in Wales – Flows into and out of the Care System in Wales) exploring the factors driving these trends. Evidence suggests that factors associated with features of the population; differences in policy and practice; the role of parenting capacity and resources explain some of the variation at the local level.

The Centre also partnered with CASCADE to survey the children’s social care workforce in Wales to examine how practice drives variation across Wales. Social workers, managers, heads of services and directors responded to a survey developed in consultation with heads of children’s services, Social Care Wales and Welsh Government addressing the following topic areas:

  • What social workers and senior management think are the factors influencing care rates across Wales.
  • Whether there is variation in the values, decision making, views, and organisational and leadership practice in local authorities with different changes in rates (increasing, stable, decreasing), and between social workers and senior management in those local authorities.
  • The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on assessments of risk and practice.

Survey report.


The Centre explored approaches to managing placement provision and how multi-agency working in children’s services can lead to positive outcomes in Wales.

We worked with the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University (IPC) to review evidence on international approaches to managing placement provision for children and young people looked after.

The report identifies five key areas of divergence between countries studied, which would be suitable for further exploration:

  1. The balance between reunification and permanence.
  2. The incorporation of the voice of children and families in placement and decisions.
  3. The balance between state, private and third sector provision.
  4. The type of placement services.
  5. The approach to strategic commissioning.

‘At risk’ children and families will frequently interact with multiple agencies and services. It has been a long-held aspiration that these bodies and the services that they provide are better coordinated, and moreover, centred on the people that they are seeking to help. This aspiration has led to a series of policies from the Welsh Government seeking to promote multi-agency working to support children and families.

We looked at the evidence on factors that can increase the effectiveness of multi-agency working in children’s services and what that effectiveness can mean in terms of outcomes for children in care and their families.

We also worked with key agencies in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg (CTM) region to support them to identify how they could improve their multi-agency working to support children and families, and we partnered with CASCADE and Public Health Wales to undertake a piece of work to collate and describe the publicly accessible multi-agency data that could identify trends, risks and opportunities to inform the development of effective policies and services for vulnerable children and families.