For the present, let me hold it to be the case that Kids Company did good work.
I think it reasonable to make that assumption on these grounds:
- a study by the London School of Economics, authored by Prof Sandra Jovchelovitch, who, in the words of the Daily Telegraph, ‘heaped praise’ on Miss Batmanghelidjh. The study concluded that Kids Company’s work had made a ‘substantial difference’ to the lives of the children and young people it worked with. The study was funded by the charity, though this does not imply it is tainted.
- another study, as reported by the Telegraph, by the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith, focussed on the children who used its services. It concluded that there are many with “desperate” needs not being met by local social services and that, ‘We have heard of such children and young people cycling in and out of statutory services without receiving the sustained help they need; but for the extraordinary work of voluntary sector organisations (VSOs) like Kids Company, would be entirely without support’.
- that the charity’s Chairman (Alan Yentob) is not someone one would assume to be easily hoodwinked.
The Government is also much implicated in the matter as Kids Company’s web site makes clear:
‘In April 2013 we were awarded a government grant of £8million across two years. We were subsequently awarded an extra £1 million across the two years for our Summer Residential programmes.’
This would normally be thought to indicate a degree of commitment and an expression of regard for the work undertaken.
Even if one assumes a degree of error and misjudgment
I have no direct knowledge of the matter, but even if one assumes that, as with any organisation, not everything was as good as it could be, that in some areas Kids Company tripped over its own feet, misdirected itself, that does not seem to justify the peremptory way it has been hung out to dry by ‘philanthropists’ and commercial sponsors, still less by Government.
So far as commercial sponsors and ‘philanthropists’ are concerned, their rapid withdrawal of support demonstrates only too clearly the dangers of relying on such funding. In some cases at least, such support amounts to vanity funding, the PR judgment that to be associated with a particular cause redounds to the reputational credit of the funder – fair weather friends with weak knees. On the other hand, Government seems similarly susceptible.
But what really counts here are the numerous individuals who will now be, at the very best, ‘referred to’ – a bloodless formulation in the circumstances – agencies and local authorities that it is commonly acknowledged have neither the resources, nor necessarily the skills to fulfil the role that Kids Company users require of them. And sticking to the human aspects, surely it cannot be thought that Kids Company’s users can simply be handed from one caseworker to another, as one might a parcel.
It is the nature and quality of the particular, individual relationship between caseworker and user – relationships often built up over time, and not simply ‘transferable’ to another – that is the key concern here. Or should be.
So here’s the rub: if Kids Company were a bank in trouble about to collapse, Government would step in to rescue it, notwithstanding any degree of corruption, mismanagement, venal behaviour that had led to that point. In this context you may think it queer that it was suggested that Kids Company was in error in paying staff monies owed from the last tranche of Government money it received given that errant bankers in miscreant and collapsing banks received their salaries – and some a bonus for good measure. If Kids Company were a bank, it would be rescued
Were you to be a commercial company building housing you’d be in line for Government support – ‘Communities Secretary launches £26 million fund for house builders to demonstrate the range of high quality homes for first-time‘ – notwithstanding that house builders are not generally thought to be in a state of penury.
Assume worst case scenario
For the sake of argument, let it be assumed that Kids Company was organisationally and financially a total mess – I personally make no such assumption. That does not absolve society, through the power of Government, from taking responsibility for the charity’s users in a meaningful way. Following other examples of state rescue, this would mean putting together a package that would ensure that the work of the organisation could continue, drawing on its skills and web of relationships that had previously been feted as so successful. If the kids had been bank customers, they would be OK. But they are not. So they are not.
In the meantime, better to be bank, whether failing or not.