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Young Lives, Big Ambitions

Transforming Life Chances for Vulnerable Children and Teens
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Society is failing too many children. But we can do better.

A difficult home life. A missed diagnosis. A disrupted education. Falling in with the wrong crowd. Every year thousands of children fall through the cracks in our society and become victims of a destructive cycle that ends in exploitation, violence, and lost life chances.

As Commissioner for Children in England, Anne Longfield CBE witnessed the devastating effects of this cycle as vulnerable young people were failed by systems too underfunded and overstretched to protect them.

Young Lives, Big Ambitions is an action plan to fix our broken system and give every young person the chance to succeed.
  • Published: Apr 18 2024
  • Pages: 224
  • 214 x 136mm
  • ISBN: 9781839972805
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Press Reviews

  • James Mitchinson, Editor of The Yorkshire Post

    As a boy from a mining community who, as the pits shut, saw friends and acquaintances sucked into a spiral of emotional and financial decline - some going to prison, some dying as a result - I have come to regret that Anne Longfield was not there to help others help them. But she is here, now. Here with a profound vision for young people; one that represents a beacon of hope for the future of this country; one that cannot be ignored.
  • Josh MacAlister, Chair, Foundations

    Exposing the crisis facing many teenagers, and setting out the road-map to get young people's lives back. This book shines a spotlight on a murky and complex mix of problems, and it brings clarity and urgency to what we should do about it.
  • Esther Rantzen

    Anne Longfield was an outstanding Children's Commissioner for England because she saw and listened to children who are all too often unseen, unheard and ignored, those in care, for instance, and those with mental health needs. Since leaving that role she has continued to throw a spotlight on our most vulnerable young people, for instance, pointing out the damage to them caused by Covid, and the dangers of violence, grooming, exclusion, addiction and crime. This book brings together these children's voices, analyses where and how we are failing to protect them, and gives examples of excellent practice that could and should be reproduced around the country. It makes the case for investing in our children, listening to them, and ensuring that care really does mean care. I hope this book will inspire us all to face the challenge of protecting and supporting young people. Our future depends on them.
  • Jason Farrell, Home Editor, Sky News

    Anne Longfield not only shines a piercingly bright light into the dark, disturbing world of child vulnerability, neglect, exploitation, and our failure to protect our children, but also shows us a way out of what she so eloquently conveys as "nothing short of a national emergency." This is a shocking, compelling and important read. Longfield's 35 years' experience in child protection shine through, along with the curiosity and compassion that has made her the leading voice in this field. Inside these pages are radical proposals to combat urgent problems where "young lives are at stake." This could be the blueprint to improving the life-chances of future generations.
  • Baroness Louise Casey

    This book provides a clear, ambitious and much needed road map for any government serious about supporting vulnerable children to succeed.
  • Steve Chalke, Founder, Oasis UK

    Anne Longfield is a tireless champion for children and young people. Her book makes a powerful case for changing how we support those who are most at risk of exploitation or serious violence. It shows how bringing together all of the different systems that should be there to support young people - family support, schools, mental health services, youth work - is the key to building stronger communities and supporting every young person to succeed. Those in power should read it!
  • Vic Goddard (Educating Essex), CEO of Passmores Cooperative Learning Community

    Anne was never afraid to speak uncomfortable truth to power in her Children's Commissioner role and in 'Young Lives' she continues to be a passionate advocate for young people. There are times the stark reality of some young people's lived experiences are hard to read but the shared examples of organisations that are already making a positive difference give us hope for the future. Thanks for writing this difficult book Anne. This is a must read for those wishing to improve young lives across the country.
  • Rachel Sylvester, The Times

    Few people have done more to champion the vulnerable children who fall through the gaps in society than Anne Longfield. This is a powerful, moving and ultimately uplifting account of young lives tragically wasted and how they can be turned around
  • Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News

    Britain's young people have no more powerful advocate than Anne Longfield. Young Lives, Big Ambitions is a powerful wake-up call for political leaders and a devastating critique of inaction to date. Longfield is uniquely placed to document the failures of politics and policy, and to write a manifesto for change. It should echo down the corridors of Whitehall for generations.
  • Mark Russell, Chief Executive The Children's Society

    Life is just too hard for too many children. Too many face delays for support with their mental health, or live in poverty, or are groomed and exploited by criminals. Anne Longfield has given her life to supporting children, and she shines a light on how we are failing too many children, and she offers a blueprint for radical change. She is absolutely right, we need a bold new strategy that invests in children, and prioritises their wellbeing. Anne is right, we must be ambitious for every child so they thrive not just survive. This book is a must read for every MP.
  • Prof. Charlie Jeffery, Vice Chancellor and President, University of York

    'We need to be relentlessly ambitious for every child'. That sentence is the last in this important book, written by perhaps the UK's most formidable campaigner for young people, Anne Longfield. The focus is on teenagers, how they fall through the cracks in their families, in our schools, in our care system, and how many young lives become blighted - and many of them lost - as a result. The cost is not just to those individuals and their life chances, but to our social cohesion, the productivity of our economy, and the affordability of our public services. The narrative burns with passion and anger - but also fizzes with solutions. Anne has a fearless insight into what works, with examples from all parts of the UK of how schools, local authorities, voluntary organisations, community groups can give care, love, support and structure to vulnerable children. The message is we know what works: 'the shelves are full of reports that tell us what it takes for these children to succeed.' The exhortation - one of both simplicity and power - is, simply, let's just do it.
  • Chris Wild, care sector professional, campaigner, and author of 'Damaged'

