Saturday, October 31, 2015

# 162 I'm Glad Kids Company Has Closed, by Paul Blanchard

I hope all those who sponsor kids at the Cambodian Children’s Fund, all those donors who believe what Scott Neeson proclaims on CCF’s Facebook page and in his self-aggrandizing publicity releases, read this article and ask some questions:

I'm Glad Kids Company Has Closed

To say Kids Company and Ms Batmanghelidjh have a high profile is doing them a big disservice. In the charity world, especially in London, they're absolutely massive - and much of that is down to Ms Batmanghelidjh's understandably tireless pursuit of media coverage. That's why when the wheels came off a couple of weeks ago there was almost universal shock. But what really happened here? And why is it such a shock?

There's no such thing as a free lunch

First, let's take a good hard look at free lunches. At Kids Company you could get a free lunch. And quite rightly so. If your parents/parent or carer doesn't give a damn enough to feed you; they're suffering from substance misuse issues and/or they've got no money to buy food - then it's quite right that a charity should be able to step in. But if you offer a free lunch to absolutely everyone that knocks on your door then your free lunch money isn't going to last very long.

Simplistically put, this is what happened to Kids Company. Children and young people came to Kids Company centres seven days a week, 365 days a year. They 'self-referred' - that means they alone decided to walk in through the door - they were not sent by, say, social services or local GPs. At Kids Company they got free breakfasts, lunches and dinners. And free medical and dental care, free psychiatric care, free activities, free sports, and it now appears, free cash handouts too. No one ever assessed whether these young people actually needed a free lunch or a free manicure lesson. They just assumed that because the young person was there, that they needed help.

There's no such thing as free lunch money

So, you've got a massive amount of free lunches being eaten every day by random young people who just turn up when they want to. You've got to pay for these lunches. So you need donations - the bigger the better. And that's where it all gets a bit weird.
I've read 20 or 30 articles stretching back to 2004 and there's one thing that comes across loud and clear: Ms Batmanghelidjh believes that individual donors, governments and companies should instantly hand over large sums of cash, no questions asked, and then politely disappear until the next time they're asked for money. It comes as a bitter disappointment to her that these donors might actually want to be reassured that their money was not going to be misused, or that they might want to see some measurable outcomes. In a recent article on the Civil Society website Ms Batmanghelidjh said: "People have given us money and wanted something for it. We've never had free money." Now there's a surprise.

In fact, in an article in the Charity Times in 2007, Ms Batmanghelidjh was obviously horrified that companies might want to be involved after the donation, or even undertake due diligence. The article says: "In the past former (corporate) partners have actually conducted wholesale economic evaluation of the charity without telling the board or management team what they were doing, and moreover without understanding exactly how the charity works." If someone is thinking of giving you £1million - or even £3million! - they're likely to want to know something about you, or have a quid pro quo, before they write the cheque. That's called 'the real world'.

There's no such thing as free love

Now let's look at motivations. Kids Company was founded, and operated around, Ms Batmanghelidjh's personal philosophy of 're-parenting' - that means the kids were 'adopted' by staff and the employees were encouraged to act like parents. Call me cynical but this does seem a tad strange, and potentially very dangerous. In my research I formed an opinion on where this attitude came from, and it is only an opinion. In my view, Ms Batmanghelidjh must surround herself with people who need her - the needier the better. She gets a kick out of being needed. She would dispute this, of course. And in 2007, a journalist did ask her this and she said: "They are not my children. I love them profoundly. I cry with them and I want the best for them, but they owe me nothing." But this answer unsettles me even more.

Now this need-the-needy psychology is probably not that unusual in someone who wants to work in the charity sector - and I'm pretty sure many charities send new entrants on training courses to learn how to avoid just this issue. But what is unusual in this case is that it's on such a personal and individual level. This is not a good way to run a charity. Or a good reason to set one up in the first place. I imagine a bit more objectivity is called for when it comes to running a financially sustainable charity. But it's not financially sustainable, is it?

