From the archive: Kids Company – Why was it ever needed?

Michael Harris /   August 7, 2015 at 1:06 PM 4,557 views


There’s been a lot of commentary on the closure of Kids Company – including suggestions of poor financial management, the Government’s role in keeping the charity afloat (and then withdrawing its support), the dependence of some charities on state funding and whether we should be relying on the voluntary sector to resolve deep-rooted social problems, and the sense of an orchestrated campaign against the charity from parts of the media (perhaps in coordination with some figures in government).

But the most significant impression created from media coverage is that the charity was so focused on trying to meet the increasing need for its services from vulnerable young people, that this came before anything else. From a Guardian report:

“As funding for Kids Company increased, so too did the number of children under its care. In 2009 the charity cared for 14,000 children. This rose to 36,000 by 2013. To account for the growth in children under care in the same period, the number of average weekly full-time employees increased from 231 to 495. The biggest increase in employees came from running the growing number of centres set up by the charity.”

The charity’s mission and culture seems to have made it especially vulnerable:

“[A] senior source who spoke to the Guardian said Kids Company had an ethos that the money which came in should be spent on the children in need. That came from Batmanghelidjh and was not questioned by trustees. “Some large charities operate with reserves of £20m, but Kids Company felt it didn’t want to have £1m in reserve while children needed help, that was the ethos.”

According to reports, many of the thousands of at-risk children who the charity helped (and who ‘self-referred’ to it) are not registered with any other agencies, including local authorities. Many reports have suggested that 6,000 young people have lost the support they need.

But isn’t the real question why Kids Company’s services were in such demand in the first place?

Kids Company claimed to reach 36,000 vulnerable and deprived inner-city children and young people, in London, Bristol and Liverpool. Camila Batmanghelidjh founded it in 1996 in response to the view that family policies and local authority social services were failing children who suffered from poverty, abuse and trauma, and that children’s voices were being ignored. Its ‘unconventional’ approach, based on the belief that abuse and neglect damages young people and so what they need is to be listened to and cared for, may or may not have been part of its downfall, but it was and certainly is needed.

Part of the demand for Kids Company’s services seems to have been because local authority social services couldn’t cope, but it was also that conventional services weren’t meeting vulnerable young people’s needs. These needs have grown, and it’s not difficult to understand why, given the cuts to services that young people rely on, including:

Young people’s mental health is severely affected by social disadvantage, and so cuts in other welfare and public services for young people will add to this demand, including to:

  • housing benefit
  • tax credits
  • council tax benefit
  • the overall benefit cap
  • school budgets
  • 16-18 education
  • and special educational needs provision

All of these are also bound to add to the high level of youth unemployment, as well as increase pressure on policing and the youth justice system.

Camila Batmanghelidjh’s remarks on the closure of Kids Company could then equally be applied to millions of other young people in this country:

“But I am still left with these kids and their needs. This is devastating – where is the prime minister of this country saying what’s going to happen to these children? …I feel that government failed to honour its responsibility to these most vulnerable children. We live in a climate where everything is airbrushed by this government.”

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