It’s not surprising that everyone refers to her as Camila. Could I trust myself to pronounce her surname, Batmanghelidjh? Actually one doesn’t need to. Camila’s reputation precedes her. She fills a room. Draped in multicoloured garb from her turban, via wrist guards, to her long dress, she shows me to an armchair and reclines on a couch. There the flamboyance gives way to sharpness. Self-confessed as dyslexic, she is good with numbers: 97% of children self-refer to Kids Company. They have programmes in 40 schools; three street level centres; 14,000 children and young people access Kids Company services each year.
Their main office itself is astonishing. An unpromising building on Blackfriars Road, south of the Bridge, blossoms inside into a profusion of child friendly coloured spaces that house varied proportions of their 500 employees and thousands of volunteers. Damaged young people, damaged by extremes of the social determinants of health, find their way here. Camila explains that the central principle of their operation is “attachment”, yes, Bowlby-type attachment. Camila says that conventional wisdom is that professional carers should not allow their clients to become attached to them. By contrast, Kids Company recognises that these young people desperately need attachment. They are in trouble, at least in part, because of lack of a consistent person with whom they might have formed a relationship of attachment.
Do they do any good? I felt good just being there. From the enthusiastic young men who showed me around to the originality of having a sandwich and coffee with Camila in what felt like her living room, the whole place feels eccentric and caring. But what do the numbers show? I was shown around their research rooms and certainly they are taking seriously the task of evaluation. The counting up of the outcomes in the government funded youth development scheme looks impressive with respect to getting young people back into education and training. They have several research collaborations with good research groups.
The combination of research findings and moving testaments both to the problems of children and young people, and solutions to those problems, is exactly what we need.