I don’t have that many pictures of myself as a child. The best ones feature dimples and frills over a nappy. But I have a few photos from a holiday – faded, as if a 1977 Instagram filter has been applied. My first ever holiday abroad, in Menorca – I’m guessing I was 9, the same age as my daughter now. I look back at this one foreign holiday amongst the Welsh beaches and interminable motorway journeys to my Grandma’s house in Felixstowe, and I think how lucky my children are. They, who at ages 9 and 6 have travelled to France, Spain, Corsica, Florida, many times abroad in their young lives. And yet I too was lucky.
No once-in-a-lifetime holidays for these children. For them just getting through daily life is a nightmare from which they never wake up. And this isn’t happening in Sierra Leone, or Syria. These are the children in our backyard, all over Britain, who fall under the radar of the current remit of social services. Local authorities are reluctant to capture the real numbers of children with serious needs because if they did they would have a legal responsibility to offer them services. And they can’t. They have neither the resource, nor the legal facility to protect these very vulnerable children.
It’s not just a handful of unfortunates, either. I was recently invited to visit Kids Company, to meet Camila Batmanghelidjh, an amazing lady who has taken it on herself to look out for these children, to ‘bridge the gap’ where child protection services stop, and hell on earth begins. Here is what she told me:
- Children negatively impacted by parental alcoholism range in numbers from 920,000 to 3.5million
- Those impacted by parental mental health difficulties range from 50,000 to 2million
- Children impacted by domestic violence are thought to be just under 1.8million
- One in 20 children are believed to be sexually abused
It’s spine-chilling. Camila also told me anecdotally that the reason marginalised kids can’t afford to eat, but go to great lengths to obtain designer trainers, is because expensive gear confers respect. It indicates that financially you have backing – the backing of a powerful gang, probably – and that protects you from attack. It stops you in your tracks, that, doesn’t it? I wrote about my visit to Kids Company here, if you want to see more on why Camila’s work is so compelling.
See the Child
See the Child is a call to overhaul social care and mental health services for children. The campaign will enable the creation of an Independent Task Force that can re-design social care and mental health services for children. It will ask all political parties to sign up to a 15 year plan leading to restructuring children’s social services and child mental health services. They have this to say:
The recently published Centre for Social Justice report has revealed systemic failure, crisis and widespread despair from those working in the system, including, most worryingly, examples of illegality, unscrupulous practice, higher thresholds and children being deliberately kept out of social care… For too long vulnerable children have remained invisible and this report reminds us all of the suffering of children let down by society.
- 16% of children aged under 16 experienced sexual abuse during childhood (NSPCC)
- 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (Young Minds)
- 3850 Social Workers are needed to fill the vacancies in England
- 73% of Social Workers surveyed say they can’t do their job properly, leaving children at risk
- Social workers can have over 40 life threatening cases each
How you can support See the Child:
- Text I SEE to 63000 – this is a standard network charge, it is not a donation to Kids Company. The text will constitute a ‘vote’ for change.
- Or, share your childhood photo and sign the petition here bit.ly/1tfykF3
- If you’re on Twitter, post a photo of you as a child, with the following message: “Me as a child. Help 1.5m children suffering in UK, sign at seethechild.org or text I SEE to 63000”
- On Facebook, share this message with your photo: I am posting a picture of myself as a child in support of the 1.5 million children who are neglected and abused in the UK. Politicians say there are ‘no votes in vulnerable children’ but by signing this @KidsCompany petition www.seethechild.org we are showing them we care and we demand change. Together we can See the Child. Change the System. #SEETHECHILD or Text I SEE to 63000
I’m going to leave you with a story.
When I was very small, my Dad walked out of his job. He’d had enough of corporate life, and wanted to set up on his own. I was too young to remember much about it, but I knew that Daddy worked in the garden shed for a while, and we regularly ate cod’s roe, rabbit stew (with bones!) and leathery liver – cheap food, full of iron, as I now know it. I hated it. But my family cared about me, they fed me, read to me, hugged me, and never hurt me.
By contrast, here’s Mathew’s story:
At the age of two, Mathew was taken into care. He lived in 64 different care homes across the UK until the age of 16 when, in accordance with the care laws, he was given his own flat. As a consequence of so many care placements and the emotional insecurity that this created Mathew is now deeply traumatised and often has violent and aggressive outbursts. He has spent some time in a young offender’s institution. When Kids Company met him he was living in a caravan next to his flat. He had had no electricity for 2 years and just wore extra layers of clothes. Whenever possible he would squat in empty houses. Mathew has extreme attachment disorder but has always said that all he really wants is someone to love him. Despite his traumatic experiences he is a highly intelligent and articulate young man. This year, he has received intensive support from Kids Company that is helping him to develop a relationship he can trust.
Please do whatever is in your power to make this a reality. Unlike most charity posts, this one is not asking for money. It doesn’t ask for huge amounts of your time. It just asks for your voice, to put the horrible lives of so many UK children firmly on the agenda for our government. To make them look. To make them see.