Camila Batmanghelidjh, erstwhile head of the now defunct Kids Company, and Alan Yentob, the chair of trustees, appeared yesterday before the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to answer questions about an alleged lack of foresight and financial perspicacity. A ferocious media storm which had been whipped up in the summer sank this charity and all those in her. Unproven accusations of sexual abuse on the premises proved deadly (I think these were planned smears). As they were questioned Twitter went wild with fury, mockery and contempt.
Democratic accountability is well served by these hearings, which can be lively and testing. This one, however, was excruciating to watch. Serious politicians seemed to have caught tabloid fever; Batmanghelidjh came across as both disoriented and royally haughty and Yentob struggled to get through the fog of hostility in the committee room.
The interrogators wanted to know all about numbers, administration, files, timings, trustees, systems, processes, minutes, records, workloads, CEO duties, budget, reserves, management and other such undoubtedly very important matters. But what about the children? The duo tried to bring up clients and their families, only to be rebuffed by the elect facing them. Some MPs seemed narked by these stories, even suspicious that these were tricksy detours to divert the committee from its noble purpose. Kids come last, always, if they ever come at all.
Batmanghelidjh was indeed careless about charity rules and financial stability. But I have looked at the Kids Company 2013 annual report, quotes from the great and the good, at independent investigations by the Centre for Social Justice (“Enough is Enough”, 2014), The London School of Economics, (Jovchelovitch and Concha, 2013), at testimonies of key workers at Kids Company and of lawyers who provided pro bono service to clients needing housing, immigration status and so on.
They universally approved the Company and its work. The LSE report asserts: “Kids Company has developed an effective and innovative model of work with vulnerable children and youth. Its practices, experiences and expertise should offer a pool of resources and lessons for policy makers and the statutory sector in general.”
The British Academy, the Freud Museum, Royal Festival Hall and artists such as Grayson Perry and Damien Hirst praise the high quality art therapy which helped heal the most wounded and wrathful of children. Academics and practitioners have repeatedly said that Batmanghelidjh and her team nurture children way beyond the reach of the statutory agencies. Are these people all gullible fools? Have they been bribed by Yentob and Batmanghelidjh?
A young lad got on to a bus in Waterloo this February. He was shaking and manic and his palm was bleeding profusely. I gave him a plaster which I had in my handbag. He didn’t say thank you. But we talked. He was going to Kids Company because he was homeless, hungry and hounded by a rival gang. One of his mates had been stabbed to death.
Another young teenager wrote to me in July and said she had been a victim of “one of them Asian groomers”. She had been abused by her father and uncle, her mother was a drug addict who had disappeared. The child roamed the streets, as did so many other victims.
They don’t trust the police or social workers and are seen as trash by some service providers. I gave her the address for Kids Company, just before it closed down. So what happens to her and other wasted young blood? These kids, some of them mentally ill, are easy to fear and forget, hard to help. Kids Company, incredibly, was able to turn many around, make them resilient, self-reliant, trusting and skilful. They can provide figures for accommodation found, hospital and GP referrals, apprenticeships and suchlike. But how do you measure rekindled imaginations, dignity and self-esteem, hope grown in a heap of ashes?
Batmanghelidjh had many critics: cynical journalists, right-wing ministers who didn’t like to be told about lost, ravenous, explosive kids, and also disgruntled staff members and local authority providers, some who were understandably wary of her method and madness. But for the young who sought her out, she was a mother figure and saviour. Now they are orphans again, roving in the wild, dystopian edges of our kingdom.
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