We reviewed our experience of children with acute renal failure. St James's University Hospital, Leeds, UK is a tertiary referral center that serves a relatively stable regional population (former Yorkshire region). It is a mixed rural and urban population providing a unique profile of the nature of the cases and workload experienced. The data is expressed as a function of age and compared against a previous era of paediatric nephrology and current adult incidence data. Over an 8-year period (1984-1991) 227 children were referred for dialysis management of acute renal failure. The yearly incidence was 0.8 per 100,000 total population. Acute renal failure in the child population was almost a fifth of the adult incidence. Age-related incidence however shows the highest incidence in the neonate/infant population and is comparable to adult data. The intensive care unit was needed for nearly half the children. For all ages hemolytic uremic syndrome was the commonest cause (45%). Surgery for congenital heart disease was predominant (63%) in the neonate group. The overall mortality was 25%. Primary renal disease accounts for only 7% of the etiologies and was the source for the majority that went on to require chronic renal replacement therapy. Acute renal failure is nearly always a secondary event in the face of other organ failure and the majority of the mortality arises from surgery for congenital heart disease. If the underlying condition is treatable, the prognosis for recovery from acute renal failure with appropriate supportive care is excellent.