Anne Longfield launches the Centre for Young Lives

February 2, 2024
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Anne Longfield CBE

I’m very proud and excited to launch of the Centre for Young Lives – a new, dynamic, innovative, independent think tank and delivery unit dedicated exclusively to improving the lives of children, young people, and families in the UK.

The Centre for Young Lives’ experienced team will provide informed and expert insight, produce quantitative and qualitative research and analysis, and campaign for and deliver change.

Our ambition is for the Centre for Young Lives to become a leading, evidence-led, trusted public voice on issues affecting children and young people in the UK, just as the Institute of Fiscal Studies or Resolution Foundation are on economic issues.

Crucially, we will be solutions focused.

From supporting children in their earliest years to empowering and protecting those young people at risk of lost life chances or harm, we will shine a spotlight and raise the profile of the biggest challenges facing children both now and in the future. We will campaign for change, and we will be part of delivering it.

We believe most children and families in our country are doing well. They will receive a good education, and most will find good jobs, own their own homes. They can expect to live long and healthy lives.The pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have had an impact on many, but most will recover.

However, there is a sizeable group – in fact millions of children and families - for whom this isn't the case.

The impact of entrenched, generational disadvantage and vulnerability is having a devastating impact on many children’s lives, their future opportunities, and our prosperity as a nation.

Many have complex problems, growing up in homes where there are mental health problems, violence or addiction, poverty, poor housing, or insecure employment.

Too many of these problems start in childhood and continue into adult life, and then cascade down from generation to generation without the cycle ever being broken, and without families receiving the extra support that can boost their resilience and opportunities.

It is these children who are more likely to start school behind the rest of their peers, and who often begin their primary school years with speech and language problems. Some will fall out of school, and too many will leave education without even the basic qualifications, limiting their opportunities to find good jobs or apprenticeships.

The social and economic cost to our country is huge, not just in lost opportunity, but also the additional pressure it puts on public services and the public purse.

Systems that should be there to support children to thrive - and to protect them from harm – have not always received the reform or attention they deserve from government. They are not always able to provide the preventative work they were initially designed for, and instead are surviving in a state of almost permanent, expensive crisis.

The number of children and families growing up with vulnerabilities is far too high and it will continue to remain high without reform.

Around 1 in 6 of all children in England are living in families where there are serious problems with parental mental health, domestic violence, and/or alcohol or drug addiction.

A third of children are growing up in poverty.

One in six children have a probable mental health disorder.

Around one in five children leave school without the basic qualifications needed to continue in education or take up an apprenticeship.

Thousands of children are vulnerable to involvement in serious violence or criminal exploitation.  

There are also significant regional disparities, particularly in the North of England, where the density of more entrenched disadvantage is impacting the life chances of far too many children.

Added to this is the long-term impact of the Covid pandemic. It can be seen in the problems schools are experiencing with attendance and behaviour, the high levels of mental health conditions among children, and the worrying developmental problems affecting many children starting school.

Many systems are struggling to cope. The 70%cut in spending on early intervention and prevention since 2010 has left too many services only able to intervene at times of acute crisis. Even then, support can be patchy and short-lived.

The terrible irony is that this fall in spending and the insufficient focus on innovation around prevention has led to higher spending elsewhere. Over recent years, spending on children's services has rocketed, with many local authorities experiencing serious financial difficulties arising from the eye-watering bills that result in providing statutory children's social care.  

This is financially unsustainable, and it is not serving children or families well.

At the same time, schools say they are spending more and more time as “social workers” because of the social problems in their classrooms. Police chiefs say they spend huge amounts of time and resource dealing with vulnerable children.

We have launched the Centre for Young Lives because we do not accept it always has to be this way.

We believe many children in care could be living successfully with their families with some extra support.

We think every child should have the opportunity to progress successfully through education and into university, apprenticeships, or good jobs.

We believe systems of prevention can be restored, cutting the number of children and families in crisis and the growing costs of failure to invest early.

We believe that talent is everywhere among our children and young people, even if opportunity is not.

The Centre for Young Lives will have a relentless focus on solutions, backed up by data and evidence to make the case for, to test and to drive reforms, shaping policy that understands real people’s lives and uses the best innovation to do things differently.

We will take a strong interest in issues impacting on the lives of vulnerable children, but we will also focus on research, policy and campaigns that can improve the outcomes and opportunities for all children in the UK.

We believe that our country needs a reset inits approach to how we support children, young people, and their families. We have already started to work with organisations and individuals who share our belief that Britain should be the best place to grow up for every child.

Over the next few months, we aim to expand our work – and we are looking for more partnerships, further funding, and for people who want to deliver change for children and young people.

Come and join us.

Anne Longfield
Executive Chair of the Centre for Young Lives

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Meet the Author

Anne Longfield CBE
Co-Founder and Executive Chair, Centre for Young Lives

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