What Are The Routes Into Care for Young People In Wales?

This briefing highlights some of the key findings from a recent study from the Family Justice Data Partnership – a collaboration between Lancaster University and Swansea University – which investigates the routes into care for young people in Wales.

Written by Dr Charlotte Edney


In 2022/23, children aged 10–17 made up 64% of all looked after children in England and 58% in Wales (Department for Education 2024; StatWales 2024). Their experiences and needs are often much different to their younger counterparts. They are more at risk of extra-familial harms such as criminal and sexual exploitation and have complex needs including mental health difficulties, frequently the result of past trauma.

Previous research used data from the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru) to document an increase in the number of young people subject to section 31 care proceedings in England and Wales over time (Roe et al. 2021). This does not give the full picture though. Not all children who become looked after will appear in Cafcass data due to the use of out-of-court section 20/76 voluntary arrangements. Sometimes voluntary arrangements may negate the use of court proceedings altogether or may act as a precursor to proceedings. There has, so far, been little quantitative analysis using population-level administrative data on the use of voluntary arrangements. One of the main sources of information is based on published judgments which had an important impact on the way section 20/76 was used. This is evident in the number of young people coming before the family court.

A new report from the Family Justice Data Partnership – a collaboration between Lancaster University and Swansea University – investigates trends in young people entering care and their entry routes into care in Wales (North, L. et al. 2024). It is the first study to examine the pathways of young people going through the system using the Welsh Children Looked After (CLA) data, which is available through the SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) Databank.

The report shows that although the overall rate of children looked after in Wales has been relatively stable over time, the rate of young people entering care under section 76 has fallen over time and is coupled with an increase in the use of interim care orders. This has led to more young people appearing in the family courts. We discuss the most salient findings and implications.

Key Points

  • The rate of young people (aged 10–17) entering care has remained stable over time – but there is variation by age and geographic location
  • Just over two-thirds of young people entered care for the first time under a section76 voluntary arrangement
  • Just over a fifth of young people who entered care under section76 voluntary arrangements subsequently had compulsory legal action
  • One third of young people who entered care under an interim care order were placed with parents
  • 6 in 10 young people left care before their 18th birthday

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