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.