Tag Archives: Children

Camila Batmanghelidjh surprised troubled kids with love


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Camila Batmanghelidjh surprised troubled kids with love” was written by Libby Brooks, for The Guardian on Friday 3rd July 2015 18.04 UTC

Camila Batmanghelidjh doesn’t text. Chronically dyslexic, the plethora of electronic means of communication, second nature to the young people she works with, is anathema to the children’s campaigner and founder of Kids Company. I found this frustrating when I was getting to know her, over a decade ago, first as a journalist researching a book on childhood and later as a volunteer for the charity. Wasn’t it rather queenly to expect a personal audience in this frantic and impersonal age? But I came to recognise that this was her gift: there were no fob-offs or polite ambiguities with Batmanghelidjh, no compromise with – often entirely pragmatic – convention, no fools suffered gladly either. And when she was with you, she really was with you.

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to sit in a room with her as a furious, dislocated, damaged child of the kind she found on the streets of south London, whom she fed, clothed and educated when no other social service would or could. “A child who has been terrorised and neglected isn’t going to feel threatened by punishment,” the Iranian-born psychotherapist explained to me. “Loving care surprised them more.” She recognised that love is an action.

On Friday Batmanghelidjh announced that she is to step down after nearly 20 years at the head of Kids Company, the charity she founded in 1996, which specialises in therapeutic support for severely abused and traumatised children. She accused politicians of playing “ugly games” after it was revealed that the Conservative government has signalled an end to its £5m annual funding, with the forfeit for further assistance set as her resignation and that of the charity’s chairman, broadcaster Alan Yentob. While official sources briefed against her, claiming that funds had not been properly accounted for and that the social impact of the charity’s services was in doubt, she dismissed it as a callow attempt to discredit her. Kids Company is now facing severe cutbacks if it is to survive, leaving thousands of vulnerable young people without support.

Ironically, the first time I encountered Batmanghelidjh in public, she was standing next to David Cameron. It was 2006, and the newly elected Tory leader had just delivered his infamous hug-a-hoodie speech. That mocking moniker, which of course he did not suggest, is now so well-worn that it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking it was both for the inveterately punitive Conservative party and indeed for any politician to boldly reference “love”. Batmanghelidjh was instrumental in that radical repositioning.

So it is baffling to see the same Tory leader apparently letting Kids Company swing for the sake of £5m. It’s no secret that Batmanghelidjh has annoyed plenty of people over the years, both on the left and the right, most recently with her criticism of the UK’s child protection system as not fit for purpose. She has been attacked for her unconventional methods and refusal to countenance the bureaucratic strictures of state care that can hamper swift intervention. My understanding is that she is not always the easiest of people to work for, mainly because her tunnel vision means that necessary conventions such as funding reserves and staff organisation are overwhelmed by crisis-to-crisis management.

It’s baffling too because Kids Company has enjoyed much high-profile support over the years, and indeed many Tory and City donors. With her bright turbans and dazzling charisma, Batmanghelidjh is a colossally successful networker and fundraiser. But the day-to-day running of the centres was far from glitzy. Many of those who attend are volatile, and staff are regularly threatened. I’ve heard plenty of third-sector sceptics conclude that her policy of loving kindness was naive. But I saw at first hand someone who knew how to get things done, and who was remarkable for the immediacy with which she cut through street swagger to reach an unhappy child.

At Kids Company, I met many young people who had referred themselves to the service. The majority had not been parented in any conventional sense, and they were often homeless. I remember Batmanghelidjh spending a frustrating afternoon shuttling between state services as she tried to find a bed for a girl who had run away from her abusive stepfather. On another occasion, security staff waited anxiously at the door of her cramped office while she spent hours talking gently to a raging teenager who was threatening to stab a fellow client over some imagined slight.I spent most of my time with a boy called Ashley. Just 15, he was already a small-time drug-dealer with a history of gun-related violence. Batmanghelidjh helped him come off skunk and found a sympathetic private tutor to make up his lost years of schooling. The last I heard, he was living happily with his girlfriend and studying for a qualification in sports management.

