Media Release

Shameful neglect – 50,000 children in care where council services are failing

The number of vulnerable children being cared for in areas where council services are failing is going up, a think-tank has revealed.

The Social Market Foundation said it was “shameful” that 48,723 children were looked after in Local Authorities whose services are classed as either “inadequate” or “requiring improvement.”

The number of children in care getting unacceptable treatment has risen since the SMF first revealed the “silent crisis” in care a year ago.

The SMF accused politicians and opinion-formers of “ignoring the welfare of thousands of the most vulnerable members of our society.  The think-tank called on ministers to establish a “Charter for Looked-After Children”, committing to raising the standards of care we expect and closing the gap in outcomes between children with experience of care and their peers.

It was supported by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, who said people would be “shocked” at the findings and said: “The Government has to put this right.”

The number of looked after children in England has been rising steadily for several years.  In 2013, there were 68,070 children in care. In 2018, the total was 75,420.   

The SMF found that 65% of all looked-after children in England are in council areas where services have been found wanting.

The SMF report, entitled “The Silent Crisis 2019” shows how spending time in care puts a child on course for educational and economic struggle in later life:

  • Nearly 40% of care leavers in England aged 19-21 are not in education, employment or training (NEET)[i]. This remains much higher than the NEET rate amongst all 16-24-year olds in England, which is just 11.1%.
  • Only 17.5% of pupils who were looked-after children achieved A*-C in both English and Mathematics GCSE. This is compared to almost 60% of non-looked after children
  • 42% of children in young offender institutions were previously in care.

Matthew Oakley, SMF senior researcher said:

“These are the children who need the most support and the best care. Yet we are collectively content to give them inadequate support and care.  This neglect is nothing less than shameful.”

“We know that looked after children need better. We know that failing to properly support looked after children will help to condemn them to a life of poverty and struggle or even worse.  And yet the numbers of such children in failing services is actually rising.  That is scandalous”

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“I welcome this work from the SMF, who like me want to see more public, political and media focus on some of the most vulnerable youngsters in our society.

“I think people will be shocked, that nearly a quarter of those going into care in recent years are older teenagers, shocked that whilst the numbers of children taken into care has been going up, the majority of councils have been assessed as being inadequate for children in care. The Government has to put this right. These most vulnerable kids have had the toughest start in life and rely on the state for nearly every aspect of their life.

“We might imagine from the news that potholes, street lights and bin collections are what Councils are for but looking after these vulnerable children properly is one of their most important roles and Government must make sure Councils make it the best experience they possibly can, part of which is funding them properly to do so. At the moment they aren’t, and too often it isn’t.” 

The SMF’s project “Looked-after children: the Silent Crisis” is supported by the Hadley Trust.

As part of the project, the think-tank has developed an interactive dashboard to allow MPs and others to see instantly how services in their area are performing. It can be found at



  1. In 2018, the SMF reported that 47,085 children were looked after in Local Authorities that are deemed to be falling short of a good standard
  2. The overall number of children in care is shown here:

 Number of looked-after children at 31st March

Source: Department for Education, Children looked after in England 2017, 2018

3. Regional breakdown:

More recently, the share of children who are looked after has also started to increase, with the number of looked-after children per 10,000 in England rising from 60 in 2016 to 64 children in 2018.[ii] Some regions across England saw larger increases than others. In particular, the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions. These regions also had relatively higher shares of looked-after children to begin with.

Figure 3: Number of Looked-After Children per 10,000 per region

Source: Department for Education, Children looked after in England 2018


For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Matthew Oakley on or James Kirkup, SMF Director, on and 07815 706 601

About the SMF:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. The SMF retains complete editorial independence of its publications.

[i] Department for Education, Children looked after in England, National tables

[ii] Department for Education, Children looked after in England, National tables


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