There's no such thing as a freedom from accountability

Camila comes from an incredibly privileged and fantastically wealthy family. This is not someone who experienced any deprivation as a child. In her own words in 2009:"I came from an incredibly wealthy background." This wealth means she grew up with no fear of powerful people because her family was one of them. This self-confidence makes Camila believe that she is an outstanding businesswoman. But it seems she is not a person that easily learns from others, especially business people. I imagine if you're not with her, you are against her.

And there's the rub; the key to the whole débâcle. I'm not an expert on running a charity. But I am a businessperson and an entrepreneur. Every day I learn new things from other businesspeople - and I go out looking for new stuff to learn about running a successful business. I absolutely know there are millions of things I still don't even know that I don't know.

But what I do know is that if you look at Kids Company from a business point of view, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If I'd wanted to help children as much as Ms Batmanghelidjh clearly does, then my first priority would not have been to indulge my own need for the needy. My sole focus would have been the money and, more importantly, its management. Without the money, you can't help anyone at all; without managing the money you can't hope to sustain the support long term. As the head of a charity, you are responsible for what happens to the money. You, and only you. Not being good with finances is not a valid excuse.

And that's the real tragedy here. Because one naïve person built a wall around herself, believed her own publicity, let the media convince her she was infallible, and never asked for help when it came to managing the money, there are genuinely needy kids who now have no Kids Company to turn to. But overall I'm glad Kids Company has closed because something tells me there might just be a much, much bigger story waiting in the wings...

And here is part of the bigger story:

Kids Company: Ministers Knew Of Charity's 'Gobsmacking' Spending Before Awarding £3 Million Grant

by Kathryn Snowdon, Huffington Post

Ministers were aware of a report detailing huge payments given to clients and relatives of staff at Kids Company just three days before the Government handed over £3 million, according to a report.

The charity spent more than £50,000 on a PhD for the relative of an Iranian diplomat while two children of staff members were given more than £130,000 in client payments, a leaked report drawn up by auditors at PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC) found.
Anther huge expense was on a £305 pair of designer shoes. A client was also given £47,069 in tax-free support in 2014, according to the BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed News investigation.

kids company
Camila Batmanghelidjh

The 13-page report was written by PwC at Kids Company's request after former employees approached the Charity Commission with 10 allegations about Kids Company earlier this year.

The report revealed "fairly gobsmacking" details, according to a senior figure in the Cabinet Office quoted by the BBC.
The PwC report was sent to the Cabinet Office on July 27 - three days before a £3 million grant was handed over to the charity, according to the BBC. It was signed off by ministers Matthew Hancock and Oliver Letwin.

Despite the "transformative" one-off payment to the charity's treasurers in July, just days later its founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, told staff the organisation would be closing.
The fact that ministers were aware of the report will raise even more questions about why the charity was awarded more money from the Government.

John Podmore, a trustee of the Pilgrim Trust, which pulled its funding from the charity in 2003 and raised concerns with the Charity Commission, told BuzzFeed he was "incandescent".
"The car crash just became a motorway pile-up," he said.
"The report makes it quite clear – and underlines why at the Pilgrim Trust we withdrew an initial grant and refused a later application – that [Kids Company’s] financial practices were highly dubious and its work with children totally opaque.
"In the light of this report no one in their right mind would sanction further funding, rather, they would call a complete halt and demand answers as to where the previous funding went and on what basis.”

Kids Company received at least £46 million of public funding - £42 million of which came from central government grants.

