Guest post: Camila Batmanghelidjh - 'Our child protection system is failing'
This week, a Centre for Social Justice report has declared that child protection services are 'in crisis'. Here, Camila Batmanghelidjh - whose charity Kids Company are currently running the See the Child campaign - explains how children are falling through the cracks, and argues that too often, society blames the child and parents as a way of ignoring systemic failings.
Founder of Kids Company
Posted on: Fri 27-Jun-14 10:56:46
(90 comments )
Steven is seven years old. He has been excluded permanently from his school for violent behaviour. The reports about him are full of descriptions of how badly behaved he is. Eventually, the local authority, having been unable to find a school that would accept him, sent Steven to Kids Company for education. We were the first people to visit his home. Steven’s bed was a urine stained mattress on the floor; there was no food in the house, which explained why he always looked gaunt, and regularly stole food. His clothes were unwashed, giving other children an excuse to call him ‘Stinky’.
When we investigated further, we found another toddler in this house who exhibited savage behaviours. Further persistence brought us to the reason why both these children were so disturbed: the mother’s partner had changed his name. He is a known paedophile, and it is likely that he is sexually abusing these children. Kids Company is pushing for the social work department to carry out formal investigations.
This seven-year-old’s contact with professional agencies - his school, health visitor, GP, clinical psychologist - is illustrative of the challenges we face in our attitude to children who exhibit disturbances. If Steven had been crying, or cutting himself, people would have wondered why he was so upset, and maybe they would have felt more compassionate towards him. But chronically maltreated children learn very early on to deny themselves tender feelings - because there is nothing more humiliating that expressing pain and not being soothed for it or protected. So Steven’s second skin, the layer that keeps him safe, is his violence. By manifesting the hate he feels, he tries to communicate the intensity of the violations he is enduring, but he also gets to keep grown-ups at a distance in an attempt to self-preserve. How is Steven supposed to see the world around him as compassionate and filled with goodwill, when his mother, and the person who is supposed to be like a father to him, are the very people who violate you?
When a seven-year-old is perceived as a predator - someone who needs to be banned and excluded from places - adults tend to put a block on their own curiosity. They stop asking: what happened to this child to make him so violent? Was permanent school exclusion the best decision for him? And why didn't anyone do a home visit?
When a seven-year-old is perceived as a predator - someone who needs to be banned and excluded from places - adults tend to put a block on their own curiosity. They stop asking: what happened to this child to make him so violent? Was permanent school exclusion the best decision for him? And why didn't anyone do a home visit? Just walking into a child’s room will give you a sense of whether they are being cherished or neglected. It’s in the detail: the cleanliness of the bedsheets, the order in the wardrobe, the stench in the carpet.
There are over a million children just surviving their childhood. The Centre for Social Justice calls them the 'lone children'. They are not in local authority care, nor are they on a child protection register. Therefore, it’s assumed that they are living with a functioning parent(s). The NSPCC has to speculate, because neither local authorities nor central government want to capture the real numbers of children who are being maltreated. The state claims it has no money to meet their needs. As a result, 920,000 to 3.5 million children are thought to be living with alcoholic parents. 50,000 to 2 million children struggle with their parents’ mental health difficulties. Just under 1.8 million children survive domestic violence, and 1 in 20 children are being sexually abused. The figures for child mental health difficulties have not been updated for 10 years, but the numbers of parking meters have. Ofsted declares 1 in 7 social work departments as not fit for purpose; if 1 in 7 trains crashed, you’d suspect there was a problem with the train company, wouldn't you? And yet we don’t have the conversation about systemic failures which leave our vulnerable children without appropriate help; instead, we put the blame on the child, the parent or the individual social worker. In demonising them instead of the system, we reassure ourselves that the failing was an exception.
The current system has not changed since the Victorian times. More children are being maltreated than people dying of cancer. It’s just that kids don’t vote, so the political system doesn't prioritise them. In denying devastated kids the care they deserve, we make ourselves a sick society. And, eventually, well cared-for children will also pay the price, because there won’t be safety in their schools, on the bus, or in the streets, as children who have been perversely treated take revenge.
So, that’s why we've started our ‘See the Child, Change the System’ campaign. We want to gather the best minds, across a range of disciplines, to collectively come up with a new design for social services and child mental health. Maybe it should be called the Department of Child and Family Resilience, where social care and psychiatric workers collaborate to strengthen vulnerable families and nurture their abilities? And maybe, if we were more resourceful, the money that is being spent could reach more kids.
If your child was being harmed, you would want someone to protest and protect. It’s just that for a lot of children, there isn't a grown up in their lives who notices their pain. On their behalf, we want you to help us change the system so that it can give them the care children deserve. Please watch this video and sign our petition for change, it’s less than two minutes of your time, but it could help you change a child’s life.