In 2005, the first children’s commissioner for England, Al Aynsley-Green, marked his appointment by warning of a national ambivalence towards children, with adults investing enormously in the young people with whom they are intimately involved while remaining at best equivocal and at worst fearful towards those growing up on the margins. Batmanghelidjh excelled at bridging that mistrust, preaching her gospel of empathy and emphasising that the consequence of so many unloved children was a distortion of the “emotional economy” of the whole country. At a time when further austerity can only serve to fragment society further, we need that message more than ever.

Earlier this week, a UN report called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, just as Iain Duncan Smith announced he was scrapping the 2020 child poverty target. This was denounced by Labour as the obituary for compassionate Conservatism. The treatment of Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company offers just as chilling a coda. Of course, the trajectory of a single charity has its peculiar complexities, but the broader symbolism is devastating. If this is what child protection looks like under a majority Conservative government, God help the child.

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Children who are bullied feel traumatised and isolated. I know – it almost killed me

Yep thats pretty much much how it is and it stays with you forever. You think you have manged to  come to terms with it but you never really do.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Children who are bullied feel traumatised and isolated. I know – it almost killed me” was written by Hope Whitmore, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th April 2015 11.40 UTC

The last time I went back to my family home, I found my school jotter from 1998. It was squirrelled away in the back of my sock-and-knicker drawer. Below the date Tuesday 3 February is a note in handwriting so determined that the pen has at several points punctured the page: “One day I will be pretty then no one can hurt me.”

I was a fat 13-year-old girl with a high-pitched voice and an as-yet-undiagnosed condition (they knew something was wrong with me; they just didn’t know what) that would later place me firmly on the autistic spectrum.

These factors, alongside my desperate desire to make friends, made me a perfect target for bullies. Often they imitated my voice. Sometimes they commented on my weight. Most cruelly, they pretended to make friends with me. “Come and sit with us, Hope. Would you like us to teach you to flirt? OK – well, if you make your eyes very big, like this and pout …” Then they’d fall about laughing.

At these times my one friend, Kirsty who was also bullied, but savvier than I, tried to save me. “Don’t go to them,” she’d say. “They don’t want to be your friend, they want to make you look ridiculous.” To the bullies I was their toy, free entertainment for when they got bored – which was often.

It was brutal and unremitting – a toxic combination of my social naivety and their cruelty. The girls may not have realised it, but their treatment almost killed me.

I was not surprised to read of a study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry that suggests that bullied children are at risk of mental health problems that will remain with them throughout their lives. Unlike children who are maltreated at home, the report argues, children bullied at school do not have advocacy groups and lobbyists on side. They are right: bullying is all too insidious, and too readily accepted.

As I was never maltreated at home, I cannot comment on whether the impact of bullying is, as the report argues, five times worse than that of cruelty in the home. I know that for me, having a safe place to return to, where I knew I was loved, was what kept me from killing myself.

However, unlike maltreatment from adults, bullying by peers is often normalised even while in plain sight. It is seen as “part of a normal childhood” – that old cliche “character-building”, even – rather than as something that will tear you down, bit by bit.

There can be a degree of victim-blaming in bullying. A male friend of mine told me how he was physically bullied by older boys and felt it was pointless to tell a teacher, as the attitude was usually that he should grow a backbone. Surely, in this day and age, such antediluvian attitudes have no place in our schools.

My teachers were kind but overstretched, and there was a weariness to their reactions to bullying, a masked but nevertheless apparent attitude that to some degree I was culpable – that if I wasn’t so bloody weird it wouldn’t happen. All I had to do was fit in; but that was all I couldn’t do.

