Huge numbers of children across the UK are being robbed of their childhood – failed by the adults responsible for them and a system that can’t cope. Camila Batmanghelidjh explains how, ultimately, we all share a burden of responsibility for their care.
“1.5 million children are currently being maltreated in Britain. Their primary crisis is the lack of a functioning adult, someone who can provide for their basic physical and psychological needs.
Sadly, in many children’s lives, this means the absence of someone to feed them properly. These are the children of drug adults, alcoholics, whose parents are on incredibly low incomes, and who may have not managed properly the household budget. Our current social care system is at breaking point – it can’t cope with the scale of demand. As a result large numbers of children are being left to fend for themselves.
“It’s only the riots of last summer that began to show the implications of dismissed youth.”
“We were finding large numbers of children turning to us, actually asking for food. Many were on the verge of malnutrition; we’ve even had cases of rickets. We intervened and have ended up feeding about two thousand children their main meal of the day. Our food campaign aims to raise awareness of the issue, but also to generate income – we need the public’s support to continue this work.
“Nationally, there are a group of children whose economic status is so bad that they need free school meals, but there are no provisions during the school holidays. In effect we’re assuming that hunger keeps term-time appointments. I’d like local authorities to open up centres to serve lunch during the holidays for children who are on school meals. Children and teenagers from disadvantaged families should have year-round access to meals.
“Britain – currently bottom of the league of the world’s 21 wealthiest countries for the wellbeing of children – has an outstanding agenda that it must address robustly. Central government needs to call a Royal Commission to look at the life chances of vulnerable children in this country. We are seeing a breakdown in appropriate provision, with demand outstripping resources on a phenomenal scale. In relation to the challenges that are experienced by vulnerable children, our current structures are not fit for purpose.
“Because children don’t vote, historically governments have allowed this issue to chug along. It’s only the riots of last summer that began to show the implications of dismissed youth.
“Society gets lulled into telling itself that it’s the children’s fault. It’s not so brave to instead lay faults at the feet of the adult decision makers, which is where the origin of the problem actually begins. It’s no good blaming the parents either, because they were once children like this for whom no one intervened.
“Ultimately, either there is such a thing as childhood – in which case adults are responsible for it; or there isn’t – in which case be prepared for kids to be savage and make it as best as they can in a world where you don’t aff ord them care.”
Camila Batmanghelidjh is the founder and director of Kids Company and has been a psychotherapist for more than twenty years. Camila has created a unique and pioneering approach in delivering services to vulnerable children. She has always focused the organisation’s activities on the needs of the most vulnerable client group without making compromises in order to hit current trends or government priorities. Camila has become an advocate for vulnerable children, speaking regularly at conferences and has contributed to numerous publications. She is widely credited with inspiring David Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ speech. Her book, Shattered Lives: Children living with Courage and Dignity was published in May 2006.
Kids Company’s have launched their Plate Pledge appeal to support their work tackling the increasing levels of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition experienced by too many children. The appeal aims to help Kids Company to feed vulnerable and hungry children and raise awareness of the inequality and deprivation that is compounding the misery of maltreatment for thousands of children who are surviving their childhoods alone. Visit their website to find out more and join the appeal.
photography FRAN MONKS interview by WILL FERGUSON
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