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
    understanding.

    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
    humiliation.”

    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
    Batmanghelidjh.

    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
    work.”

    *Not her real name

    TOP TIPS

    • 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.

    RUBBISH TIPS

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

     

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