At 15 I developed anorexia. It was, I suppose, inevitable. As I shrank, the bullying became less, and the concern of teachers became acute – my physical deterioration far more terrifying to them than the psychological torment I had previously tried to articulate. I was glad that I’d finally got them worried – that at last there was an acknowledgement of the hell I was going through daily at school. It felt good, except I couldn’t stop.

I was lucky I lived. I was even luckier that I recovered fully (aside from some weird rituals with food). But even now, I go through stretches of deep depression and an overwhelming feeling of being utterly crap. I think much of this reaches back to those formative years, when I was told every day by my peers that I was rubbish.

I hope this report forces authority figures to be less dismissive of peer bullying and its long-term ill effects. I know it must be difficult when you have a lot of kids to deal with, and it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to what appears to be a silly spat between teenagers. But the trauma and isolation felt by bullied children is real, and it is time that it was properly acknowledged as a political issue.

It is also important, however, that this is done without detriment to the children who are maltreated at home. Crucially, this report should not divide children who are maltreated at home and children who are bullied by peers. Both suffer terrible trauma and deserve to be taken seriously. Comparing two terrible situations with one another will achieve nothing.

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UK must spend more on the vulnerable

Again this is very important and worth a wider audience. 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK must spend more on the vulnerable” was written by , for The Guardian on Monday 16th March 2015 19.53 UTC

Day in and day out, we work with hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children facing many difficulties like abuse and neglect at home or problems at school.  While the state currently spends nearly £17bn per year on social problems affecting children and young people, the support they get is often too little, too late. ncreasing early help for families should be a top priority. It will save millions of children from suffering needless trauma and will save money in the long run. 

We want all political candidates in the 2015 general election to commit to championing early support for children and families.

Our charities understand the pressures on vulnerable children and families. That is why we are committed to providing a range of services at an earlier stage that help children and families cope better with life’s challenges. But we can’t do this on our own.

By making a commitment to early intervention, politicians can help lead a real, lasting, cost-effective transformation to the lives of vulnerable children across the UK, now and in the future.
Sir Tony Hawkhead Chief executive, Action for Children
Javed Khan Chief executive, Barnardo’s
Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children’s Society
Peter Wanless Chief executive, NSPCC

• We write as organisations working with children and pensioners, disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, in- and out-of-work families, and those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We have sent a letter to the leaders of the three main parties calling on them to commit to restore the value of all benefits, and to maintain this in real terms in the next parliament and beyond.

The UK’s social security system provides essential support to many of the people with whom we work. It should guarantee their dignity, protect them against poverty, and enable them to have a basic standard of living. 

Adequate social security provision benefits all of society, not just those who rely on it at any one time. If we do not protect the value of all benefits, significant numbers of people will be unable to participate fully in society, an outcome that surely none of us desire.
Alison Garnham Chief executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Caroline Abrahams Charity director, Age UK

Heléna Herklots Chief executive, Carers UK

Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE Chief executive, Royal National Institute of Blind People

Jon Sparkes Chief executive, Crisis

Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children’s Society
Javed Khan Chief executive, Barnardos

Mark Lever Chief executive, National Autism Society
Disability Agenda Scotland (six member organisations)
Jolanta Lasota Chief executive, Ambitious About Autism
Fiona Weir Chief executive, Gingerbread
Geraldine Blake Chief executive, Community Links
Howard Sinclair Chief executive, St Mungos Broadway
Sir Stuart Etherington Chief executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Liz Sayce OBE Chief executive, Disability Rights UK
Rick Henderson Chief executive, Homeless Link
Aaron Barbour Director, Katherine Low Settlement
Andy Kerr Chief executive, Sense Scotland
Anna Feuchtwang Chief executive, National Children’s Bureau
Marcus Roberts Chief executive, Drugscope