    Anne Longfield has for a long time been a leader in children's services and the work she does for young people in the care sector and other areas is awe-inspiring. Young Lives is thought-provoking, educational and insightful. The future of our most vulnerable young people lies between the lines and the solutions come to life within the pages. One of the most important books you will read in this sector.
  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary, Association of School & College Leaders

    This is a book that crackles with a mixture of passion, urgency, barely-contained fury and a determination that we - the adults - do better for our children and young people. It sets out the challenges on many fronts - violence, drug culture, the absence of joined-up services - but is much more than a mere howl of rage. It is also a powerful call to action, a plea backed by a plan for a new moral mission to support young lives and renew their sense of dignity, purpose and feeling valued.
  • Jonathan Hopkins, National Youth Policy Adviser

    Anne Longfield is a passionate campaigner and compassionate advocate for children. She digs deep behind the headlines to shine a light on young people's lives. Around one in six children are from a vulnerable family in England. That is a shocking number, too many to be viewed as being on the margins of society, but they are all too often left isolated, out of sight until something significant goes wrong. This account makes a compelling case for action beyond words, to be 'relentlessly ambitious for every child' in all that we do across society.
  • Junior Smart, Founder of the SOS Project at St. Giles Trust

    The reality is there aren't many people like Anne Longfield. Very few see young people and their potential the way that she does. Even fewer match her dedication and determination to instigate change at a social policy level to bring issues of young people and their families to light often in the face of those who would rather minimise or deny the reality of what is going on in in young people's lives. Young Lives Big Ambitions is an incredible read, a reality check on the truth of young people and their journeys and at the same time a reminder of what happens when there is a collective failing by agencies to act and the knock-on effect in terms of degradation of funding support by the state and the ensuing impact it has on life outcome trajectories. More than just narratives, this book has compelling statistics and builds upon existing evidence. It is therefore beneficial, providing as much value for practitioners who work with young people and their families as it does for social policy makers, councillors and those tasked with tough decisions on what can, and should be done next.
  • Katie Razzall, Journalist and media editor at BBC News

    Young Lives, Big Ambitions is a call for change that details the stark realities for some of the UK's most vulnerable children and, crucially, offers up practical solutions for the future. Anne Longfield, a former children's commissioner for England, is well placed to lead us through the horrors children and young people too often endure and to make a positive case for why it doesn't have to be this way. Children murdered while in the care of the state, let down by the councils that should have protected them, the schools that should have educated them, the society that turned away from their plight. Children dragged into county lines drug selling. Young people housed in substandard, taxpayer-funded accommodation, often provided by private companies turning vast profits, and preyed upon by criminals (as we detailed in a series of reports for BBC Newsnight). With empathy and precision, Longfield catalogues the shocking details of these children's lives and the moments that are missed to protect them. This important, timely book argues that we should be much more ambitious for young people growing up in adversity. It makes a compelling case for why we should do better. With nurture, care and protection, these children and young people could flourish. As a society, we owe them that.
  • Paul Lindley OBE, Founder Ella’s Kitchen. British entrepreneur and children's welfare campaigner.

    Anne Longfield has dedicated decades to improving children's lives. Young Lives, Big Ambitions distils this unique perspective and unrivalled experience into a roadmap of hope for believing a society can act to ensure ALL its children may flourish. Picking up stories, evidence, ideas and a compelling framework on route, she shows how early intervention, effective support, joined-up services and reformed 'human-centred' public services can transform thousands of vulnerable children's lives. But much more powerfully, she makes the social, economic, cultural and moral case as to why we must start the journey to reach the destination where every child thrives.
  • Polly Curtis, Chief Executive, Demos

    There is no advocate for children as fierce and committed, or as knowledgeable and loving as Anne Longfield. This book reveals the cracks in our state through which children fall into lives of county lines, crime, lost hope and early graves. It is an urgent appeal for politicians to get their act together and make every child matter. Longfield has produced a manifesto for a revolution to end our collective failure to protect the children who need our help the most.
  • Tracey Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire

    In her new book 'Young Lives, Big Ambitions', Anne Longfield CBE, paints a harrowing picture of the country our young people are growing up in. But, Anne also gives us hope, telling us what has to change and how - giving leaders the tools and ideas to improve young people's lives.
  • Cherie Blair CBE, KC

    Anne Longfield meticulously unravels the disturbing narrative of the decline in children's services over the past decade. She brings to light individual stories that expose a consistent failure to provide crucial assistance to these vulnerable young individuals, ultimately leading many into the clutches of criminal exploitation. Young Lives, Big Ambitions serves as a poignant call to action, emphasizing the urgent need to revitalize our services for young people and dismantle the tragic spiral leading towards despair and criminality. Now more than ever is the time to break this cycle and restore optimism to the lives of those who need it most.
  • Caroline Derbyshore, Chief executive, Saffron Academy Trust, writing for schoolsweek.co.uk

    A powerful manifesto calling for urgent change to the way our society treats its children and young people. As a clarion call for more funding for joined-up services and more attention to be paid to meeting children's needs, the argument could not be better made.