Friday, October 30, 2015

# 161 Aziza's Place. An alternative to institutional living of the kind practiced by 'orphanages' in Cambodia

Reintegrating with Care: A Phnom Penh Partner Puts Families First

On a scorching day in May 2015 in Phnom Penh, 6-year-old girls spar with an intensity that I can hardly imagine mustering. Their karate instructor misses nothing. As he straightens a uniform, corrects a stance, leans down to look into a child’s eyes to ensure concentration, I can feel the girls’ confidence rising to the challenge. Older students lounge on a bench, waiting their turn and chatting with me in careful English. The karate lessons—along with lessons in art, dance, and music—are available to these children through Aziza’s Place, a grassroots partner of The Global Fund for Children.
Aziza’s Place serves children from the Stung Meanchey dumpsite and city slums around Phnom Penh, providing a safe environment, access to mainstream schooling and supplemental educational activities, programs on healthy lifestyles, community involvement, visual arts, and sports. Its holistic approach to care is exemplary: two nurses make weekly visits to monitor the health of the children; psychology graduate students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh conduct psychosocial counseling sessions at Aziza’s Place every two weeks; and staff are always finding creative ways to enrich the lives of students.
Aziza’s Place is in the midst of a groundbreaking transition: the organization is closing its residential dormitory and slowly working to reintegrate all of the children living there into their families. While the karate instructor and other educational program staff will continue to play a role in the lives of these children through daytime activities, the primary responsibility for their upbringing will soon be in the hands of their parents and other family members.
A mural painted by children of Aziza’s Place, located in the organization’s courtyard.
This decision is grounded in decades of research showing that communities are strengthened and the interests of children are best served when children live with family members or even in independent living situations rather than in shelters or other institutions. This move to support the family as a unit instead of just the child is expected to result in recognition for Aziza’s Place in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia.
Cognizant of the magnitude of this transition, Aziza’s Place staff are working with a deinstitutionalization consultant and participating in social-work trainings focused on maximizing the safety and effectiveness of programs offered at the organization’s community-based center. Rather than attempting to meet an artificial deadline, Aziza’s Place is undertaking this process with the same thorough, individualized approach that it applies to every aspect of its programming. This move to support the family as a unit instead of just the child is expected to result in recognition for Aziza’s Place in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia.
Socheat (far left), with karate students and Aimee (far right), director of development.
According to Socheat Soy, the program director of Aziza’s Place:
“It has always been expected that an education would prepare a child for their future; however, we must recognize that they need more than that. Whilst AP [Aziza’s Place] can provide support in some areas like education and health, we cannot replace the children’s real family. We have seen that this affects the children’s mental health and development, and therefore their behavior. Family relationships play a crucial role in their development, and understanding ‘real life’ in real communities is the best way to prepare them for their future.
As our children become young adults, we want them to become less dependent on us as an NGO; however, young adults coming out of residential centers like ours are actually struggling to become independent and integrate into wider society. This is when they are most vulnerable—when they move out of a familiar environment where everything was available for them and into the community, where tough life challenges lie ahead. They can’t cope with so much change and want to give up when things become difficult.”
The decision to move children from facilities to family-based care has received much attention in Europe from researchers and respected organizations like Lumos Foundation, which has served as a resource for Global Fund for Children partners in Europe and Asia. According to Lumos, “Despite most having families who love them, 8 million children worldwide live in institutions because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority.” In Cambodia, most shelters and care centers are privately run, with the state providing very little in the way of services and support during the critical period when children “age out” of residential care.
Many well-meaning donors, and even the heads of care-providing organizations, assume that children who live in shelters are victims of abuse, have been abandoned by their families, and are orphans. In fact, of those 8 million institutionalized children globally, 80% are not orphans, and 77% of children living in residential care in Cambodia have at least one close living relative. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that most children living in residential care in Cambodia have not been abused. According to the deinstitutionalization consultant who is advising Aziza’s Place, the barriers that children face are often less sensational and in most cases are related to poverty. Many families are forced to make the difficult decision to place their children in residential care simply for better access to education, as such basic support services are rarely offered without charge to children living with their families.
