The government prefers to keep children out of care.
The boss of the UK's largest children's charity has said he regrets comments he made when he first took the job that being in care criminalises children.
Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnado's, told the BBC he now believes more children should be in care.
He said residential care was preferable to "ricocheting a child from foster care to foster care".
Mr Narey, joined the charity three years ago after serving as the the director general of the Prison Service.
In 2007 Mr Narey chaired a government working party into the future of the care population and also gave evidence to the Children, Schools and Families select committee which is going to publish results into year-long enquiry into care, in the spring.
He told BBC Radio 4's The Investigation: "When I arrived at Barnardo's three years ago, I said some rather glib things about the outcomes for children in care which I regret."
Mr Narey added: "I thought, and I was wrong, that there was necessarily something about being in care that criminalised children.
"The reality is that these children were already damaged and potentially criminalised and I don't believe many of them would have avoided prison had they not been in care."
He said there had to be a "genuine discussion" comparing the outcomes for a child taken into care or left with a family that struggles to provide a "reasonable level of care."
Around 16,000 parents a year ask the state to take their children in care.
The Government believes keeping children out of care is the preferred option.
Children's Minister Beverley Hughes told the Commons last year: "The best way to improve stability is by preventing children going into care in the first place.
"Children have told us they want to be cared for by family and friends whereever possible."
The Investigation, BBC Radio 4, 2000 GMT, Thursday 22 January 2009.
Having large numbers of children in care is seen as a failure by bodies such as Ofsted.
However Mr Narey told the BBC: "I believe there is some evidence to suggest that contrary to popular belief, that having more not fewer children in care and perhaps more in residential care, might be better for children rather than currently trying rather too hard to fix the family or as an alternative, ricocheting a child from foster care to foster care."
His views were backed by June Thorburn, Professor of Social Work at the University of East Anglia, who said: "What is happening in the UK, and this goes against the spirit of the 1989 Children's Act, is the belief that we should keep children out of care at all costs."