A child who has been in the care of their local authority for more than 24 hours is known as a looked after child; a child supported by social services or a child who has a social worker is called ‘being in care’ or ‘being looked after’.

Looked after children are also often referred to as children in care, a term which many children and young people prefer.

There are many thousands of children in care in the UK and the overall numbers have been increasing over the past decade. The majority (66% in England) of looked after children are in care because of abuse or neglect. 

In 2023 there were approximately 83,840 looked after children in the UK. This includes 33,000 children who started to be looked after (up 6% on 2022) and 31,680 children who ceased to be looked after (up 5% on 2022).

If you are in care you might live with a foster carer or in a shared house with key workers who are staff there to support you.

The most common reason for a child to leave care is to return to their family. Once children in care are aged 16 and over they should be supported to plan for when they turn 18. When they turn 18 they are called a ‘care leaver’. They are expected to be more independent and manage more things for themselves but their local council still has a responsibility to support them up until they are 25.

Here at LoveReading4Kids we believe every single child deserves to see themselves in a book, and find characters they can identify with within their pages. Books are mirrors when readers see their own lives reflected in the pages. Books are windows when they allow readers a view of lives and stories that are different from their own. Here we have collected a selection of highly recommended reads from our team of experts: a brilliant batch of books featuring children in the care system.

If you’re looking for a classic read, then look no further than two of my favourites from my childhood Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: the classic story of how an unhappy little girl who is orphaned at the age of 10 is transformed by the wonders of nature is a deeply touching one which provides hope and optimisim to readers.

If you’d like a book featuring children in foster care, then there are plenty of great reads here.

Probably Jacqueline Wilson’s most successful character creation. Tracy Beaker is a tough feisty little girl in a children’s home who longs to live in a real home with a real family one day. The author’s inspiration for the story came from seeing photos of children in local newspapers wanting to be fostered. It’s funny and sad in equal measure but ultimately uplifting and children of 7 or 8 upwards will want to read it again and again. Meet her in The Story of Tracy Beaker, the start of the series for 7+ / 9+ readers.

For 9+ / 11+ readers we highly recommend The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Raúf. Aniyah and Noah are in foster care with the remarkable Mrs Iwuchukwu, alongside Travis and Ben who become steadfast friends by her side for the madcap adventure to come. The reader gets gradual hints from flashbacks of what happened in their past as realisation dawns on Aniya and the reader becomes all too aware of the emotional cost of living in a home soured by domestic violence. But this happens within a safe context as Aniya and Noah have found a haven and a future. 

In addition, Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant is a beautifully characterised and engaging story about chidren going through the care system during the Thatcher years, and how friendship and sibling relationships sustained them through growing up and finding a home.

We also must mention here the work of E.L. Norry who has a particular interest in exploring difficult issues and complex characters. Through historical fiction, in Fablehouse, she draws on personal experiences as a mixed-race child and teenager growing up in the care system in Cardiff, Wales.

The beginning of an outstanding middle-grade adventure series, Fablehouse is a children's home like no other. Housed in a crumbling mansion that perches on a cliff and backs on to ancient mysterious woodland, this is the home for many of Britain's Brown Babies, children born to African American GIs and white, British women following the Second World War. Heather has already been through several children's homes and is trying her hardest not to trust Fablehouse and its unusual head teacher, Miss Isolde.

For 11+ / 13+ readers Needle by Patrice Lawrence comes with our LoveReading4Kids Star Book stamp of approval.  15 year-old Charlene is struggling to stay in control of her life. She’s been in care since her mother died two years ago and desperately misses her little sister, who is living with her own father. Written to be accessible to all readers, Needle lets us see through someone else’s eyes, highlighting the restrictive effects of society’s expectations of individuals. Vivid, powerful and unforgettable.

For 13+ readers Know My Place by Eve Ainsworth is a touching tale of a girl in foster care tryign to find a place acleld home. Particularly suitable for struggling or dyslexic teen readers this is a must-read. 

And final mention must go to the brand new book Glasgow Boys by Margaret McDonald. An astonishing debut that shows love can be so much more than blood, and even from darkest places hope can and does exist. Finlay and Banjo have both grown up in care, once as close as brothers, now they don’t speak at all. As both boys struggle with impending adulthood and uncertain futures, will the hope of new friends, the pain of past trauma and the possibility of future love, help them find each other again?

Raw and unflinchingly honest, Glasgow Boys will make you fall in love with its vulnerable main characters, and make you want to scream at the injustices so many some young people face.

In addition we have a collection of children’s books about adoption.

Here at LoveReading4Kids we are involved with Voices, the creative writing competition for children in care. Coram Voice is a leading children’s rights organisation, championing the rights of children in care and care leavers. They get young voices heard in decisions that matter to them and work to improve their lives through their advocates, their helpline and work such as A National Voice. The Voices creative writing competition is a unique way for young children in care and care leavers to tell us about their experiences. Find out more here.

Sources: NSPCC Statistics Briefing: Children In Care, January 2024