1st Edition

The British Betrayal of Childhood Challenging Uncomfortable Truths and Bringing About Change

By Al Aynsley-Green Copyright 2019
    272 Pages
    by Routledge

    272 Pages
    by Routledge

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    With provocative insight and based on an illustrious 40-year career in public office, Sir Al Aynsley-Green demands to know why outcomes for the UK’s children for health, education, social care, youth justice and poverty remain among the worst in the developed world. He draws global comparisons and offers astute observations of the realities of being a young person in Britain today, to show how government policies have been shamefully failing children on a grand scale.

    Prioritising the need to support and inspire all children, including those with disability or disadvantage, and to design services around their needs, Sir Al puts forward a brave and timely alternative for the UK. By building local communities, shifting national attitudes, and confronting barriers between sectors, he presents a fresh and realistic road map that can enable new generations of children to be as healthy, educated, creative and resilient as they can be, equipped with the confidence and skills they need to lead happy and successful lives.

    A must-read for those engaged in children’s services, policy and parenting in the UK, Sir Al confronts the obstacles and attitudes faced by young people today with tact, honesty and compassion, to offer his vision of a society in which each and every child is valued.




    Part I: Why should we be concerned about children?

    Chapter 1: Where have we come from?

    Chapter 2: Why are other countries so good for children?

    Part II: Childhood in the UK today

    Chapter 3: What’s it like to be young in the UK today?

    Chapter 4: Insights into the socio-political betrayal of children

    Chapter 5: The biggest betrayals of childhood

    Part III: How can we bring about change?

    Chapter 6: Bringing about change

    Chapter 7: Endnote



    Sir Al Aynsley-Green has over 40 years of experience working with governments and organisations worldwide. He was the first National Clinical Director for Children in government, the first Children’s Commissioner for England and President of the British Medical Association. He is now Professor Emeritus of Child Health, University College London and Visiting Professor of Advocacy for Children and Childhood at Nottingham Trent University, UK.

    "This book makes a compelling case about the need for action. Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green gives a very powerful and personal examination of whether we are creating the right environment for children and young people to flourish. The verdict is worrying. Public policy and leadership has had significant flaws and in some cases wrong-headed attitudes about what children need. There are reasons to be hopeful but there is much to do. Al brings a host of good ideas from the UK and abroad to suggest positive actions that could make a difference. This adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that as a society we need to act."

    Nigel Edwards,
    Chief Executive, Nuffield Trust, UK


    "Passionate, personal and professional, this expansive and compelling book spans time and place, evidence and observation to ask demanding questions about our attitude, investment and practice for children in the UK. With razor-sharp insight and unstinting courage and compassion, Al Aynsley-Green demands answers from us all on how we shall act to achieve equality and change the world for children and he will not rest until he gets them. Thomas Coram would be proud".

    Dr Carol Homden CBE, Chief Executive of the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children (Coram)


    "In this passionate work, Al Aynsley-Green describes what is happening to children in Britain today. The book is philosophically and historically grounded and provides detailed international comparisons to show how things can be very different indeed. The argument is based on the author's biography, politics and depth of experience. It raises profound questions about the actions of the state in relation to children and calls for urgent action to strengthen local communities to support children and families.  The reader should not expect to agree with everything that is said here, and that is the point. This is a forceful argument for change and pulls no punches."

    Professor Susan White, Professor of Social Work, University of Sheffield, UK.


    "Sir Al has been a staunch champion for children throughout a long and distinguished career. Here, in typically robust style, he explains why children matter, and why he believes the UK is making a tragic mistake in failing to recognise the overriding importance of safeguarding their physical and emotional wellbeing. This is a "must read" for policy-makers, healthcare professionals, educationalists, and parents. "

    Professor Neena Modi, Professor of Neonatal Medicine, Imperial College, London; Immediate Past President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, UK.

    "There are few people who have the breadth of experience and expertise to analyse the lives of UK children the way that Sir Al Aynsley-Green does in this provocative and challenging new book. Spanning the worlds of medicine, social care, education, history and politics as well as exploring the treatment of children in various countries en route, Sir Al is unflinching in calling to account all those he sees are responsible for the treatment of children in the UK today. Pulling few punches, [Sir Al] is clear about not only what is going wrong, but what can be done to put it right. We have it in our power to guarantee all children the childhood they deserve, but as this book so powerfully asks, do we have the will?"

    Ian Gilbert, Founder and CEO Independent Thinking, UK.


    "Drawing on the author’s long-standing personal and professional commitment to advocacy for children, this book highlights the very real problems facing children growing up in the UK today – and challenges us to respond. The book weaves seamlessly between his own experience, the history of childhood, compelling data and the very good practice he has seen on the ground. This is an essential read for all those who want to make a difference to the lives of children and families."

