A study was carried out to identify the characteristics of children who do not attend appointments at general outpatient clinics. Over six months, 359 children who had an appointment at a general clinic were studied using a questionnaire given to parents (74% response rate) and by inspection of case notes. Based on their first appointment in the study period, children were divided into 'attenders' (n = 262) and 'non-attenders' (n = 97) for analysis. Non-attenders were significantly more likely to have one or more of the following characteristics: lower social class, poorer housing, unmarried parent(s) (56% v 33%), longer journey to clinic (35 v 27.6 minutes), more appointments per year (4.2 v 3.3), poorer past attendance record, and received their appointment by post (76% v 44%). Surprisingly parents of non-attenders rated their children to have a significantly more severe illness than those who attended. These results suggest that attendance is primarily determined by social and logistical factors as well as appointment details, rather than illness severity.