Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Fall Of Kids Company

Up until recently, many observers of the charity sector would have viewed the youth support charity Kid's Company as a raging success. Its charismatic founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, had the ear not just of the press but the Prime Minister, who wholeheartedly supported the cause. Donations rolled in from City investors, and high-profile friends like Coldplay, who gave £8million to Kids Company. In 2013, estimates pegged the charity's income at a little over £23million.
All that money has gone. Reports note that Kids Company employees had not been paid since May. The only reason that their July paychecks went through was because an emergency grant supplied for restructuring was instead dipped into for day-to-day running costs.
Meanwhile Batmanghelidjh has been forced to leave Kids Company–her departure was a major condition of the new grant going through. Disturbing stories are emerging about the "help" that the charity was providing to the vulnerable kids under its care, and allegations of abuse at its South London premises are also coming out of the woodwork.
The real story of what went on at Kids Company is yet to emerge, although the horror stories of deprived kids treating the place as a bank, popping in once a week to grab envelopes of cash, are eye-bulging stuff (for more on that, I recommend Harriet Sargeant's article in the Telegraph). Batmanghelidjh's insistance on using discounted and in some cases Victorian-era thinking on the neurological links between poverty and abuse to guide the work Kids Company was doing haven't helped the cause either.
Things are only going to get worse, as Kids Company announced it was closing its doors on Wednesday night. Batmanghelidjh's golden touch has soured, and her pal David Cameron, who waved through that final loan despite objections from the Department of Education, has remained silent on the fall of his favourite charity. So too has his gaff-prone Minister For Civil Society, Rob Wilson, whose office deals particularly with charities and the voluntary sector. There's more to this silence than embarrasment at the connection with a failed charity, though.
The fall of Kids Company is yet another nail in the coffin of Cameron's prized Big Society. As a favoured partner, Batmanghelidjh was vocal in her distaste for the way traditional children's services were run. She collaborated with the Evening Standard in 2014 on a project callng for root and branch redesign of the system. In the article accompanying that launch, Kids Company was described as an organisation that "essentially mops up the mess social services fail to deal with." A bit rich, as the partnership between charities and the public sector was the whole point of Cameron's great vision. And of course, as the charity shutters, a fairly huge mess has just been dumped back into social service's lap.
Once again, we see how the notion of the Big Society founders when placed under real-world scrutiny. Kids Company was reliant on public money, and had major issues both financially and with its entire mission statement. Yet it was held up as a paragon of the way two sectors could work together. It's saddening that many charities that aren't headed by a founder with the connections, political nous and sheer charisma as Batmanghelidjh have been overlooked for funding, while the government continued to pour money into a black hole.
What all this means for the kids of South London who were under the care of Kids Company is worryingly vague. We should not applaud the fall of the charity, but its failure has implications for the Third Sector as a whole, particularly in the light of increased scrutiny into the way they raise funds. If David Cameron's favourite charity couldn't make it, what chance do the rest of us have?

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