Acclaimed charity chief warns that without government funding her aid for desperate children must end
Kids Company, the pioneering charity that helps children and teenagers who have suffered abuse and neglect, will close in March unless the government commits to a new long-term funding package.
The head of the charity, Camila Batmanghelidjh, who has received numerous personal accolades in recognition of her role as founder of the London-based charity, including the Women of the Year Assembly's Woman Of The Year 2006 award, said that the charity was now at crisis point. She told The Observer that, although it would break her heart to shut the charity she founded 11 years ago, she will have no choice unless the government agrees to fully fund Kids Company on a permanent basis.
'I'm exhausted,' she said. 'But not by the children. I want to go back to the front line and work with them directly. I'm exhausted by the sheer effort it takes every single month to scrape together the money to meet the basic needs of these desperate children in this, the fourth-richest country in the world.'
Last year Batmanghelidjh raised the charity's annual £4.5m running costs from 4,700 different sources. 'But to get a true picture of the effort involved, you need to multiply that figure by five,' she said. 'Because I have to ask an average of five people for every one who gives.
'I feel I have done my bit. I have remortgaged my flat twice - once when Kids Company was evicted and again when it had no money. I have no savings. I have nothing. I have done the job of four people for more than a decade. The difference now is that much of my work nowadays is filling in endless applications for funding, trying to figure out endless imaginative projects because the grant system means I can't just say I want permanent salaries for the workers who re-parent these absolutely desperate children,' she said.
'I can't continue fundraising in this way because it's not safe for my workers or for the kids,' she added. 'The demands and nature of risk at street level have escalated: since April we have had four shootings on our premises by strangers. One of our boys got a bullet in the neck. Our four security staff now wear bullet-proof vests. Why should I do this while begging for money, month by month? The kids and staff want me back at street level. What am I doing, walking around going to cocktail parties and doing handshakes and photo opportunities for money?'
Many of her children have suffered a lifetime of extreme abuse, violence and neglect, and suffer complex post-traumatic stress syndrome. Kids Company helped over 11,000 children last year and 800 parents and teachers. Its success is not in doubt, thanks to the 15 independent evaluations that have been made of the agency since 2000, all of which describe it as 'outstanding'. The Metropolitan Police are so impressed by the charity's impact on reducing local crime rates that they have requested it consider increasing its opening hours.
But despite its success the charity is, said Batmanghelidjh, trapped: 'The Charitable Trusts who have supported us since our beginning and whose role it is to facilitate social innovation, such as Sainsburys, Esmee Fairburn and the Tudor Trust, have said that because we have proven ourselves it's now the government's turn to fund us. But although central government thinks the local authorities will fund us, the local authorities don't have the money.'
To compound the problem, Batmanghelidjh is finding it ever harder to persuade businesses and individuals to donate. 'Lots of businesses have told us they will be switching their future funding to the Olympics,' she said. 'Others have fallen foul of a new trend of narcissistic philanthropy, which means they want to engineer specific social changes which are quick, easy and measurable. I have had someone from a major company refuse to give me the £50,000 they were looking to donate because, in her words, "Your kind of children don't look good on our annual report".'
In 2005 Kids Company received a £3m grant from central government, but this will run out in March. 'I think central government just assumes I will find a way to keep Kids Company going, but I can't,' she said. 'I am sending [Gordon] Brown a letter next week announcing my intention to close and telling him why.'
Joe Cavanagh, business development director of Parliament's spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, believes the 'baroque complexity' of funding arrangements is damaging the work of many charities.
'The services of many charities are undermined by a lack of co-ordination in the delivery of funding,' he said.
'We need coherence and consistency in the government's funding practices to ensure that charities' valuable work is not hampered by bureaucracy.'
A Downing Street spokesman said: 'We are in the process of finalising the budget for the next three years.
These concerns are a little premature.'
- Camila Batmanghelidjh set up Kids Company in December 1996.
- Last year some 11,000 vulnerable and homeless children used its services.
- It has 181 paid staff and more than 1,500 volunteers. Its annual donations are in the region of £5m.
- Among the charity's sponsors are the Prince of Wales, Cherie Blair and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan.
Source: The GaurdianKids Company Donate Here