Good company

Name: Camila Batmanghelidjh
Job: Kids Company
Qualifications: MA philosophy and psychology of
psychotherapy; BA theatre studies
Last Job: Founder, The Place to Be, a charity that
offers therapy to children in schools
First Job: Assistant in special needs school

Working with vulnerable and damaged children at their lowest point
can take its toll on staff . And this everyday problem is nothing
new at children’s charity Kids Company. Psychotherapist Camila
Batmanghelidjh founded the organisation in 1996 to work with
profoundly vulnerable and isolated children from backgrounds
lacking the nurturing essentials: a stable home life, love and

Central to the Kids Company’s philosophy is a belief that
children’s needs must come first. Batmanghelidjh, who has more than
15 years experience in child psychology, says: “The key thing in
this organisation is that the child is the primary client to whom
we are accountable. And everyone else is a secondary client whose
needs we meet if it means the child’s life is enhanced.” But
reconciling this while looking after staff has not been easy.

Batmanghelidjh is all too aware of how quickly child care
workers can burn out. She says: “People become care professionals
because they aspire to providing a quality service. They often end
up in an agency where this sense of quality is compromised because
of a lack of resources and so on, and so, in order to survive, the
worker will eventually shut down emotionally.”

For her the biggest problem in working with children is the
revenge mentality. “Because children have often been horrifically
humiliated they then seek victims to humiliate, including staff. In
most agencies the worker tries to address this by exercising some
power to make the child feel small – and you get a cycle of

Batmanghelidjh believes that such a cycle is an inappropriate
way of working with children. For her, these children are not bad,
but they are often angry and depressed. She says: “Society operates
on the premise that depriving someone of their freedom is a
punishment. But to children whose freedom is filled with
uncertainty and instability, prison is no deterrent. Hundreds of
children grow up not caring whether they go to prison, or if they
live or die. Our vision is that every child who comes to us will
have the value of their life reaffirmed.”

This philosophy is underpinned through a work culture where
punishment or retaliatory action is not used. “As a manager I have
to take care of workers’ feelings. I have to give them a way of
understanding the way the children were behaving through training,
role play and by providing weekly supervision.”

Unsurprisingly, further problems can arise when children realise
that the workers will not retaliate – giving the children a sense
of power that often leads to them baiting workers. “We had to start
talking to the children about their need to humiliate, and explored
why doing it stemmed from their own sense of humiliation,” says

With this difficult client group one might expect them to hit
staff and for them to be restrained regularly, whereas this
apparently seldom occurs.

Batmanghelidjh has adopted a style of management that works
alongside the therapeutic aims of Kids Company. She says: “The
caring professions need an emotional style, but most management
training is handed down from business, and business models are
inappropriate.” This also means that other aspects of traditional
management have been discarded. “I don’t like job titles,” she
adds. “Nobody here has a title – they’re all ‘workers’. I make sure
that I clean and mop the floor like everyone else. There’s no
hierarchy in that way.”

It is because of the organisational philosophy that
Batmanghelidjh believes Kids Company has had successes with many
vulnerable children when other agencies have not. One such success
is 16-year-old Mia Johnson.* Mia says: “I don’t live with my
family; I am independent now. It’s changed me completely and made
my life so much better.”

Batmanghelidjh says: “Workers are proud to be a part of this
organisation. We’ve been through hard times but we’ve stuck to what
we believe in. As a result, we’re now seeing great returns on our

*Not her real name


  • The child is always your primary client – each decision and
    action should reflect that.
  • Avoid punishment as this leads to negative cycles.
  • Give staff long holidays and promote time-out breaks if
    pressures become too much.


  • Getting the paperwork right means you’ve got the service
  • Make sure your staff know their station and who the boss
  • It’s more important to get on with your colleagues than to
    provide a good service to children.


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