Investing in Young Lives

Former Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, explains her passion to help marginalised young people through the Commission on Young Lives and why she chose to work with Oasis.


I’ve spent the last 35 years working with and running children’s charities and helping develop Sure Start centres in government in the late 1990s.

I was appointed Children’s Commissioner for England in 2015 and spent six years standing up for children’s rights and shining a light on the experiences of the most vulnerable children.

My starting points have always been the same: that we should be ambitious for every child, and that no child should be denied the opportunities and support they need to do well.

Yet we know that there are tens of thousands of children, all of them born with the potential to succeed, whose opportunities are curtailed because they are growing up in circumstances that make them extremely vulnerable.

These children are more likely to be living in homes where there is domestic violence or addiction issues, suffering from mental health problems, or falling through the gaps in the education system.

“Too many are being lost to gangs, serious violence or criminal or sexual exploitation, their lives often changed forever before they even reach adulthood.”


These are children that those working with Oasis know well. We know their chances of entering adulthood with positive opportunities and choices are so much lower, and that they are the children who as adults are more likely to be seen in our prisons or suffering from serious mental health problems or homelessness.

Rise in gang-related exploitation

In the year before Covid hit in March 2020, almost 15,000 children had been referred to social services where gangs were a factor in their assessment, a rise of 4,000 over the previous 12 months.

Not only is that number likely to be the tip of the iceberg, but lockdown has created circum-stances even more favourable for those who exploit children – including criminals involved in county lines drug dealing.

The Commission on Young Lives launched in early September. It will spend the next year evidencing and designing a new national system to prevent crisis in vulnerable young people and support them to succeed in life.

As well as evidencing the reality of growing up with vulnerabilities and diminished life chances, The Commission will work in collaboration with those who have first-hand experience of working with people to help change their lives, including Steve Chalke who is a member of our expert panel of commissioners.

We need a national plan

Call for evidence
We are committed to learning from Oasis’s
experience and its approach to holistic
community building and welcome the opportunity
to chat and visit where we can. We will also be
launching a call for evidence, so please do send
us your experiences and ideas.

The Commission will look at various topics:

  • What leads to vulnerability and crisis and how can we make services more effective?
  • How can we support vulnerable families and communities who struggle to build the family resilience and stability that teenagers need?
  • What support do young people need to
    ensure good mental health?
  • How can schools and colleges identify and
    support these children to progress and
    achieve in school, including those children
    with poor communication skills and/or
    special educational needs?

Protection from gangs
We will also ask why a disproportionate number of children in care are getting into trouble with the law and what needs to change to help these children flourish, and we will determine who should be protecting vulnerable young people from gangs and serious violence.

“We need a national plan that stops the conveyor belt of troubled, marginalised teens on whom criminals and abusers rely to succeed. The mission for all of us, is to provide one.”

I am delighted to be working with everyone in the Oasis family to achieve it.

Anne Longfield, Chair
Commission on Young Lives

You helped me to love myself

Dwain Allen is an Oasis youth practitioner based in the A&E department of St. Thomas Hospital, London. He receives referrals from medical staff whenever young victims of assault or self-harm are admitted.

‘Things have changed since Covid,’ he says. ‘It’s gone from violence linked with county lines drug dealing to more mental health issues  There’s been a 20% increase in suicide attempts in my area.

One 14-year-old I met had tried to drown himself in a river several times. He was autistic and just not able to process the emotions he was feeling. Music and art therapy have really helped him. He told me I’d helped him love himself.’

One young man that Dwain met in A&E had been kidnapped and held for a month by a county lines gang. He had fractured his knuckles from hitting a wall in frustration but would not open up and insisted he was fine.

‘I managed to get to know him – what football team he supported, what music he liked, etc and I met the family.

He had no academic qualifications so I referred him to a job skills charity. When I called him for a six-month catch-up he said he was training as a chef.’

You’re my guardian angel

Molly Coulson-Chard, is Youth Development Worker at Oasis Hub Hadley and is based in North Middlesex Hospital in North London. She has a caseload of around 13 young people referred from the Emergency Department.

‘One single mum aged 21 was attacked with a bottle at a party by another woman and needed plastic surgery. I met her and her baby daughter in her grim studio flat which was very close to that of her attacker. She had no
family support.’

Two years later, Molly has helped the young woman sort out council tax debts and gain a permanent council house. She has also accompanied her to court hearings
regarding the attack.

‘She described me in a case report as her  “guardian angel” but I was just doing my job.’