By Camila Batmanghelidjh
This is not 'new' its been failing for years, I'm hurtling towards 30, I was removed from my parents care at 4 months old and it was failing then. Not enough staff, not enough finances, not enough support and not enough powers.
Agree with everything Camilla has said (huge respect for Kids Co as an organization that champions the rights of the child) but the real problem we need to address is a chronic underfunding of the services that protect the child.
I work with young people in need and work closely with social workers - they are overstretched, have too many children on their caseloads and a worrying number of SWs in my LA are off sick with stress or are leaving the profession.
In my area the gov't cuts have hit hard and affect every area of child protection, safeguarding and early intervention. Without the money, the best minds in the world cant solve this issue and an expensive restructuring of childrens services alone is not enough to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable children and young people.
Im a foster carer, so this campaign looks fantastic.
I could weep at times at how much the "human rights" of negligent, abusive parents come before the welfare of the children. Yes, if parents are able to turn their lives around, they should keep their kids. But how many chances and how many months and years are children left in their awful environments? WHile justice supports "innocent until proven guilty" I wonder if its not time to remove children far earlier until the parents have proven themselves capable of being parents - then give them time and resources to make changes without using the kids as guinea pigs and leaving them in that environment.
ANd I want to hold those precious adoptive parents in mind, who go through a brutal and intrusive process to become parents - and then its no wonder some feel they can only cope with children with minimal issues, as their tender hearts have already been put through the wringer. Id like to see a lot more support and compassion post adoption, so these blooming wonderful champions can get priority with access to CAMHS and other support services throughout the childhood and adolescence of their children.
ANd Id like to stop seeing the press promoting the "evil social workers stole my kids" complete with sad faces. The local authorities can never comment, so its always one sided. This is not holding the Social workers to account, it just creates a climate of fear around them.
(climbs off soap box...)
Apart from being let down by all the services run by adults, they are also let down by their peers, who quickly pick up on a needy child and exclude them or abuse them. This should be challenged more in schools through better structures to encourage ongoing social responsibility. The annual drugs and gangs talk from police isn't nearly enough. Children are capable of taking care of each other too.
Thank you for all the amazing work that you are doing.
It's shameful that people outside the system are the only ones that can actually shake it up.
whenever i mention the number of seriously disturbed young people and how dangerous they are for other children in the secondary schools i've worked in people accuse me of high drama and exaggerating. it's like people think the future murderers, wife beaters, rapists, psychopathically disordered etc etc of the future just appear fully formed at 18 or so. they don't. comprehensive education means everyone and with the pressure on to keep kids in school no matter what and the lack of provision for children's mental health and specialist help when there are clear problems some classes i've taught have seen me feeling more like i was back working in a pscyh hospital secure unit (minus the security) rather than in a school.
inclusion only works if needs are being met and problems openly addressed and dealt with and child protection (of ALL children shoved in that environment on a daily basis) taken seriously.
i totally agree that this is about the protection of ALL children, not just those who are being abused or exhibiting the violent behaviour. parents send their kids of to school with the reasonable expectation that they'll be safe, that the adults in contact with them will have been police checked and have been cleared on health grounds etc. they don't think about the fact that their child could be sat next to a child who has already sexually assaulted children, has already been diagnosed as a sociopath or has a very high potential for serious violence against others. for the sake of children who are suffering with mental health or psychological problems AND for the children we sandwich into overcrowded understaffed large schools with them on a daily basis we need to address the needs of these children and their families.
i've seen kids wandering around school causing hell for other kids who when i was working in a psychiatric unit for teenagers would have been on constant obs because of their potential to harm others. school can't be used as a 'make it all invisible' camp for societies problems - it's a bit of a time bomb and i'm surprised we haven't seen more violence and issues yet. a lot of it gets hidden though as schools keep it quiet and parents don't call the police when children are assaulted or sexually harassed for example.
how awful that no govt agency had investigated further
Why is Mumsnet not campaigning on this instead of PMQs?
I agree that children slip through the nets I think people are usually looking for the wrong things. I was missed, partly because the abuse was from early enough for me to develop coping mechanisms but also because I always lived in a clean house with working parents. The abuser didn't live with us.
As an adult I am stigmatised by my contact with the mental health system which wasn't helpful apart from during a crisis. But there was very little understanding as I first disclosed it outside my family as an adult and a parent. I was treated like a traitor to my family by others of my ethnic group and repeatedly made to feel I had to achieve more than parents who didn't have my background. Even worse raising my child was like jumping hurdles. I'm very grateful for the help we recieved from various charities. However saddened how little help there is trying to be heard or helped at the time of need and how easy it is to be victimised for speaking publicly about it. I think this as an adult so very worrying for children.
