In 2012 the CEO of Kids Company, Camila Batmanghelidjh, raised a number of serious concerns regarding child protection and statutory mental health provision for vulnerable children and young people with the Centre for Social Justice. These concerns prompted us to embark on what has become one of the most detailed single reports that the CSJ has ever undertaken.
Two years of research, over 70 interviews, many weeks of legal advice, and, most importantly, the experiences and views of some extremely vulnerable children and young people have gone into its making.
At the centre of this work has been a detailed analysis of the cases of 20 vulnerable children and young people who have been supported by Kids Company. These provide a window on to the horrific challenges they have endured and the multiple barriers to statutory services that they have often faced.
Their stories and the testimony of the experts we have consulted, reveal a growing group of children and young people whose family lives have broken down or are in deep crisis, who are in desperate need of help and love but who are struggling to receive the necessary care and support of statutory services. As Camila explained to us, many are our country’s ‘lone children.’
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 like Kids Company, would be entirely without support. It is exceptionally important that, as a society, we find a way of helping these vulnerable children and young people; unless we do, the outlook is extremely bleak. As the CSJ has seen so often, just as the family breakdown, addiction and abuse experienced by vulnerable parents affects their children, so such vulnerable children are the parents of tomorrow. In some cases, they are the parents of today.
The current Government has made huge efforts to improve child protection and social work. The Munro Review of child protection, the Narey Review of social work training, and the overhaul of adoption procedure, to name but a few, have made valuable contributions to the improvement of services and will, over time, help to rebuild lives. But as the Government would acknowledge, there is still much further to go.
Our work has shown that some grave concerns remain. The quality of local authority services is obviously highly variable, but a number of themes have presented themselves both through the case studies and consultation with experts in the field that are clearly being felt in many parts of the country. In particular we have highlighted concerns about the effectiveness of some social work services, about their limited engagement with voluntary sector organisations, about the inaccessibility of some mental health services, and about the way in which the current legal framework is being subverted by some statutory services. Whilst services are operating in particularly tightened financial circumstances, the solution to the problems outlined here is not merely more money. Simply pouring additional resource into a dysfunctional system would not automatically produce the best results for our vulnerable children and young people. Instead it is time to consider a radical overhaul of how, when and by whom child protection and statutory mental health services are provided.