A 1% increase in the number of children looked after by councils during 2015-16 was down to a rise in the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, new figures show.
Data released by the Department for Education on Thursday show the number of looked after unaccompanied children increased by 54% to 4,210 in March this year.
This accounted for just under 6% of the 70,440 children being looked after by councils in England in March. However, if unaccompanied asylum seeking children are removed from the data, there has been a 1% fall in the number of looked after children since March 2015.
Numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the care system have been on the increase since 2013-14. Last year was the second consecutive year that the increase was behind an overall rise in looked after children: if the 33% increase during 2014-15 is removed from that year’s figures there was a 0.03% fall in the total number of looked after children.
The DfE report says two-thirds of unaccompanied children were located in London and the south east, with a further 11% in the east of England. Councils in the north east were looking after just 20 unaccompanied asylum seeking children in March 2015.
The number of such children being looked after by Kent CC rose by 136% to 865.
However, Kent leader Paul Carter (Con) said earlier this month that the council was now looking after close to 1,500 unaccompanied children, suggesting the numbers could now be even higher. He called for the government to introduce a mandatory dispersal scheme to share the burden.
The report also provides details on the overall level of looked-after children in England which has increased by 5% increase since 2012.
A total of 32,050 children entered care during 2015-16, compared to 31,340 last year.
The number of children who ceased to be looked after increased slightly to 31,710, with 34% returning home to live with parents or relatives.
The report revealed 4,690 looked-after children were adopted in 2015-16, a fall of 12% from the previous year, despite former prime minister David Cameron’s pledge to increase permanent adoption rates.
Of the 26,340 former care leavers aged 19, 20 and 21 years old, 40% were not in employment, education or training, compared to 14% of the age group nationally.