Local authorities in England are required to routinely collect administrative data on children in care and cross-sectional analyses of national data are published by central government. This paper explores the usefulness of undertaking a longitudinal analysis of these data at local authority level to determine the care pathways for children entering care, differentiating by age at entry. The sample consisted of 2208 children who entered care in one English local authority over a six-year period, and who were followed up for at least 2 years. A logistic regression model was fitted to explore factors associated with children staying long term in care. Age at entry was a key determinant of where children ended up (return to a parent, special guardianship or residence order, adoption or staying long term in care). Only a minority of entrants (mainly those entering care in their middle years) remained in longer term care. For the vast majority of children, the ‘pre-care family context’ remains important as children will either return to parents or relatives or stay in touch with them. The findings are used to urge service planners to make full use of data on care entrants, especially age at entry, when deciding on the balance between the different placement options needed, and the social work service delivery models.