There are hard facts that have to be appreciated to understand the real lives of too many children in Britain today. Our children are the unhappiest children in Europe, mental distress among the young is a pandemic, foodbanks and child poverty are rampant and child on child violence and deaths blight cities like London.
Nobody knows the reality behind these facts better than Camilla Batmanghelidjh the founder of Kids Company. From its inception in 1996 its aim was to provide support to deprived inner city children.
It started as a “drop-in” centre for young people in South London. In the years that followed it grew to be a prominent children’s charity operating 11 centres mostly in London but also in Bristol and Liverpool.
By the time of its forced closure it was supporting 36,000 children per year. It’s funding was provided through a combination of government grants, donations from businesses and philanthropists. It was a model for the so-called Big Society — a policy that became particularly associated with former prime minister David Cameron who was a strong advocate for it.
The idea formed the flagship policy of the 2010 Conservative Party General Election manifesto and was part of the subsequent legislative programme of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
The stated aim was to create a climate that empowered local people and communities, building a “big society” that would take power away from politicians and give it to people. In essence the aim was to replace local authority provision with charities such as Kids Company.
Batmanghelidjh’s book does three main things. It describes the devastating lives and circumstances of thousands of young people who sought the shelter and support of the project because they literally had nothing else. It tells a story of the enormous generosity of individual philanthropists, many of whom were very supportive of the project in multifarious ways, and lastly the treachery of civil servants, journalists and others in the Tory camp who wanted this particular project to fail.
It’s clear from this book that many people with money and influence could not and did not want to comprehend why the most vulnerable children in society should be allowed to self-refer, could be given cash to survive on the streets and could be bought the types of trainers that their children own as a matter of course. These children, in these families, in these areas, were not the deserving poor that the big society wanted to focus on. So they set about to ensure through smears and lies that this project failed.
The book also gives some interesting insights into contemporary neuroscience research which examines the impact of trauma, poverty and deprivation on the brain of the developing child. However, it shouldn’t have to take a psychologist to tell us that if you live in a world dominated by deprivation and poverty you need support to survive and thrive.
On 5 August 2015 Kids Company had to close its doors to the families and children it supported. Desperate children clung to staff, mothers rummaged through kitchens gathering anything they could, because they knew they would be left without food. Protesters shouted and cried at the same time. The despair was palpable. This is the terrible truth about the story of Kids Company.
As Camilla herself reminds us, she was betrayed and pilloried by many, her reputation was in the mud, but the real victims of this tragedy are the families and children who had been deserted by the establishment.