22 January 2024

The new Centre for Young Lives

The new Centre for Young Lives image
Image: Da Antipina / Shutterstock.com

Anne Longfield CBE, the chair of the Commission on Young Lives, discusses the launch of the Centre for Young Lives this month.

It seems hardly a week passes by without warnings that another local authority is facing bankruptcy. I’m not convinced by the argument that puts all the blame for council’s financial woes at the door of bad management.

Anyone who has worked on issues affecting children and young people can see where some of the extraordinary pressures on council budgets are coming from.

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.

The soaring costs of dealing with child vulnerability, poverty, and exclusion are financially and politically unsustainable. The recent review of children's social care estimated that the current annual £10bn cost to the public purse of children’s social care will rise to £25bn in 15 years unless the system is reformed and £5bn is invested now in reform.

There is little sign that government is willing to grasp the nettle and make it happen.

Meanwhile, 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.

Around one in six 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.

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 too many children.

Added to all of this is the long-term impact of the Covid pandemic.

The social and economic costs to our country are huge, not just in lost opportunity, but also the additional pressures to public services and the public purse.

I don’t accept that these problems are insurmountable, and that’s why in February I am launching 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.

Our experienced team will provide informed and expert insight, produce quantitative and qualitative research and analysis, and campaign for and deliver change.

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.

I 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, and expect to live long and healthy lives. However, there is the sizeable group – in fact millions of children and families – for whom this isn't the case.

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.

The Centre for Young Lives will take a strong interest in issues impacting on the lives of these vulnerable children and families, but we will also focus on research, policy and campaigns that can improve outcomes and opportunities for all children.

We believe that our country needs a reset in its approach to how we support children, young people, and their families – a new social contract in our society. We want to see them placed at the top of the policy priority list, and we want to see a government that recognises the value and urgent need for early intervention programmes and well-funded, long-term support.

It can’t all be down to Whitehall either. Councils could be at the forefront of reform too, building partnerships with local services and leaders to develop new ideas that improve outcomes for children in their areas.

Britain can become the best place for every child to grow up. That is our ambition, and an aim we want to share with others who want to work with us to achieve it.

Ending the ‘care cliff’ image

Ending the ‘care cliff’

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