Camila Batmanghelidj, Social Justice Campaigner, Dies At 61


     [The following obituary was submitted to Kayhan Life by the family of the prominent social justice campaigner and Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidj, who died on Jan. 1 in London after a period of failing health.]


Camila Batmanghelidj CBE was born to a prominent Iranian family in Tehran, Iran in 1963. She decided at the age of nine that she would dedicate her life to supporting vulnerable children, whom she used to encounter in the streets of Tehran.

She attended the Sherborne School for Girls and the University of Warwick before training as a psychotherapist. She helped set up Place2Be, a mental health charity for children and young people, before departing in 1996 to establish Kids Company.

Enlarge

WhatsApp-Image-2024-01-02-at-23.20.31_44ca743f

Camila Batmanghelidj

For two decades, Kids Company helped protect and support vulnerable children and young people in Britain. The organization was primarily funded by private donors, but it also received local and central government funding. Kids Company operated 11 centers in Greater London, Bristol, and Liverpool through which it provided emotional and material support to tens of thousands of “clients,” who were among Britain’s most neglected children and young people.

Kids Company’s “clients experience[ed] severe developmental adversity” and were “exposed to food insecurity, poverty, poor housing, violence and social exclusion, abuse and substance misuse, low educational and employment aspirations, domestic maltreatment and unstable home environments.”

Through its centers and in-school programmes, Kids Company offered various types of therapy and emotional support, provided meals and enrichment opportunities, and advocated for young people struggling to secure statutory housing, education, and mental health support. Until its abrupt closure in 2015, Kids Company was heralded as a model charity. King Charles visited the organization’s Lambeth center in 2012.

From the outset, Camila, the staff, and volunteers shared a simple goal: “To see children and young people become safe and able to realise their potential.” Camila’s ground-breaking approach placed “unrelenting love” at the heart of Kids Company’s clinical, therapeutic, educational, and administrative interventions.

Camila and the spaces she created were the visual representation of this goal—colourful, whimsical, and warm. In Camila’s words, by collectively embracing the power of love, “the staff of Kids Company and its children [were] able to create a community where children were cared for and cherished… That community structure produc[ed] positive results, not only for the children, but also for the staff.”

Kids Company’s community structure was also validated through extensive multi-disciplinary studies, including by University College London and the London School of Economics. In 2013, researchers at the LSE noted that the Kids Company “model of intervention invests in the potential of neuroplasticity, providing actions and structures of support that can alter neural pathways and provide the opportunity for positive emotional and behavioural changes in vulnerable children and young people.” By adopting this model, Kids Company made a “substantial difference in the lives of its clients,” and had a positive impact “on practical knowledge to deal with financial issues and access to services, housing and accommodation, engagement with family members, criminal involvement, substance misuse, educational attainment and overall physical and emotional well-being.”

Camila’s personal contributions to the charity sector and the clinical science of supporting neglected children and young people were recognised in numerous honorary degrees and fellowships. She was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2012 for her “services to children and young people.”

Camila was the author of three books, including Shattered Lives (Jessica Kingsley Publishers), Mind the Child (Penguin), and Kids: Child Protection in Britain: The Truth (Biteback Publishing), in which she provided unflinching accounts of how Britain’s child protection system was failing alongside an uncompromising vision of how children and young people should be protected. With deep empathy, she reflected on the struggles of vulnerable children and their parents, who are “doubly burdened,” struggling with “personal pain” while also having to “cope with a societal message letting them know they are not welcome.”

As she wrote in the introduction of Kids, reflecting on the situation facing the families turning to Kids Company, “perhaps the most painful part of [their] journeys was the way society resolved the complexities of inequality by attributing to struggling individuals a kind of moral flaw, making them responsible for their unhappiness.”

Always forthright in her criticism of the government, Camila believed that Kids Company was forced to close “because Britain was unable to tolerate seeing its lack of welcome for vulnerable children reflected back at it.” Systemic factors mattered too. The demise of Kids Company was followed by a raft of similar closures among British charities that received far less attention.

Like many charities, Kids Company expanded rapidly as Britain entered a period of socioeconomic decline, compounded by austerity policies. Indeed, the charity was presented as a champion for the third sector by Prime Minister David Cameron as part of its Big Society programme. These circumstances were acknowledged in a recent judgement of the high court, which noted “no dispute that demand for Kids Company’s services increased in the aftermath of the 2007/08 financial crisis, as an economic downturn was combined with significant cuts to local authority budgets, particularly from 2012.”

But while Kids Company and other charities were pushed to provide more support for vulnerable children and young people, compensating for services being slashed by local councils, the central government failed to increase its financial support of the third sector in turn. These were the fundamental conditions that precipitated Kids Company’s closure.

From the time of Kids Company’s regrettable closure and until her death, Camila worked to restore Kids Company’s reputation, defending the charity against allegations of mismanagement raised in proceedings initiated by the Official Receiver and in a report by the Charity Commission. Her aim was to ensure that Kids Company’s unique model of care was not discredited, preserving space for charities to be ambitious in their approaches to caregiving and safeguarding.

In 2021, after a three-and-a-half-year legal case, the high court ruled in Camila’s favour, noting that despite the Official Receiver’s proceedings, the Kids Company’s operating model was not unsustainable and that allegations of mismanagement and misuse of funds were unfounded. In the ruling, the judge praised her for the “enormous dedication she showed to vulnerable young people over many years” and her achievement in building a successful charity that did “incredible work.”

In December 2022, Camila was cleared to pursue a judicial review of the Charity Commission’s report, which the high court acknowledged as making “several adverse findings about the charity’s governance.”

While she was engaged in these legal battles, Camila’s health declined. An endocrine disorder that has affected her health since childhood meant that she was immunocompromised. From the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, she left her small North London flat on only a few occasions, each time for treatment at a hospital for a recurring infection. But her “unrelenting love” could not be contained in just two small rooms. In the weeks before her death, she raised funds to purchase holiday gifts for over 2,000 vulnerable children, with the help of a group of volunteers.

Camila died peacefully in her sleep the night of January 1, following a birthday celebration with her family.

Until her death, she continued to work with vulnerable children, who called her or visited her to discuss their traumas, their insecurities, and their challenges. Camila wanted to honour these children with the care and protection they deserved.

Her life of service was an honor to them—their dignity and courage is how they honored her.

Passing of Camila Batmanghelidjh: Statement From Her Family