It is for local authorities with social services responsibilities to determine the point at which an application is made to the court for an order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. Each application will depend upon the unique circumstances of the individual case with which they are dealing. In some cases, it will be appropriate for an order to be sought immediately regarding a child with whom the local authority will not previously have had contact. In other cases, social services may have been involved with a family over many years before concerns arise which make a care order under section 31 appropriate. Information on the time elapsed before the application of care orders is therefore not collected centrally.
Children entering local authority care are moved into a placement immediately. The majority of children entering care are immediately placed with foster carers. Of the 23,000 children who started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2008, 17,300 were placed with foster carers immediately.