This is one of a series of articles reporting on the large-scale ‘Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes Study’ (McSherry et al, 2008). The study has been examining a population of young children (n=374) who were in care under five years of age in Northern Ireland, and initially followed them across a four-year period (2000-2004). It has mapped these young children’s care careers, and explored factors relating to five care pathways that these children progressed along, i.e. towards adoption; long-term non-relative foster care; long-term relative foster care; Residence Order; and return to birth parent/s. This paper will examine the children’s care pathway patterns from 2000 to 2004, and will identify the background factors that appear to have influenced their specific care pathway. These background factors relate to the age of child, length of time in care, the child’s health, the child’s behaviour and regional variation. The findings indicate that although the care pathway patterns were to some extent similar to England and Wales, there were differences apparent to the Northern Ireland context.