Over 3,000 children were recorded as living in care in Northern Ireland in 2018 by the Department of Health. The number is the highest it has been since such data began to be collated following the Children (Northern Ireland) Order in 1995, showing that 71 in every 10,000 children are in care.
The majority of the 3,109 children in care have been in care for three years, or less, but almost one tenth of the children have been in care for 10 years or more. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Belfast is the area with the most children in care, with 766 during the year ending March 2018.
The next worst-affected area are the northernmost parts of Northern Ireland, where there are 671 children in care. Northern Ireland’s south east was the least affected area, with 498 children being “looked after”. The south east was also the only area to experience a drop in its numbers from March 2017. It fell from 521 while every other region suffered an increased number of children being placed under care.
The largest age grouping of the children is those between the ages of five and 11, who number 1,120 of the 3,109. The age brackets are broken into five groups: under one; one to four; five to 11; 12 to 15; and 16 and over. All age brackets other than 16 and over (which fell from 517 to 498) experienced increases in the last year, with the number of babies under one-year-old being placed into care numbering 130.
The vast majority of the 3,109 children accessed foster care in either of its forms; 2,451 overall, with 1,373 being placed in non-kinship foster care and the remaining 1,078 accessing kinship foster care. 365 of the children were placed with a parent and 166 were placed in residential care.
Overall numbers of children in care have risen every year since 2014, when a total of 2,858 children were recorded in care. The northern region is the only area of Northern Ireland to have seen a reduction in the overall numbers since 2014; despite its rise from 647 to 671 in 2018, this is still a decrease on the 693 in the system in 2014. Conversely, despite the south east’s fall from 521 to 498 in the last year of data collation, this is still an increase on 2014’s level of 454. Belfast has maintained a level of over 720 children over that time period, only seeing a decrease in numbers in 2016, when numbers fell to 739 from 2015’s 742.
These figures can be looked at in both positive and negative lights: one could argue that increasing numbers of children being reached are testament to the effectiveness and efficiencies of Northern Ireland’s social services, but could also argue just as easily that increasing numbers requiring the intervention of those social services are due to increases in child poverty and overall poverty. As it stands, Scotland remains the country with the highest proportion of children in care relative to their child population in the UK, with Wales coming in second. Northern Ireland is third, with England fourth.