Media Release

Institutional neglect: 50,000 children in care where council services are failing

Almost 50,000 vulnerable children are being cared for in areas where council services are failing them, a think tank has revealed.  

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) accused politicians of ignoring the “silent crisis” in care services that condemns tens of thousands of children to poor care followed by social and economic problems throughout their adult lives.

The SMF analysed inspection data from Ofsted, which assesses local councils’ services for children in need of help and protection, looked-after children and care leavers.

The analysis showed that 63% of Local Authorities in England are providing services for these children which either “require improvement” or are simply “inadequate.”

The SMF calculations based on these figures show that this means that 47,085 children65% of all looked-after children are looked after in Local Authorities that are deemed to be falling short of a good standard.

Of those children, 13,790 are receiving care services judged as “inadequate”, the worst possible grade.

The SMF said that politicians pay too little attention to the poor quality of care many looked-after children receive. 

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

The SMF report, entitled “Looked-after children: the Silent Crisis” was supported by the Hadley Trust. The report compared the amount of political attention given to school standards, accusing politicians of turning a blind eye to failings that affect vulnerable children.

The SMF said: “It is remarkable that the fact that nearly two thirds of Local Authorities being judged in need of improvement or inadequate over looked-after children is scarcely discussed at Westminster. This would not be the case if such levels of failure were found in our school system, where 78% (secondary) and 90% (primary) are judged to be either good or outstanding.

“This issue clearly needs to receive more attention from politicians and policymakers, and with improvements in the data available, we now have the ability to see where we are going wrong, and how we might improve the situation of looked after children.”


Matthew Oakley, SMF Senior Researcher, said:

“This report shows that we are letting down tens of thousands of the most vulnerable children in society. That’s bad enough in itself, but the political neglect of this issue and these children makes this poor performance all the more offensive. This is a burning injustice where the smoke, flames and victims are routinely ignored. 

“These figures should have already set alarm bells ringing in Westminster, but instead, politicians of all parties squabble on Twitter and play games over leadership, while overlooking crucial domestic issues that involve real people and real lives. 

“These children desperately need the people who are supposed to lead this country to pay more attention and commit to improving children’s services. We all then have a duty to hold politicians to account to ensure that the support and outcomes for these vulnerable children are improved.”


Better care is especially important because being in care is strongly associated with lifelong social and economic problems. Children in care account for around 1% of all children but looked after children (LAC) and care-leavers make up much higher proportions of groups experiencing disadvantage:

  • In 2015-2016 it was estimated that approximately 39% of the children in secure training centres had been in care.
  • Only 14% of LAC get 5 good GCSES.
  • Almost 25% of the adult prison population has previously been in care, and children who have been in care reoffend at roughly twice the rate of children who have never been looked after.
  • Nearly half of all children in care had a diagnosable mental health issue in 2015. The proportion of care leavers between the ages of 19 and 21 not in education or training was approximately 40% in 2017.



For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Matthew Oakley on or James Kirkup, SMF Director, on and 07815 706 601
The full report can be found at


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.


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