“Flipping The Coin: Whose anti-social behaviour requires sanctions? The young, or those who make decisions about their well-being?” – Camila Batmanghelidjh at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Humanities in Public Festival
By Dan J. Broadley
Camila Batmanghelidjh CBE is one of the most well-known advocates of vulnerable children and has even been described as “one of the most powerful women in the UK.”
On Monday the 17th November, the Humanities in Public Festival in conjunction with the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies brought this incredible person to Manchester Metropolitan University for an important discussion on how vulnerable children in the UK are not getting the care they urgently require.
Camila entered the room in her trademark colourful attire and began the session by stating we need to “rethink the paradigms under which we operate in relation to how we help children.”
She began with a moving story of a troubled seven year old girl at a primary school in London who was harshly neglected and received almost no care. Following this, Camila set up a self-referral system at the school, after which more children than she could have ever anticipated came forward to talk about their troubled lives.
This led to her setting up a program at the school for the summer holidays for children to feel safe, which was difficult to get started. Before long, she was handing out evening meals and travel passes to these neglected children. Now, this program, Kids Company, supports 36,000 vulnerable children nationwide, with 600 paid staff (and trained locals) and up to 11,000 volunteers, with £24million funding from the central government. This in itself highlights the brilliant work Camila has put in to helping children, but also how far there is yet to go.
Camila also initiated research in to neurodevelopment trauma after writing about the lives of around 400 neglected and abused children. She gained the support of the British Medical Association, Oxford & Cambridge Universities, UCL and some of the UK’s top scientists. Camila then gave a talk about the brain science behind this research, which included how a child who is treated cruelly from an early age is more likely to act cruelly themselves later on in life. This is because of stress and fear hormones which become almost permanently active and the way to release this tension is usually through violence.
She described the concept of the ‘frozen memory’ – how if, for example, a child is violently attacked, they can become the victim again later in life via self-harm or become the perpetrator by becoming violent.
After this, Camila talked about the three stages in the Kids Company ‘delivery model,’ which was self-preservation and motivation, empathy and attachment and giving a positive future.
“We need to give them a structure of power and potency of the heroic” said Camila, as the children she helps often find it difficult to adjust to a ‘normal’ life.
Camila went on to show some before and after pictures of the environment some children lived in, which made for shocking viewing, but which Kids Company had improved enormously. Camila then told the audience,
“Our political system is making poor clinical decisions, as only 0.079% of research is used in policy making.”
A scandalous statistic. She continued,
“It hasn’t really changed since the Victorian age, social services simply cannot cope with the estimated 1.5million mistreated children when there are only ever 80,000 at one time in care! Blame is not at the child’s door, but the decision maker’s door.”
This was met by a round of applause, before the discussion went to questions from the audience.
Topics included the lack of rationality in the social services system and how social carers will often ‘follow procedure’ rather than do the right thing. One brave woman in the audience described her own experience of being a foster parent of a child with disturbing behaviour which they had not been informed about by social services.
I don’t mean to sound critical of the social services as I write this, as it’s better to have some form of system in place than none. But one thing was made clear during Camila’s talk – we need radical reform of how we help neglected and abused children if we are to advance this cause at all.
Humanities in Public did a wonderful job in bringing this incredible personality of Camila Batmanghelidjh to MMU, and have a string of further events in the ‘Contesting Youth’ strand coming up over the next few weeks. For more information visit www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/hip/
Dan is an English and Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include music, festivals, bass guitar, writing poetry, having ideas for novels and meditation. Follow him on Twitter @DanJBroadley. Dan’s personal blog is odd dan.wordpress.com