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Children in Need (CIN) are a group of children assessed as needing help and protection because of risks to their health or development. The latest Department for Education (DfE) figures on CIN show that there were 404,310 children in need as of March 31st 2022. This represents 3.3% of all children, a slightly higher rate than in recent years.[1] 57% of these children had a primary need of abuse or neglect and almost half of all interactions with children’s social care lasted 3 months or less.

A significant proportion of children are known to children’s social care at some point in their life. The DfE found that 16% of all children in 2020 were CIN at least once in the previous 8 years.[2] Estimates suggest that 25% of all children are CIN at least once before their 16th birthday. [3]

The age profile of children in need continues to shift towards older children. Between 2015 and 2022, the share of children in need who are 16 and over increased from 18% to 25% while the share of children in need who are between ages 1-4 decreased from 20% to 15%.

Number of Children in Need by age group

The source of referrals into children’s social care also continues to change with referrals increasingly coming from schools and police. The decrease in referrals from schools in 2021, coinciding with lower school attendance, was reversed in 2022.

Number of referrals into children’s social care by source

As in previous years, the most common factor identified at the end of a child’s assessment was concern about the child’s parent or carer being the victim of domestic abuse. This was identified as a factor in 160,690 episodes (31% of episodes with assessment factor information).

Several factors became more common in 2022 including the number of episodes with concerns around the mental health of the child, which increased by 13% since 2021 (from 77,390 to 87,750) and the number of times unaccompanied asylum seeker was identified as a factor, which increased by 71% since 2021 (from 3,200 to 4,080).

The Children’s Commissioner is committed to ensuring that Children in Need receive adequate support. CIN plans set out the support to be provided to a Child in Need and their family by Children’s Services. They are distinct from child protection plans, used when a child is found to have suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm. The Children’s Commissioner is planning to analyse the text in a sample of CIN plans to measure the extent to which they include clear, measurable outcomes for the child, the extent to which they clearly describe the support provided to the child, and the extent to which they incorporate children’s voice.

[1] All figures are from DfE, Characteristics of Children in Need (2022). Link
[2] DfE, Drivers of Activity in Children’s Social Care (2022). Link
[3] Jay, M. et al. (pre-print) ‘Model estimates of cumulative incidence of children in need status and referral to children’s social care from incomplete administrative data’. Link

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