“The heart of KidsCo’s model was both its greatest asset and biggest flaw: that “no child be turned away”
Amidst the media storm and scandal that was the dramatic closure of Kids Company’s doors last summer, did anyone stop to think of those ostensibly at the centre of the whole saga – the kids?
Recounting the final days of Kids Company’s existence is almost unbearable. In a matter of days, the organisation- which had been in operation for over 20 years, supported over 36,000 deprived children in London, Bristol and Liverpool, was respected by David Cameron and much loved by Londoners and celebrities alike – unravelled before our eyes.
Accusations of ‘sexual abuse’, ‘overindulgence’, ‘misuse of public funds’ scattered the endless daily headlines, all in relation to a charitable enterprise in place to help deprived children, aside shots of ‘OBE’ awarded Camilla Batmanghelidjh. Just two weeks ago, 10 months after its closure, yet another article, another damning headline ‘New Questions Over Kids’ Company Brain Experiments’, says HeatStreet on 17 May 2016 – it’s stomach churning stuff.
So was the media barrage simply in bad taste, but a clear case of ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ or rather all ‘smoke and mirrors’? And what of the real victims of the organisation’s demise – the children relying on it for support?
A former Kids Company worker admits the charity and Camilla’s leadership did have its problems: “The heart of KidsCo’s model was both its greatest asset and biggest flaw: that “no child be turned away”. Although I was committed to this ethos, we couldn’t fulfil it. It was unrealistic, and by the end, it was hell.”
However, she feels this could never justify what seemed to gain momentum as a “smear campaign” in the guise of revelations: “It seemed bizarre to me that the government, who year after year audited and provided funding to the organisation, did not want to salvage what was working – at least for the sake of the children. They had obviously decided they wanted to cut all ties.”
A Child Protection Social Worker who had worked alongside KidsCo, felt Camilla herself and the “Kids Company” brand were both a reason for the organisation’s success but also its demise: “It was too dependent on Camilla and her personality – she needed it all to be about her, all about Kids Company. She didn’t want to collaborate. She lost track of the finances and no one challenged her because it was like it was her “fiefdom”.”
However, she has no doubt that their very existence highlighted what she sees as a nagging problem with the provision of social care, particularly for children and particularly in the London area: “Recent cuts have had a big impact. For example, fewer refuges for women, and changes to immigration and housing laws, mean social services are left footing the bill for families to stay in B & Bs or putting kids into care at great expense – which all means less funds for our services for kids. The whole thing is chronically under-funded.”
Recent government announcements, including David Cameron’s pledge to prioritise reform of social services, have provided little comfort: “We’re worried Cameron is trying to do what they’ve done to schools and doctors to us next. They’re not consulting with actual social workers about what the issues are and what needs to be done.”
A Lambeth Labour Councillor echoed concerns about social services in their borough, which have been judged to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, though sees this as an issue at local level: “Although government cuts are having a huge and detrimental impact across the council and beyond, you can’t really blame them for this one. We are all working hard to improve them.”
But for our Kids Company worker, the biggest loss has been the discrediting, not only of Kids Company as an organisation, but its holistic and inclusive approach: “In a way Camilla’s end goal was not Kids Company itself but to change the way support for children is seen, to change the system. Now that has all been undone.”
She does feels that the attention the collapse drew has shaken things up, “But we will have to see what this government really means by reform, how they intend to help the thousands of at-risk former clients without support, and those who continue to fall through the gaps.”