The 2003 Stockholm Declaration on Children and Residential Care, which was agreed on by 600 individuals from governments, civil society, and the research community from 71 countries, states that “there is indisputable evidence that institutional care has negative consequences for both individual children and for society at large.” The document echoes tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (specifically Article 20), which states that children should not be deprived of their family; that institutions should be a last resort after all other options are exhausted; and that poverty is not a reason to deprive children of their family.
Unfortunately, while traveling for The Global Fund for Children in Cambodia, I observed an NGO sector that is almost entirely dependent upon maintaining residential care facilities. Reliant upon individual donations, these shelters are often set up in tourist areas visible to foreigners. In stark contrast to Aziza’s Place’s personalized approach to care, there is little attention paid to monitoring and tracking the residents, whose numbers fluctuate daily. Additionally, many of these shelters offer families money or rice to send their children. This creates an expectation of dependence—something that Aziza’s Place has had to battle when approaching families who are conditioned to expect compensation. I also heard countless stories of NGOs struggling with the expectations of donors who seek to be the decision makers in the lives of the children. Setting clear boundaries means reducing the number of visitors and sponsorships, often an unpopular move in the eyes of management, though some staff may advocate for such limits.
Many stakeholders, including board members and donors, are hesitant to support reintegration processes because of misconceptions about what they entail. Reintegration is often perceived as something done to a child overnight rather than as a multi-stage process during which social workers and other qualified professionals assess and address the comprehensive needs of the child, and his or her family and community, with genuine consideration of the child’s right to participation in decisions. These misunderstandings are reinforced by international child protection organizations that push grassroots organizations to meet unrealistic deadlines to complete reintegration processes, and that provide little or no funding for the monitoring aspect of reintegration programs. Long-term monitoring is crucial to understanding how children and families adapt to their new living situation and to ensuring that children are safely settled into their new placements long after the initial move.
Aziza’s Place, for one, is doing much more than moving children back to their families. Families are included in decisions concerning their children; children are consulted; and Socheat spends much of his time conducting home visits, teaching classes, and helping adults become more responsible caregivers. As Socheat describes:
“In the past year, I have been spending a lot of time with the families that we have reintegrated. We have been helping them to understand better that they are the ones responsible for their children and they are important for their children’s development. The first few months were difficult, as both the families and the children needed to adjust to living as one family unit. Families would realize that their children could not do basic tasks around the house like cooking rice or did not know to bring in the washing when it’s raining outside. This would cause arguments, and we had to work with the families through these turbulent periods.
After a year, the families tell me that they realize the intimate attachment between themselves and their children is very effective for their behavior and dynamics within the household. It’s clear that a family’s bond with their children needs to remain strong throughout their lives and that NGO caregivers cannot replace family members. We have six new joiners to our program this year, and they were not given the option to stay at AP, and this is how we will continue.”
This forward-thinking transformation situates Aziza’s Place among our most innovative partners in the region. Aziza’s Place has also begun a social business initiative, Aziza’s Coffee, that employs women from the dumpsite community. Aziza’s Coffee owns Cambodia’s first solar-powered tuktuk (motorized rickshaw) and encourages recycling by accepting bottles and cans as currency. The initiative is currently looking at expanding in Phnom Penh and possibly other provinces. At The Global Fund for Children’s 2015 Southeast Asia Knowledge Exchange, a regional convening of grassroots partners, Aziza’s Place presented its child protection policy to the group, and several other partners sought the organization out as a resource for strengthening their own policies.
I hear time and again that our partners most appreciate the flexibility that we provide with our grants, which are unrestricted and can be used for whatever the organization determines will best serve the children. Though reintegration has been widely acknowledged as a best practice for 20 years, there is little funding for groups to undertake the process. The Global Fund for Children is proud to support this effort, and I hope that Aziza’s Place will continue to set an example for other organizations that provide residential care. I am confident that those 6-year-olds in the karate class will be happier and healthier coming to Aziza’s Place during the day and spending most of their time with their families and communities.
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