Be a brave business

September 21, 2007

We are having a crisis from which children who can kill are emerging. In the last ten years we have seen the advent of anti-social behaviour orders and we’ve locked up more children than ever before. The Youth Justice Board spends £280 million a year – 70% of its budget – on locking up just 4% of young offenders, of whom 78% re-offend within 12 months of their release. The cost of a child in a local authority secure children’s home is approximately £200,000 per annum.

In England, the fourth richest country of the world, the abuse and neglect of children continues on a catastrophic scale. Statistics suggests that, on average, within a year some 550,000 abused children are referred to child protection. Of this group approximately only 37, 000 are placed on the Child Protection Register. Under-resourced local authorities try and deregister children to make space for new ones. Mental health teams cannot cope with the scale of disturbance amongst young people.

Too many vulnerable children are left outside the doors of care agencies. We ignore their needs at our peril.

The children’s narratives demonstrate the cycle of violence they are exposed to and perpetrate. It often begins with a parent who is ill or too disturbed to honour the task of parenting. The role of carer and child is reversed, leaving toddlers anxious and terrified by their parents’ behaviour. Young children are a witness to horrific scenes of violence during which they are splattered with blood. They learn of sexual perversions whilst witnessing their mothers being raped, they are often sexually abused themselves.

Initially the child is a victim, powerless to effect change. But in order to survive, the children shut down their capacities to feel. They become numb whilst storing every blow in order to deliver it as revenge.

Relentless trauma and poor attachment development alters their brain chemistry and functioning. So, they become hard-wired to expect and deliver violence. In being deprived of compassion, they acquire sarcasm towards civil society. They cannot believe in the kindness of others because no one chose to save them.

Feeling discarded, their self-belief is fragile. They feel worthless and think others will discover their rottenness, so they hate being looked at. They grab, believing they won’t be given, reject, believing they won’t be embraced. They are prepared to kill, believing no life is worth saving.

This nihilism is empowered by culturally available tools of violence. The child who could not retaliate is now armed with a weapon and poor self-control.

These children pose the greatest risk to the stability of our communities. They make otherwise normal children more violent so that they too can survive. They create countless victims. Only a faction of the crimes perpetrated get reported so national statistics are under represented.

Abused children require intensive emotional re-programming to reduce their sense of neuro-chemical emergency. They need protection from abandonment and terror.

There are not enough foster carers to match the scale of the problem, so we need multidisciplinary community care programmes robustly staffed seven days a week. It takes between three and five years to turn around such a child and facilitate their return to society.

Business needs to partner with agencies, such as Kids Company, that can deliver this type of care at street level. So, instead of switching your future funding to initiatives surrounding the Olympic Games, consider how your company could contribute to building our communities by helping these children. For instance, staff salaries should be funded rather than “educational” short term projects. The solution rests in an adult being able to love and care for these children so that they can experience humanity and value it. The continued funding of short, shallow initiatives is not going to achieve the necessary outcomes even if it looks good. We need to facilitate loving care and value it as an output and outcome. We need to be brave – braver than the drug dealer, or the child who is prepared to kill.

Camila Batmanghelidjh is the founder and director of Kids Company. She was awarded a Women of the Year Award 2006.