I’ve just read Mind The Child by Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company – one of the Penguin Lines series. Everyone who cares about the state of the world, or works, as I do, to change it, should read this book. As should anyone who works with or meets children or young people – doctors, social workers, people in job centres. It’s not a happy read, but you need to know what you don’t know.
Read Justin’s story, which begins on page 11 and ends with the sentence ‘He was sectioned and sent to a mental institution at the age of twenty.’
I couldn’t believe that last word, ‘twenty’. Surely after all that had happened, this man would be fifty? That so much could go on in a child’s life, and that for many people he’d meet, all that stuff would be invisible, unimaginable… That’s why every person who works in a Job Centre/School/Health Centre/Police station should be asked to read this book.
And as for the rest of us? In a hundred years time, people of the future will look back on us with horror, thinking of us as those who willingly went along with this appalling neglect of social responsibility. This book will be one of the things that will stand in evidence against us. They’ll think we didn’t care.
Given that what we currently do – in social care, education, health – isn’t working, why aren’t we following Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company’s lead and developing models of therapeutic love? Does it cost too much? Ladies and gentlemen, look at the mental health bill. Look at the prison bill. ‘Compassion is the ticket,’ writes Camila.
We’ve got to pay our fare. Buy the book, believe the stories, then ask yourself, what can I do to help?
Write to your MP, tell him/her you’ve been moved by these stories and that you want to see a new model of social care. And ask what’s being done to support Camila and the children at Kids Company, and how Social Services are learning from their model. Money is always useful but it is a transformation in thinking and feeling that we need most of all.
That’s where we readers come in, for what is literature for if it does not help us make real to ourselves these pressing matters? My hero and change-maker, George Eliot wrote, ‘Art does nothing if it does not teach.’
I’d like to develop a national reading sharing scheme – nothing to do with literacy (though if course it will turn out to be the way to do it) – and everything to do with love. We’ve made a start with some of the work we’ve done with Looked After (sad misnomer) Children and with children in schools. If only we were running weekly shared reading groups with the adults who lead Children’s Services, or make social policy.