Kids Company - RSA

Blog: Camila Batmanghelidgh is right - it’s time to see the child and change the system

Blog 4 Comments

  • Education
  • Adolescence
  • Health & wellbeing
  • Public services

During the summer holidays, when the standard social class gaps in children’s opportunities becomes even more chasm-like, the closure of Kids Company is particularly devastating. The initial shock and the possible lessons to learn have been covered extensively everywhere, with excellent governance-related analyses from RSA Fellows Emma Knights and Tony Breslin. Let’s hope that those young people affected are rapidly guided to access the alternative sources of support they deserve. 

For all Kids Company’s issues, there is no doubt that Camila Batmanghelidgh had the drive, intelligence and narrative nous to ask the most difficult questions, especially of funders, policymakers and practitioners. Beyond the short-term reaction to the procurement failings of government, and the organisational failings of the charity, she deserves a longer term legacy – one which continues to ask those questions, and consider the radical changes that might be needed to enable our most vulnerable young people to thrive.

Last November, I met with Kids Company to discuss a proposed taskforce on See the Child, Change the System. Set up by Kids Company and others, the campaign called for a total overhaul of social care and mental health services for children, so that the whole system is redesigned to work for vulnerable people. As the campaign stated:

"The delivery of care to vulnerable children in Britain is not fit for purpose. The time has come to tackle the apathy that has led to children and workers feeling depleted and humiliated when both are yearning for reparation."

There is little disagreement on this point. From secondary schools who are witnessing significant rises in mental health issues, to the overloaded CAMHS and related local services, and young people’s own views, it is clear that communities everywhere are failing to cope with the issues that young people face, and that vulnerable young people in the most marginalized communities are most at risk of this systemic failure.

The remit of the proposed taskforce, with Keir Starmer MP as chair, and senior sector representatives as members, went beyond any traditional enquiry. It would have aimed to design a radical new comprehensive child protection and child wellbeing delivery model, to be trialed rapidly in specific localities. In contrast with what looks (from the outside) like a ponderous, incremental and jargon-heavy DfE Children’s Social Care Innovation programme, such a taskforce could have come to much more rapid, and radical systemic solutions. Ms Batmanghelidgh’s original ideas for how the taskforce could be structured revealed her deep insights into how transformation might happen.

Kids Company, keen for the taskforce to be led by a genuinely independent organisation, were interested in the RSA acting as the Secretariat. Unfortunately, this conversation didn’t progress, as more urgent funding priorities took precedence within Kids Company. As far as I know the taskforce is currently dormant.

Ms. Batmanghelidgh has repeatedly claimed that there was a hidden government agenda to ruin Kids Company’s reputation and therefore avoid the difficult questions that she constantly raised, and hoped to air as rigorously as possible through the taskforce. Whether or not these claims are true, the case for change in our system of child support remains as urgent as ever, so the case for the initiation of the taskforce, independent of government, remains strong. RSA has a two hundred year reputation for serious, influential inquiries leading to creative solutions, and policy and practical changes. We can’t claim to represent the sector in any way, or have any report-ready answers yet. But if the RSA can in some way help to ensure that the consequences of Kids Company’s closure move beyond the salacious headlines to a deeper response, we’re up for the challenge.

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  • Our young people will be vulnerable andeasily misled if they haven’t learnt these 8 skills well. The Government andmedia need to make developing & measuring them the focus for our societyinstead of just academia & written exams. 

    1. Learn effectively  to cope & enjoy the continual change inmodern life.

    2.Cognition tounderstand & solve complex everyday problems to make good decisions

    3.Communication to concentrate, listen, speak, read, write & detect non-verbalinformation  effectively

    4.Self-awareness to assess ourselves accurately & what to improve to become healthy& happy

    5.Self-management to manage our feelings, controlour behaviour & avoid ‘quick–fixes’

    6.Motivation tobecome resilient by learning from difficulties & setbacks 

    7.Empathy tounderstand & appreciate other people’s views & emotions -respect

    8.Relate -tocooperate well with others to lead & be part of a team.

  • Thanks for this comment, Andy. I'm not singling her out for praise, or suggesting Kids Company as a model to solve our system of child support. I also totally agree with your 'in defence of bureaucracy' point. I just want to make sure that the bigger questions abut our most vulnerable people are not lost in the more detailed, and necessary, scrutiny of 'what went wrong' at Kids Company. Camila was right to raise these questions, and although she wasn't the only person doing this, her voice did cut through. You are right that a taskforce is hardly novel, but the early design-based ideas on how it might develop solutions were interesting, and I was confident that the taskforce's rationale wasn't a form of disguised advocacy for Kids Company. 

    You're also right about our family of RSA Academies, which ensure that proper oversight isn't an obstable to innovation, and are also deeply committed to addressing mental health issues. See this Guardian article about Whitley Academy. 

    • Thanks for the response Joe. It would be good to understand more about these early design-based ideas then, as that sounds like the novel contribution here. 

      You're right, Camilla has done a lot to bring these issues to the attention of policymakers. I think that one of the frustrations I have with our sector, though, is that all too often the right points are being made but aren't necessarily being heard, because people are less interested in what's being said and more in who said it. I'm sure there are a lot of people with brilliant ideas for sorting out children's services who haven't been given the political access that Camilla has been granted, and it would be nice to see a wider net being cast by policymakers in the search for solutions. But yes, you're quite right, let's not lose sight of the bigger questions, or of the young people themselves.

      Great article about Whitley!

  • Hmm, I'm a bit troubled by this blogpost, Joe. Camilla was right, you say? About what exactly? As you say above, there is little disagreement that the system could be improved, so that certainly can't be her unique contribution to this debate. Furthermore, recommending a task force to figure out a solution isn't excatly a bold new policy idea, so I am struggling to see why you are singling her out for praise here. 

    I wonder if you're suggesting that KidsCo had the right model for the future and we could learn a lot from how they solved these difficult problems? I certainly hope you're not saying this, at least not until these issues have been investigated. The more I learn about how KidsCo seems to have operated, the more pleased I am that the RSA Academy network doesn't operate in any way like that, and the more worried I feel about people who want to throw away all the 'bureaucracy' that ensures democratic oversight and proper safeguarding, and replace it with a well-meaning autocracy that claims to protect children better purely because everyone involved is so terribly clever and well-meaning. 

    Surely if there are lessons to learn from KidsCo, they are that child services are difficult to deliver well, and that cost-savings mustn't come at the price of inconsistent delivery, precarious financial models or a lack of democratic accountability. And whatever the truth of the various appalling allegations emerging about them, I certainly can't see any taskforce recommending that child services could learn a lot from KidsCo any time soon...