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Developing a new social mobility ecosystem to drive positive aspiration and help children realise their ambitions – Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England

Childrens Commissioner

Anne Longfield OBE is the Children’s Commissioner for England and she has a statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of all children in England in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Children and Families Act 2014 gives her special responsibility for the rights of children who are in or leaving care, living away from home or receiving social care services. It is her job to make life better for all children and young people by making sure their rights are respected and realised and that their views are taken seriously.

Anne Longfield
Anne Longfield OBE

“…The Takeover Challenge opens top bosses’ eyes to new ideas and different ways of looking at problems, building real skills and experience for the children and young people who take part. There is also a strong message for the organisations hosting the Takeover about taking into account children and young people views when decisions that affect them are made…”

Supporting children and helping them to reach their full potential

10-downing-streetI’ve been working on children and family issues for the whole of my career. I started with local projects in inner London in the eighties and moved on to regional work to develop childcare and early years support. For the two decades before this job I ran a national charity for children, running campaigns and delivering services for children and families. I also spent a year seconded to the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit investigating Sure Start and campaigned for children’s centres until they were introduced fifteen years ago.

I took up the post of Children’s Commissioner for England in March 2015. It was a huge honour to be appointed Children’s Commissioner – the post has the potential to make real change. I’ve always been inspired by how much children can achieve with a little support. That’s what makes it so worthwhile.

The role of Children’s Commissioner for England

Put simply, my job is about ‘looking out’ for children – especially in regards to those that are vulnerable and reliant on help from the Government or local councils and agencies. It’s my job to make sure their interests aren’t overlooked when decisions are made – whether that’s an individual decision about a child or a decision about the way services are run or local priorities.

I am independent from Government with a statutory duty to represent children’s best interests to decision makers. This might be responding to children in care or custody who call us but also investigating wider systemic things that don’t seem to be working well – like mental health and support for unaccompanied child refugees. I have powers to collect date and gain entry to places children are and find out what’s going on and recommend changes.

Challenges around social mobility

boy-on-swingSocial mobility is all about progression and the opportunities, networks and support need to be there to make that happen. We know that social mobility is lower in some areas than others and I want schools, colleges and communities to work together to create the kind of positive ecosystem needed to drive aspiration and help children realise their ambitions.

In December I am launching Growing Up North, which will examine how the focus on regeneration in the North of England can be capitalised on to put children’s interests centre stage and make the north / south divide a thing of the past.

The barometer we use to gauge social mobility is economic progression – jobs and wages are usually the things measured but I would like it to be wider to include education and even wellbeing and quality of life. This is what we all want for our children.

Children’s Takeover Challenge

The annual Takeover Challenge puts children and young people in the driving seat like nothing else. The challenge is all about children taking over the top jobs to get a unique insight into the way organisations work and the way decisions are made and also about helping organisation see how they can benefit from the fresh thinking and ideas of children.

This years’ Challenge has seen over 45,000 children and 1,000 organisations to take part. These include 80 local authorities, hundreds of businesses, schools, arts organisations, museums, emergency services, the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, as well as maternity wards and even parking attendants and markets! Many areas are talking about regular challenges throughout the year and even themed events going forward – the health or arts challenge for instance.

Support from Whitehall

I’m delighted that Whitehall has got so involved this year. Amazingly, one hundred young people have taken over top Whitehall jobs: 22 Government Ministers across every department in Whitehall have participated alongside 14 permanent secretaries – the top civil servants in the land and many more senior civil servants and MPs.

I was particularly keen that this year’s Challenge gave some of the young people who find the odds most stacked against them an introduction to the corridors of power. All of the young people on the Whitehall Challenge had care experience and for them this was a particularly important chance to get a taste of different career options and see the kind of thing that might interest them.

This is a really good opportunity to see and learn new things but it’s also great experience in the world of work and decision making. It looks great on your CV too.

Making an impact on young people’s lives to give them a taste the world of work

I want young people to get behind closed doors and get a taste of great career options so I hope the impact will be very positive. I also want Challenge organisations to build young people’s involvement into their work, to give them feedback, stay in touch and grow their experience.

The Takeover Challenge opens top bosses’ eyes to new ideas and different ways of looking at problems, building real skills and experience for the children and young people who take part. There is also a strong message for the organisations hosting the Takeover about taking into account children and young people views when decisions that affect them are made. I want them to do this as a matter of course – rather than just confine it to the Challenge.

The best career advice I received growing up

The best advice I had was about recognising that some jobs suit some people better than others and understanding what my strengths are and playing to them.

For me it’s always been about people. Even when I was studying history at university, I knew that things I was really interested in were all about people. The great thing about the work I’ve been involved in is that you can see that you are making a real difference. This might be in the children who benefit from the support and services that you have helped secure or from the new opportunities opening up in the arts, culture or online because you have persuaded others to get involved.

Coming up next

There’s a lot of planning going on at the moment for the next three years. I am appointed for a six-year period so the three years coming up are the chance to really make a difference. In the meantime, I have a busy few months ahead. As well as launching the Growing Up North project over the next few months, we will be publishing research on young carers, looking at children’s digital lives and also the stability in placements for looked after children.






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