Children looked after return: guide to submitting data

How local authorities should collect and submit data for the annual children looked after return (also known as SSDA903).

Applies to England

The children looked after return is an annual statutory data collection for all local authorities. You must complete statutory censuses by law unless there’s a good reason not to.

The data covers the financial year (1 April to 31 March). It records details of:

  • every child your local authority looks after at any time during the year
  • all young people who are eligible for care leaver support and whose 17th to 25th birthdays fall within the collection period
  • information on the health of children who have been looked after continuously for 12 months
  • information on adoptions of looked-after children

Under the Children Act 1989, a child is legally defined as ‘looked after’ by a local authority if he or she:

  • gets accommodation from the local authority for a continuous period of more than 24 hours
  • is subject to a care order (to put the child into the care of the local authority)
  • is subject to a placement order (to put the child up for adoption)

Important dates

2023 to 2024 return

  • collection opens Tuesday 2 April 2024
  • data loaded by Friday 31 May 2024
  • main children looked after data submitted by Friday 28 June 2024
  • social worker data submitted by Monday 30 September 2024

Submit your data

You should submit your 2023 to 2024 data in XML or CSV format using the ‘CLA 2023 application’. We’ll publish the application before the return opens and notify all users.

See the guide for local authorities for more information on preparing the data.

Return documents

The following documents will help local authorities complete the children looked after return:

2023 to 2024 return

2024 to 2025 return

Help with submitting data

For complex questions, or if you want to request a username and password for the CLA application, use the service request form. We aim to answer your question within 5 working days.


Use the feedback form if you have any comments about our data collection service, including the CLA system and the helpdesk service.

Updates to this page

Published 25 March 2014
Last updated 31 January 2024 + show all updates
  1. Updated the 'Important dates' section with new dates.

  2. The 2024 to 2025 return guide for local authorities and technical specification have been added. The 2023 to 2024 return dates have been added.

  3. Updated 'return documents' and 'important dates' sections with latest 2023 to 2024 information.

  4. Updated 'return documents' section with latest 2023 to 2024 information.

  5. Updated 'important dates' and 'return documents' sections with latest 2022-2023 information.

  6. Updated how to submit data for 2020 to 2021.

  7. Added links to the 2021 to 2022 return guide and technical specification and updated important dates for the 2020 to 2021 return.

  8. 2019 to 2020 return dates information updated.

  9. Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: the children looked after data collection will not open on 1 April.

  10. Added deadline for submitting 2019 to 2020 children looked after return data - Tuesday 30 June 2020.

  11. Added links to the 2020 to 2021 return guide and technical specification and updated important dates for the 2019 to 2020 return.

  12. Updated 'guide for local authorities' link in 'Submit your data' section.

  13. Added links to the 2019 to 2020 return guide and technical specification and updated important dates for the 2018 to 2019 return.

  14. Changed the opening date of the 2017 to 2018 return from Monday 2 April to Tuesday 3 April 2018 due to bank holiday.

  15. Added links to the 2018 to 2019 return guide and technical specification.

  16. Removed documents relating to 2016 to 2017 return.

  17. Added 'CLA return 2017 to 2018: technical specification'.

  18. Added link to 2017 to 2018 return guide for local authorities.

  19. Corrected dates for 2016 to 2017 submissions. Added dates for 2017 to 2018 submissions. Removed documents relating to 2015 to 2016 return.

  20. Added a link to the 'Children looked after return 2014 to 2015: validation rules'.

  21. Updated to show that the care-leaver data includes 17- and 18-year-olds.

  22. Added links to the technical specification and XML schema for the 2015 to 2016 return. Also added the dates, technical specification and guide for local authorities for the 2016 to 2017 return.

  23. Added 'Children looked after return 2014 to 2015: validation rules' link.

  24. Added link to 'Children looked after return 2015 to 2016: guide'.

  25. Added 2015 to 2016 return documents info.

  26. Added important dates for the 2014 to 2015 return.

  27. First published.

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