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.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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