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By Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Exectutive, 4Children26 February 2015 / Comments...
When I started at 4Children in 1987 (then the National Out of School Alliance) there were 6 people, 2 phone lines, 3 small dusty rooms in Bethnal Green and a lot to do. Now with nearly 1500 staff we are helping tens of thousands every day. 4Children has been a constant in my life since - there when I got married, there when I had my child and there as he grew up. My son is 22 now so I guess in all ways my babies are grown up and flying the nest. There are several trustees who have been at 4Children just as long and our chair Pip O 'Byrne longer still. They will be taking the organisation forward with my successor Imelda Redmond as the charity moves to its next exciting and I'm sure brilliant phase.
When I look back much has changed. Progress has been made. More women are working than ever before. Shared parental leave is becoming a reality and childcare is near the top of the political agenda – a real shift. Sure Start – a pillar at the heart of communities across the country and the single biggest change to the lives of children and families over the last 20 years – was a mere figment of our imagination when I started, now its transforming little lives up and down the country and helping families flourish.
But we know it’s not all good news - with over half of families suggesting family life is harder now than it was 20 years ago, I am all too aware that our work is far from done.
The challenge we face to improve the lives of all children and families is one I will continue to take on as I set sights high in my new role as the Children’s Commissioner for England. I am delighted and hugely privileged to have been appointed and ready to start next week. It’s a vitally important role with the potential to make a real difference for children in this country – especially for those vulnerable children who need our protection and support the most.
But for now – and my last few days at 4Children - I’m in a reflective mood, so thought I’d share my “top 5” moments here. Moments I have been most proud of. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I have probably missed many off, but I’ve given it a go:
1. The announcement of the first childcare development programme in 1992 - £45m after successfully lobbying from 4Children (the Kids’ Clubs Network) for over a year. A great day which led to 1 million more childcare places being established – after school and during school holidays.
2. The next big commitment in the first budget of the new administration in 1997 which recognised the importance of childcare and dedicated £200m to set up millions of new places. 4Children’s switchboard lit up ‘like Blackpool illuminations’ and then the hard work started to make the places a reality. The commitment led to the first 10 year national childcare strategy 4 years later.
3. The Youth Review and the Family Commission – 4Children toured the country, consulting with 16,000 young people and 10,000 families respectively. Throughout 2006-07, in the Make Space Youth Review, 4Children led a coalition of young people, teachers, parents and youth workers calling for urgent investment by Government in facilities for young people in communities. The final report, launched by Lily Allen and Oona King was presented by young people to then Prime Minister at Downing Street. It marked the culmination of campaigning to shape and develop the new deal for young people.
The Family Commission was an 18 month inquiry into family life in Britain. We talked to 10,000 families across the country to try and untangle some of the complex realities of families in the UK, to understand how families manage in the changing world, what the state can and should be doing to help them do so.
4. Putting our policies into practice - In 2006 4Children opened our first Sure Start Children’s Centre in Essex – Carousel. After successfully lobbying for, and supporting Sure Starts, we were beginning to deliver services directly to families – having instant impact and changing lives on the ground, for the better.
5. 4Children’s 30th birthday and the launch of the Making Britain Great Manifesto for the next 30 years.
In early 2014, we marked the end of our 30th year by setting out a radical manifesto for positive change for children and families throughout Britain. It is an ambitious plan for families and children in this country which, as we move beyond the economic crisis, should be central to how we rethink our aspirations for all families. You can find it here.
It has been an honour to have been the Chief Executive of 4Children for over two decades and I am immensely proud of all that we have achieved – the above five are the tip of the iceberg.
It will be very strange on Monday morning not going in to this office and being surrounded by the staff I’ve grown to know and rely on, but I know they are in safe hands. Imelda Redmond CBE will be taking the lead as 4Children’s new Chief Executive – she is lucky to head up such a wonderful charity and I know she has high ambitions for their work. I wish her the very best.
4Children is very special and will always be part of me. Thank you all for being part of it. I leave with some sadness but also great optimism for great things for what we will be able to do for children in the future.
Anne Longfield OBE
Chief Executive - 4Children