Children in need census: guide to submitting data

How local authorities should collect data from social care services to complete the annual children in need census.

The children in need census is an annual statutory census for all local authorities. You must complete statutory censuses by law unless there’s a good reason not to.

The census covers the financial year (1 April to 31 March).

It collects data on children referred to local authority social care services because their health or development is at risk. This includes:

  • children in local-authority care (in placements in a residential home, in a foster family, or with relatives)
  • children who are getting support from their local authority’s social care services
  • children who are the subject of a child protection plan
  • unborn children who will potentially need support from social care services

Important dates

2020 to 2021 census dates:

  • census opens: Thursday 1 April 2021
  • deadline for loading data: Wednesday 30 June 2021
  • deadline for submitting data: Friday 30 July 2021

Submit your data

You’ll need to:

  • register and log in with DfE Sign-in
  • use COLLECT to submit your data

Please contact your school or local authority approver, if:

  • you want to request a DfE Sign-in username or password so you can access COLLECT
  • ‘children in need census’ is not on the list of collections you can see in COLLECT

Get help using DfE Sign-in

If you do not know who your approver is, please use the DfE Sign-in request form.

If you’ve forgotten your password, use DfE Sign-in to reset it. You will need to click ‘Start now’ and then the ‘I’ve forgotten my password’ link.

Note that we’ll only be able to change the status of your data submission to ‘authorised’ once you’ve cleared all errors in the data in COLLECT.

Census documents

These documents will help you complete the census:

2020 to 2021 census guides

2021 to 2022 census guides

Factors identified at the end of assessment

This additional guide on the factors identified at the end of assessment (PDF, 730KB, 47 pages) explains how to complete the factors identified at the end of the assessment data item.

It includes information on the new child on child and adult on child sexual and physical abuse factors which are to be collected from the 2020 to 2021 census.

The additional guide is being revised for 2021 to 2022. The changes will include the new Child Criminal Exploitation assessment factor, which will be collected for the first time in the 2021 to 2022 census. The definitions of the existing assessment factors will also be updated to improve clarity and better support social workers in completing this valuable data item. We plan to publish the updated guide by the end of January 2021.

Do you need help?

Submitting data

For complex questions, please use the service request form. We aim to answer your question within 5 working days.


Please use the feedback form if you have any comments about our data collection service, including COLLECT and the helpdesk service.

Published 25 March 2014
Last updated 6 November 2020 + show all updates
  1. Added a link to the 2021 to 2022 census guides, technical specification and validation rules.

  2. Removed 2019 to 2020 census guides and added 2021 to 2022 census guide.

  3. 2019 to 2020 census dates information updated.

  4. Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: the children in need data collection will not open on 1 April.

  5. Added link to XML generator.

  6. Added link to 2020 to 2021 technical specification and validation rules.

  7. Removed 2018 to 2019 census guides and added 2020 to 2021 census guides, census dates and additional guide on the factors identified at the end of the assessment.

  8. Added link to 2019 to 2020 technical specification and validation rules.

  9. Updated 'Submit your data section' and DfE Sign-in help links.

  10. Updated COLLECT link from secure access to DfE sign in.

  11. Added 'deadline for loading data' dates.

  12. Added 2019 to 2020 census dates and links to guides, removed 2017 to 2018 census dates and links to guides.

  13. Changed 2018 census opening date to Tuesday 3 April, due to a bank holiday on Monday 2 April.

  14. Added link to 2018 to 2019 technical specification and validation rules

  15. Added deadlines and census guides for 2018 to 2019.

  16. Added a guide for local authorities on the reports that they can get from COLLECT.

  17. Added links to new generic COLLECT guides for schools and local authorities.

  18. Updated census dates for 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to 2018.

  19. Added links to the 2017 to 2018 guide, specification and validation rules. Added 2017 to 2018 census dates.

  20. Added a link to the COLLECT guidance for the 2015 to 2016 children in need census.

  21. Added a link to 'Children in need census 2015 to 2016: COLLECT report specifications'.

  22. Added a link to the 2016 to 2017 technical specification and validation rules.

  23. Added information and guidance for the 2016 to 2017 census.

  24. Added link to 'Children in need census 2014 to 2015: COLLECT reports guide'.

  25. Added COLLECT guide and XML generator for 2014 to 2015 census.

  26. Added important dates for the 2015 to 2016 census.

  27. Added 2015 to 2016 technical guides information.

  28. First published.