Introduction to the care system

Overview of the children’s care system in Wales

‘Children looked after’ or ‘looked after children’ refers to children who are looked after by local authorities in Wales. In this toolkit we will use the term ‘children who are care experienced’.

Most of the information in this section is taken from 2020/21 Welsh Government statistics for children looked after by local authorities.

Placement type

Children can live in the following types of placements:

  • With a relative (a “kinship placement” and a type of foster care)
  • With foster parents they are not related to
  • In a children’s care home
  • In other residential settings such as supported lodgings, a school or, for a small number of cases, a secure unit
  • With a prospective adopter (in certain circumstances)

Most children – about 70% – live in foster care. About one third of children in foster care are living with family or friends.

The majority of children who are not in foster care live in children’s care homes. These can be ‘regulated’, meaning that they are registered with and regulated by Care Inspectorate Wales, or ‘unregulated’, meaning that the accommodation is not registered with or inspected by CIW; in these cases the responsibility lies with the local authority to ensure it is of an acceptable standard and children are safe.

In 2020/21 there were 264 regulated children’s care homes in Wales, which were capable of accommodating 1,084 children. Since there is no central register, it is not known how many unregulated placements there are.

Accommodation in Wales is run by a mixture of private, local authority and not-for-profit providers. Over 80% of care homes for children and young people in Wales are owned and run by the private sector. Just over half of fostering services are run by the private sector and the rest by local authorities. For more information about this, see the Welsh Government’s 2021 consultation relating to children’s social care here.

Children and young adults leaving care

662 young persons aged 16 and over left care between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021. 265 (40%) of those leaving were aged 18 or over when they left care. The chart below shows their reason for leaving care and gives an indication of the whether or not they were receiving familial support.

Care Inspectorate Wales

Care Inspectorate Wales is the independent regulator of social care and child care and carry out functions on behalf of Welsh ministers to drive improvements in social care and child care across Wales. CIW register, inspect and take action to improve the quality and safety of services for the well-being of the people of Wales. For further information, please see here.

Further information

For a more detailed insight into the children’s care system, see Care Inspectorate Wales’ National Overview Report in relation to care experienced children and young people.

The NPSCC web pages on the child protection system in Wales explain how this system works, outlines key legislation and provides further guidance for anyone working with children and young people.

More information about foster care in Wales can be found on the website of Foster Wales, a national network of 22 Welsh Local Authority Fostering Services.

Children in Wales, sponsored by the Welsh Government, have produced a Kinship Care Guide for Wales, which provides advice and information about this type of care.

To learn more about children’s residential care in Wales, see the report published by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, The Right Care. Children’s rights in residential care in Wales.

Statistics relating to children’s services are available on StatsWales. The ‘Children Looked After’ page provides details of numbers and characteristics of children who come into the care system, broken down by local authority and a facility to run personalised searches of the data.

Care Inspectorate Wales’ interactive data visualisation tool provides information on the number of services and places for children’s care home services across Wales.

Why are care experienced children and young adults more likely to be criminalised?

Care experienced children and adults are more likely to be criminalised because of a wide range of factors, and how professionals respond to these factors.

What is needed locally to reduce criminalisation?

Local responses to reduce criminalisation need to be led by a multi-agency group, with a protocol that outlines clear roles and responsibilities and reflects the All Wales Protocol approach. 

Data monitoring and reporting must be set up to identify good practice and local challenges such as hotspot locations where police are called out frequently to respond to minor incidents.