Background Emerging evidence suggests that distant placements and multiple moves may be detrimental to young people in care settings. Less is known about the characteristics of young people in secure care most affected by these processes. Aims This study examined distance from home and number of previous placements in English young people detained in secure care and their relationships with organisational and individual characteristics. Methods Data were derived from the (2016) cross-sectional National Adolescent Study census of English young people in secure care, which included 1322 young people across secure mental health, welfare and Youth Justice establishments. Associations were described with odds ratios/95% confidence intervals (OR/CI). Results Overall, 285 young people (26.4%) were in secure placements over 100 miles from their family/local authority while 54 (5.6%) had 10 or more previous placements. These rates were higher in secure welfare than other settings (73.8%; OR (CI) = 9.62 (5.72, 16.18), 12.7%; OR (CI) = 2.76 (1.29, 5.91) respectively), and there was significant overlap between long-distance placement and multiple placements (n = 22; OR (CI) = 2.26 (1.27, 4.04)). Younger age and presence of neurodevelopmental disorder were also associated with long-distance placements while psychiatric diagnosis, previous secure placement, and previous service contact were linked to multiple placements. Conclusions Distant and/or multiple placements in young people in secure care appear common, particularly for those who are placed in secure welfare and who are younger and/or present with a psychiatric disorder. Multi-agency evaluations that capture the longitudinal experience of these vulnerable young people are needed to understand how undesirable patterns of placement in secure care occur and prevent future instances.