Tom Goodfellow

If Kids Company can collapse in days, what chance do the rest of us have?

Consider this scenario if you will. Two bright cheerful primary school children kiss their mum goodbye at the school gate and run off to meet their friends. At the end of the day they are met, not by mum, but by social workers who take them into care.

They tell the children that sadly mummy has died and that daddy has been taken to prison by some policemen.

They are (inappropriately) sent to stay with daddy’s sister who angrily tells them that mummy’s boyfriend should have gone to prison, not their daddy who eventually gets a twenty year sentence for murder.

Aunty, realising that she may be stuck with the children for the foreseeable future, phones the social workers and says she wants them out of her house by the end of the week. (Foster parents get paid for looking after children, family members do not).

The children get several short term foster placements and are finally moved to a more permanent home completely out of the area and away from all that is familiar to them.

In their new school they get seriously bullied because of their “posh” accents.

This is a true story and I have left out many other disturbing features.

Because of the murder the children are referred to the Homicide Therapeutic Service run by ASSIST Trauma Care for the Ministry of Justice.

ASSIST is a “not for profit” charity, based in the Midlands, which provides evidence-based therapy for people experiencing the psychological effects of trauma, of which I am a long serving trustee.

The children are contacted by one of the ASSIST therapists who is very experienced in treating children, and she becomes a crucial individual to them, seeing them on a regular basis and helping them to cope with what has happened.

Traumatic bereavement such as homicide can be devastating for the surviving family members with huge psychological, sociological and financial consequences. In addition to adults many children are affected and ASSIST therapists are regularly asked to see them. The first two years of the homicide service have been evaluated in some detail.

The psychological needs of children are frequently overlooked and it was with some sadness that I followed the slow motion car crash of the Kids Company and the shooting down of its founder the colourful Camila Batmanghelidjh.

It has not been hard to spot the schadenfreude in much of the media coverage. Batmanghelidjh is a typical shooting star who has spectacularly fallen to earth amid much negative speculation and criticism.

I have no idea whether or not the criticisms are justified, but many of us who are involved in the running of charities, most much smaller than Kids Company, will find it deeply disturbing that an organisation with such apparent huge financial backing and political support can become so quickly insolvent.

If such a big beastie can fail so spectacularly what hope is there for the rest of us.

As an organisation ASSIST is about as lean as you can get – probably too lean in view of the volume and complexity of work referred to us. Funding is a constant problem. For example many GPs wish to refer cases to us for specialist trauma therapy, but almost always fail to secure funding from the commissioners.

Applying to various grant-awarding bodies is increasingly a labyrinthine process taking hours of detailed work, and more often than not the application is unsuccessful.

Many applications now require complex information such an “assessment of the environmental impact” of the bid – how are you supposed to do that in any meaningful way if you are a small organisation? It is also difficult to get funding for any significant period of time. If lucky you may get a grant for three years, but more often for one year only. This makes it extremely difficult to plan sensibly for the future.

Children may be seriously affected by trauma whether it be acute such as a serious accident, or chronic such as abuse or neglect, and they can exhibit a variety of symptoms and behavioural changes.

It is well recognised that NHS mental health services are seriously under-resourced and this applies as much to children’s services as adults. The outcome is frequently disturbed, dysfunctional teenagers and young adults who go on to substance abuse and self-harming behaviours.

Ultimately this costs society far more than if there was adequate appropriate evidence-based investment in children’s services.

This is why the Kids Company is such a sad story. It may well be that some of its services and behaviours were not entirely appropriate, but it is clear that they plugged a huge gap in supporting needy youngsters.

Over the next few weeks the media will undoubtedly contain tragic accounts of children who have been failed by society and who have fallen through the net; that is until it becomes yesterday’s news and falls off the radar.

Will social services and the NHS mental health teams be able to step up to the mark? I doubt it, but we shall see.

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