Statistical Information 1

Figures from the Study

Characteristics of the children in the study

There were 374 children who were under 5 years old and in care in Northern Ireland on the 31st of March 2000.  These children came into care for a number of reasons: Family history of alcohol abuse, 76%; family history of mental illness, 63%; family history of domestic violence, 76%; behavioural problems, 23%; developmental delay, 18%; in care due to neglect, 52%; in care due to abuse, 40%; from single parent households, 54%.

Where were the children living?

In the year 2000: 0% children were adopted, 14% lived with birth parents, 61% in non-relative foster care, 10% in foster care, 0% on residence orders, 13% in prospective adoption and 2% in assessment units. In the year 2002: 18% children were adopted, 22% lived with birth parents, 41% in non-relative foster care, 11% in foster care, 1% on residence orders, 7% in prospective adoption and 0% in assessment units. In the year 2004: 38% children were adopted, 27% lived with birth parents, 22% in non-relative foster care, 6% in foster care, 4% on residence orders, 3% in prospective adoption and 0% in assessment units.

Where the children were living in 2004! In 2004 153 children lived with adoptive parents, 97 with birth parents, 83 in non-relative foster care, 22 in relative foster care and 14 on residence orders. 

The range of placements presented represent 5 key care pathways for this group of children, i.e. towards adoption, placement with birth parents, non-relative foster care, relative foster care, and Residence Order. 

The percentage of children staying in non-relative foster care fell between 2000 and 2004 (from 61 to 22%).  This was mostly explained by the rise in the number of children being adopted (0 to 38%).  There was also an increase in the percentage of children living with their birth parents (14 to 27%), with this increase slowing with time, i.e. there was an 8% rise between 2000 and 2002, but only a 5% rise between 2002 and 2004.

Adoption has become a major care pathway for young children who are unable to return home from care in Northern Ireland.  This is an important finding, because 5 years before the study started, there were very few children being adopted from care in Northern Ireland (Kelly and Coulter, 1995).  However, despite the development of adoption, a large number of children seem destined to spend their childhoods in foster care.


The number (n=140) and the proportion (38%) of the children who were adopted by 2004 are evidence of the growth of a ‘permanence movement’ in Northern Ireland which has drawn inspiration from the developments in Great Britain, and has begun to make greater use of the Freeing Order provisions in the Adoption (NI) Order 1987 (Kelly and McSherry, 2002). 


Kelly, G. and Coulter, J. (1995)  The Children (NI) Order, 1995: A new era for fostering and adoption services.  Fostering and Adoption, 21(3), 28-34.

Kelly, G. and McSherry, D. (2002) Adoption from care in Northern Ireland: Problems in the process.  Child and Family Social Work, 7, 297-309.

Useful web sources

Information on adoption in the UK:

British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF): Information and advice on adoption and fostering in Northern Ireland:

Statistics on child protection and Looked After Children in Northern Ireland:

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