    Alison Michalska, Corporate Director for Children and Adults, Nottingham City Council, UK. Immediate Past President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services


    "We don’t live in Victorian Britain: children do need to be seen and heard, indeed welcomed and celebrated in our society. Our relative indifference to the plight of young people, particularly from deprived settings, is shameful – they are our lifeblood and it is crucial that we find ways of making them valued and celebrated rather than marginalised and subservient to adult values. In this passionate book the author, an immensely experienced paediatrician who was the first Children’s Tsar in the Department of Health in Westminster and then the first Children’s Commissioner for England reinforces the need for greater institutional humanity towards our younger population. In line with his hero Thomas Coran’s rallying cry, "Courage, Compassion and Commitment" this is a timely imperative to make us think again."

    Professor Pali Hungin, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, UK, and Past President, British Medical Association 2016-17


    "Sir Al’s colourful style hits the target and there is no doubt that this is pure Aynsley-Green, driven by passion and empathy for the nation’s children - all of them, without exception. And the need to challenge everyone involved especially in Youth Justice policy and practice to reflect more about what they do, how they do it, why and could or should they be doing it differently, better and with greater humanity.

    His approach is eminently readable, and a unique reflection of his personal experiences of what life is really like for those detained in the secure estate for children. It’s an uncomfortable read. The picture he paints is not a pretty one and a poor reflection of our nation’s humanity. His challenges are genuine, timely and he is quite right to demand a rethink."

    Malcolm Stevens, former Government’s lead youth justice Social Services Inspector and the first UK Commissioner to the International Juvenile Justice Observatory in Brussels, Belgium.


    "Al’s very accessible style makes this a ‘must-read’ book for anyone interested in the fact that children are our future and that their wellbeing is fundamental for the wellbeing of society. He reveals the profound changes that have gone on in the lives of children and families and provides a damning indictment of the responses from those in power. An uncomfortable read for some, it lays a line in the sand that calls for an urgent shift in emphasis from performance and accountability to human values and flourishing."

    Wendy Ellyatt, Founder, the Flourish Project, UK.


    "A profound and razor sharp analysis of childhood in the UK with an international perspective by a world renowned paediatrician, a passionate advocate of children."

    Professor Gyula Soltesz, former Director of Paediatrics, University of Pecs, Hungary.


    "In this provocative and timely book Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green shines a forensic light on the position of children in Britain today. Arguing that our society is, at best, indifferent to children and their welfare, he exposes a wide range of problems and proposes transformative solutions. A must-read for anyone who cares about children, their rights and their well-being."

    Professor Carrie Paechter, Director, Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families, Nottingham Trent University, UK.


    "I have heard Sir Al speak on several occasions and never fail to be impressed and moved by his knowledge, experience, expertise and passion. He is a true Champion for Children and has used his considerable intellect to back up the emotion he experiences - a rare combination. This book will surprise and even shock many people but above all I hope it will turn his words into their action."

    Graham Morgan, Director and Chairman, Evolve, UK


    "A hard-hitting call for society to stand up and fight for what is best for its children and a good eye opening introduction for childhood studies students."

    Tina Froggett (MA by Research (Education)) Post Graduate Researcher, University of Huddersfield, UK.


    "The British Betrayal of Childhood is a ‘must read’ for anyone that works with children and young people in school and more widely in the community. The title is provocative, and the reader will indeed be provoked into re-thinking and re-affirming what the oft cited phrase ‘Children are our future’ really means in our society. Working with school, health and community leaders in Cornwall, Sir Al has stirred emotions, engaged passionate debate, inspired new practice but always, always championed children. You cannot fail to be impressed by the passion, knowledge and deep understanding that Sir Al draws upon in visioning a nation in which children are seen and very much heard."

    David Barton, Cornwall Association of Secondary Headteachers, UK.

    "This inspirational and sometimes uncomfortable read challenges many core beliefs about childhood... At the heart of the book is a description of the correlation between adverse experiences in childhood, the failure of policy makers to make special provision for children and the potential failure to achieve a healthy adult population... I would urge children’s nurses to peruse this book and take to heart its messages."

    Annette Dearmun, Nursing Children & Young People (RCNi)

    "I have no reservations in commending the book to all who have a first concern for the quality of education, particularly those engaged in initial training. Not only should it find a place in the staffroom library, it should be on every university reading list." - John Coe, Primary First

    "Aynsley-Green’s position as a trusted professional and government adviser enables him to document from first-hand experience the inconsistencies and compromises that obstructed the realisation of proclaimed political objectives. Eye-witness accounts are offered of the policy implementation process and its failings in recent history. As such, his book will become a primary source for historians of childhood into the future. At the same time its readable approach makes accessible to a wider audience the relevance and value of historical perspectives in understanding the complex concerns of child protection in current times."

    Peter Cunningham, History of Education