Many of you in the UK will be familiar with the problems that have plagued Kids Company over the last year, or years in fact as it’s now revealed. For those who don’t know Kids Company is a Charity led by CEO and spokesperson Camila Batmanghelidjh. Camila has long been publicly very visible advocating for the plight of underprivileged children around the UK.
Apparently the approach that the organisation takes is taking substantial amounts of public money to give children the love of a family. What it has been revealed is in fact she was for the most part giving children and families envelopes full of cash to buy what they need. I probably don’t need to tell you all what’s wrong with that approach. Firstly, many of these underprivileged children are likely coming from abusive environments, it’s very likely for many of them that money was gone before they bought food or clothes or whatever it was for. Some of the families probably spent that money on things other than what they were meant for, drink, drugs, gambling. Handing a child an envelope of cash in no way guarantees that the child in question will buy food, or whatever they need. I completely approve of the food bank concept, you are living in poverty and you can get some essentials donated by kindly people, or a “soup kitchen” or clothes or whatever the item is. Unfortunately these have become essential services for many underprivileged people.
I’ve worked in the charity sector in the UK for over 9 years and as much as I would love to buy people the things they love, I can barely afford to buy myself all the things I want, that’s the cost of working for charity, we don’t get fat pay checks. I do well, but I’ll never be rich, I’ll never own a house. It’s a tough sector in the current financial climate but my work has focused on people and doing what I can with what resources I have, as do many working in charity. However, the approach that most will use is to help people make progress, you help people make progress by teaching, teaching coping skills, emotional skills, vocational skills, cooking, budgeting, managing benefits… any skill where there may be a deficit. Giving people money teaches people one thing, they don’t need skills.
Not only has the charity run itself to the ground, likely due to massive mismanagement, they have also bred an attitude amongst their beneficiaries and staff and many followers that the way to help is simply to dole out what people need, in some cases what they want.
On the BBC documentary there was a woman who Camila had bought a flat nicer than any I’ve ever lived in, paid for her food, clothes, bills and everything. And what Camila did do that people should, is give lot’s of positive re-enforcement however, it was unrealistic and again, lacked any skill development. When the charity went under, so did the financial support for that woman and many others, and they are left not being able to cope. What Camila created was a dependency on her, my aim in helping people is to get them to a point where they no longer need my help.
I’m sure that Camila’s original intentions were good, the desire to help is admirable but it is simply not enough. There was one scene in the documentary that really stood out for me, a room full of staff who had lost their jobs due to the closing of Kid’s Company blaming the media for it’s downfall, but having a sense of pride because “we’ve shown the model works” they were deluded, their cult like admiration for Camila fooled them into thinking her approach was actually going to help. The model doesn’t work, it created dependency and it failed and now the dependents have no parents…
I have no doubt that the organisation has helped many people, and had a positive impact on some, but it clearly has failed many more. Camila’s refusal to take a bail out and step down highlighted how much the charity feeds her ego, her refusal to admit she has failed shows this. Stand up, say sorry, let someone else fix your mess, but she wouldn’t. The sticky plaster approach does not work, sometimes it’s needed short term so a strategy can be developed to help someone longer term, but what is clear from the many people who have been devastated by Kid’s Company’s closure is that they only had a sticky plaster approach.
I tried to look at this without a cynical viewpoint, I thought that maybe this was a group of people really and genuinely trying to help and they just got it wrong. But what I realised is that what Kid’s Company actually needed was a cynic, was someone internally to challenge their approach. I know how charities work and it is tough, we are often constrained by legislation and rules that don’t make sense but we’d all end up like Kid’s Co if we ignore all of that. I feel sorry for the people they have set up to fail, I feel sorry for the staff who have tried their best and been taught all the wrong ways to help people, I also feel sorry for the other charities who are going to feel the brunt of this, we’re not all like Kid’s Co.