Anne Houston

Anne Houston is Chief Executive at Children 1st,  an organisation which, for over 125 years,  has been working to build a brighter future for Scotland’s vulnerable children and families.

After qualifying in social work in 1980 Anne’s early career was spent working generically in an area team in Southampton, before specialising in work with children and families. She continued in the statutory and then voluntary sectors in England and Scotland, managing young offender, children and families and mental health teams.

All this made Anne well qualified to take up the role of counselling manager at ChildLine where she progressed to become Director of ChildLine Scotland. She lead significant expansion of the ChildLine service along with ‘speaking with the voice of children and young people’ to influence wider development of public policy and practice.

In 2006 Anne became Director of ChildLine UK within the NSPCC and in 2007 she was appointed Chief Executive of CHILDREN 1ST.

As well as leading the charity Anne continues to speak out on issues of importance to vulnerable children, young people and families.


I met with Anne at the Glasgow offices of Children 1st and asked first of all about the origins of the organisation.

“The RSSPCC, (Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), has its origins in the anti cruelty movement that grew up in America in the 19th century. At that time the law protected animals but there was no similar protection for children so the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took a case under animal cruelty legislation against two New Yorkers for abusing an eight year old child. After this landmark case Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children sprung up on both sides of the Atlantic. Societies were formed across Scotland and eventually the national  Scottish Society was formed and given a royal charter.”

“In the early days ‘the cruelty man’, (only men were allowed to do the job), would call at the homes of families and admonish parents if they were guilty of cruelty to the children in their care. In practice they would check two things; whether the child had a safe place to sleep and if there was food in the cupboard. In 1995 the decision was taken by the Board to remove the word ‘cruelty’ from the name as it was felt that it was preventing families coming forward for help and support. The name was changed to Children 1st.”

“The aim is to support the child to live within the (extended) family. We work directly with children and young people first and also provide family support and advice on parenting skills. In particular we champion family group conferences, found particularly in Maori culture, to involve the child, family, extended family and professionals. Everyone has the chance to say why they are there and the family is given the chance to see if they can support the child within the family. Children 1st has a history of lobbying and leading. We aim to innovate and to ensure that families who need support have enough confidence in the organisation that they can self refer.”

“We provide 4 national services.

The first is the parentline helpline for carers.

The kinship care service supports particularly grandparents who have a caring role due to e.g. substance abuse by the child’s parents. Support is partly offered through the helpline but also through outreach projects.

Safeguarding in Sport makes sure that staff are able to work safely with ch8ildren.

And finally at the Scottish national level, we run childline on behalf of NSPCC.”

“At a regional level, we operate from 39 local offices to ensure that we can support the specific needs of local communities. Lots of the services are around helping parents to create that bond with their children, After all it is true that kids don’t come with a manual and many parents need extra support.  We also provide abuse and trauma recovery services. The child is often already in a safe place by the time we get involved and we help them to come to terms with what has happened to them.  We concentrate on getting children to understand and to believe that whatever has happened to them it is not their fault.  We also run befriending services, delivered by volunteers, which allows children to have another outlet for their feelings.”

“In central Scotland, at Bathgate, we have a chillout zone as part of the Healthy Living Centre. Here nurses and sexual health workers work in an informal, relaxed atmosphere. In addition, they do a lot of work around confidence and self-esteem to prepare young people for employment, volunteering or further education.”

“We are also very active in areas of public policy. It is essential to our work that we take the lead in ensuring justice for children. The welfare of children is everyones responsibility!”

“Children 1st has 1300 volunteers who together contribute 96,000 hours, a financial equivalent contribution of over £500k. Over 60% of the volunteers work in our children and family services (including ParentLine and b’friends), the others in every other aspect of the organisation including fundraising, public policy, ICT, graphic design, etc etc. Our main challenge, in common with most organisations in the current climate, is financial. It is easy for government to withdraw early years funding as it is largely invisible to most people but these are the very services that need to be maintained. Small amounts of money spent in the early years of a child’s life can have a huge impact and save the need to spend a lot more money later on. We are working tirelessly to try to halt cuts to this area of funding. When it comes to our own funding we receive 60% (currently £6m)  from the public purse and raise the rest through our own initiatives. It is very important to us that we are not totally reliant of government funding but raising the additional £4m we need to deliver our services is a real challenge.”

More details can be found at the websiteat and the ParentLine confidential helpline number is 08000 28 22 33



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