It's an awful feeling when the world turns there back on you because even if you don't outwardly show destructive or aggressive behaviour and work hard to make your life worthwhile, you have to make good memories and because they don't always exist. When you make your own children and family you have to work that much harder to be normal.
I actually think schools could be the ideal place to provide effective help for children with these issues if the resources are there. Good behaviour support team is essential. It is quite possible for specialists to provide the help needed to staff and children in a school setting. As Honeybadger says we can't make schools a convenient place to hide these children which all too often it is. It can however with the right resources be a sanctuary and give them a sense of belonging and normality. Segregating these children will only make their problems worse.
It shouldn't be left up to random charities to pick up out of school hours. Pastoral care in schools should be a much higher priority.
Unreal, that's true except where school is where the abuse takes place. or one of the places as there can be more than one abuser. Also it doesn't suit all children. Personally I found two of my schools were brilliant safe havens but I grew up to be a home educating parent.
I volunteered with Kids Company many years ago and I've never forgotten the experience. Camila is a truly amazing woman and Kids Company a real life line for young people.
How terrible that in this day and age so many children are not being adequately protected, it breaks my heart.
A thousand times yes to this campaign.I set up a nurture class in our school, we helped children with complex and sometimes very disturbing behavior to integrate safely and generally successfully into a mainstream school. Good long term outcomes Beth behaviorally, emotionally and academically. We worked closely with parents, specialists and where necessary both chipdrens and adult social services.
But as of September our unit is closing, our school has become part of an academy trust and out little sanctuary is seen as an expensive embarrassment and they don't want to attract children like those we work with who often have complex, long term and expensive needs.
Working with these children needs to been seen as important and valuable and resources need to be spent early in life.I have loved every minute of the last few years nurturing children and camila is one of my personal heroes!
Fantastic campaign. I get the rage regularly when parents human rights are prioritised over their birth children. My beautiful daughter has had the chance of being a mother taken from her because her mother drank during pregnancy. My DD will never manage childcare, she forgets things etc. Her birth mother continued to have children. Each child more damaged than the last. It reminds me of fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. If you abuse a child in the womb why the hell are you allowed to keep doing it?The system is flawed, definitely. It is too soft on reoffenders. Why do adoptive parents have to prove they will be good parents when anyone who can give birth, can? Ifyswim. It is such a huge problem and that is the families social services know about. I just feel so bad for the kids who fall through the cracks. So sad. I cannot understand how any adult dealing with an angry child in nursery, school etc doesn't deals with parents? If a child is stale and smelly, something is wrong at home. I know these days extra training is being done with staff to spot signs, a small step in the right direction.
err really don't think this campaign is for forced sterilisation.
I wonder what Ms Camila said about black mothers is something that she would say about white mothers or any other? I want to get behind her, but I can't. Her stereotyping is heinous very "mansplaining" , "groupiefied" and a great example of misogynoir.
Still, I suppose we should take the help where we find it, no matter the inner motivations of those giving it (I always question supposed motives when charitable people show their arse).
Am a SW and can't say more than there just are not enough resources.
!:20 children being sexually abused is hideous. I have twins in separate classes in Reception, and spend a lot of time in their classes. I know those 60 kids fairly well. It appalls me that potentially 3 of them could be being sexually abused.
Sorry stooshe, I don't know what in particular you are referring to but I am very surprised that you take the view that CB is anything other than utterly genuine and utterly committed to her cause. I have been following her work for years, she started out under railway arches near Brixton so I am guessing that most of her initial work will have been done with black children. Maybe that explains comments she makes about the black community - but I don't know what you are particularly referring to. There was certainly nothing in the blog to attract any kind of criticism, as far as I can see.
I don't think she is condescending or 'mansplaining' (whatever on earth you mean by that) maybe she has just had to be repeating the same message over and over again.
She puts her money where her mouth is, works very long hours fund raising and has dedicated her life to making things better for abused and neglected children.
the system is crumbling, she is right about that.
I hope that everyone who reads this will sign her petition.
Signed the petition. Should be unbelievable that no-one bothered to visit the home of a child in the circumstances Camilla described - but sadly I can believe it.
Huge respect for Camila. I agree with other posters that far too much energy goes into keeping parents sweet and too much wasted energy (in some cases) on keeping children at home with shockingly abusive parents. Also agree that there are nowhere near enough resources - the system is so overwhelmed
Why is Mumsnet not campaigning on this instead of PMQs? This, absolutely. Who cares if MPs act like asses? Saving children is more important
The problem we have now is people who were poorly parented by irresponsible parents being bad and irresponsible parents to their own children and it seems that the more the state tries to support them, the less responsibility they take
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