• On 19 March I will protest against benefit sanctions with Unite Community outside the DWP, whose ministers are in denial about the link between suicide and sanctions. Most people are in debt when the sanction stops all their income. Debt is unavoidable because housing and council tax benefits have been cut leaving the remaining benefit incomes in work and unemployment to pay the outstanding rent, created by the bedroom tax and £500 benefit cap,  and the council tax, plus court costs and bailiffs fees. Otherwise the sanction forces them into debt because they have no money on which to survive. That is the trap set by parliament for honest citizens who feel obliged to pay their debts; some despair and many call on their GPs. The NHS is now to receive an extra £1.25bn for mental health services while the DWP is creating an ever greater demand for them. 
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

In answer to a parliamentary question by Stephen Timms MP, to the DWP, answered by Esther McVey MP, on how many people have been refused hardship payments since 2012, she answered that the information is not available. It is time that it was.
Gary Martin

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Can you give a child too much praise?

Interesting. My father was fairly scathing of anything I attempted to do. Certainly  at no point can I recall him ever giving me any encouragement in anything: I do wonder if  thats the reason why I tend not to be ever satisfied with anything that I do. I tend to look for faults. A bit of a pat on the back occasionally might have helped.  

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Can you give a child too much praise?” was written by Tim Lott, for The Guardian on Friday 27th February 2015 13.30 UTC

My children are perfect. All four of them. Perfect and beautiful and clever. I bet yours are, too. Except, of course, they are not. In reality, my children and yours are likely to be reasonably average in terms of looks, behaviour, intelligence and charm. That’s why it is called average. Your belief in your child being special is more probably a biological imperative than an empirical fact.

A loved one, particularly a loved child, is edited as we observe them. Other people’s children are bratty; ours are spirited. Theirs are precocious; ours confident and self-assertive.

This is all natural and even touching when not taken too far. However, it is one thing feeding this propaganda to ourselves but feeding it to our children may be a little less desirable. We have the idea that – unlike my parents’ generation – we should build our children’s self-esteem as high as we can. Therefore, their random scribble is up there with Picasso, their C-minus is an unfortunate oversight on the part of the teacher, the fact that no one wants to be friends with them is because they are particularly clever or sensitive, the wart on their nose is a beauty spot.

Children see through this kind of thing very quickly and discount their parents’ compliments as a matter of course. As they grow up, they sense that the wider world judges them differently. This leads to a – hopefully gentle – cynicism about anything their parents tell them about their achievements. Perhaps that is OK – but I’m not sure it is good for them to have the currency of parental praise so devalued.

If parents were a little harsher sometimes, this could have two positive effects – first, when a compliment came, it would be more likely to be believed and, second, it would fit in rather more accurately with the picture of reality that the child is forming in their heads.

A lot of pressure is put on children who are told they are beautiful, special and perfect. Because then, where is there to go? Only downwards. They become hyperaware of their status in your eyes, and a danger must be that they fear failing you. To be overpraised by your parents is the counter side of being criticised all the time. Both can have negative consequences.

It is important to give your children the liberty to be flawed – to know that it’s OK to be imperfect, and that, in fact, we often love people for their flaws – perfect people (whom we can only imagine, as they do not exist) are easy to respect, but hard to love.

Now I am nearly 60, my main insight is that I am much less special than I once believed. This knowledge has actually been helpful in leading a more well-balanced life. I’d call it humility, if it weren’t very un-humble to attribute myself with the quality.

I certainly wouldn’t like to go back to attitudes that my parents, particularly my father, held, that to praise the child was to “spoil them” or make them bigheaded. However, the history of families is like the history of everything else – the story of overreactions. We praise our children to the skies, partly because we think it makes them feel good, but also because it makes us feel good. And perhaps it is more the latter than the former.

Having said all this, I am a terrible overpraiser, because I adore my children. I’m sure they have learned to take everything with a pinch of salt, but excessive love can be as big a burden as a shortage of it. My advice, at least to myself, is to ration not splurge. Then every compliment will count, rather than amounting to little more than a vaguely pleasing – but finally inauthentic – background Muzak, so persistent it isn’t even noticed.


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