This year about 90,000 children and young people in England will spend time being "looked after" by a local authority.
For many children, this will be a brief period while their family sorts out a crisis and then the children return home. For others, it can go on for longer and this can mean that children get cared for in different ways, for some as they grow into adolescence and for others until they become adults.
These different types of care include living with relatives, living with foster carers, being adopted, or living in a residential home with other young people. Sometimes it still ends up with children going back home or to other family members. All these ways of looking after children are part of the English "care system".
The aim of our care system is to support families to help keep children safe and happy, and to make sure that children have a permanent place to grow up in. But, as the learning from practice and the evidence from research develop, is the care system serving our children as well as it should be? The Care Inquiry - a collaboration of eight children's charities with a special interest in all the care options for these children and young people - wants to take stock on this important question.
Together the charities - Adoption UK, British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), Family Rights Group, the Fostering Network, Research in Practice, TACT, The Together Trust and The Who Cares? Trust - are using their expertise and knowledge and that of others in the sector to explore how society can best provide secure and stable homes for our most vulnerable children.
There will be three formal meetings of the Care Inquiry in November, December and January. Those invited to the formal meetings include researchers, local government policy makers, legal experts, service practitioners and managers, and young people and adults who have experience of the care system. Others will be invited to share their views in a variety of ways and can follow the Inquiry's progress @thecareinquiry.
The Care Inquiry will take a fresh look at which children come in and out of the care system, and will explore how they can have the same chances as other children to grow up with a positive sense of their identity and where they belong.
Local authorities make decisions about children in care in different ways. We want to find out more about why this happens and what it means for children and those close to them. We want to check what research studies and other reports have told us in recent years. We want to see what we can learn from the way other countries respond to the needs of children and young people who might not be able to stay at home or go back home from care. We want to get people talking about what they know, what they think, and what they themselves and others close to them can tell us about their own experience of the care system.
Why now? Well, the Government is reviewing different aspects of care, including how children's homes operate, which children get adopted, and what happens to contact with sisters, brothers and other relatives after adoption. There are likely to be changes in the law about these things next year.
The Inquiry aims to find out what more can be done to provide children with a sense that they have a home for life, and will ultimately make recommendations to Government about how the care system can best meet the needs of children and young people in the future.
Follow Dominic Stevenson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dom_stevenson